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Editors' Bulletin

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From Nationalities to Diversity: How to Keep Nationalities Papers Relevant

Florian Bieber

Online publication date: 21 June 2010

To cite this Article Bieber, Florian(2009) 'From Nationalities to Diversity: How to Keep Nationalities Papers Relevant',

Editors' Bulletin, 5: 2, 57 61 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/17521740903336647 URL:


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Editors Bulletin Vol. 5, No. 2, 5761

From Nationalities to Diversity: How to Keep Nationalities Papers Relevant

Editor-in-Chief of Nationalities Papers

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ing the title, an Absurdistani leader asks Now, listen to what our Mishas going to be. He is going to be the Commissar for the Nationalities Question. Minister of Multicultural Affairs, Misha corrected him.1 This is the story of how anecdote provides a fitting analogy for Nationalities Papers, which has emerged as a valuable resource in the study of ethnic conflict and nationalism, but has studiously refrained from transforming into The Journal of Multiculturalism. When the first issue of Nationalities Papers was published in 1972, the De tente between the Soviet Union and the USA was in its infancy and the lifting of the iron curtain was more than 15 years away. Studying nationalities the sundry nations in the Soviet Union and its satellites was a niche field populated primarily by scholars in the Diaspora and dissidents who wrote about their home countries from the less restrictive confines of the USA and Western Europe. While scholars discussed the


History and Development

In Gary Shteyngarts novel Absurdistan, the unlikely hero, Misha Vainberg, son of a Russian businessman and graduate in multiculturalism from Accidental College in the USA, is offered the post of Minister for Sevo-Israeli Affairs by a secessionist group in Absurdistan. He insists that his job title be Minister for Multiculturalism. Not fully understand-

Correspondence Address: Dr Florian Bieber, Dept. of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent, Canterbury, CT2 7NX, UK. Email: 1752-1742 Online/09/02005705 # 2009 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/17521740903336647

From Nationalities to Diversity: How to Keep Nationalities Papers Relevant continued significance of nationalism in Eastern Europe, ethnic conflict and nationalism ranked low on the broader research agendas. The dramatic events of 1989 changed this stale status quo. After the initial enthusiasm regarding the fall of Communism, violence in the Caucasus and the onset of the dissolution of Yugoslavia drew wider attention to the relevance of nationalism and ethnic conflict. In the 1990s, a new generation of scholars joined the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN),2 contributing to its professional development, and in particular to its flagship publication, Nationalities Papers. The new-found interest in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, as well as the heightened relevance of the rise of nationalism in a variety of fields, widened the journals appeal from its traditional Area Studies inclinations to a more interdisciplinary approach. This evolution brought with it an influx of contributions from political scientists, anthropologists, historians, and lawyers. The journals core focus on nationalism and ethnic conflict in the Communist/post-Communist periods has not changed. However, in recent years the ways in which these topics are approached has changed dramatically. Area Studies, as such, has declined as universities in North America and Europe have drastically reduced support for Area Studies centers. At the same time, scholars working in mainstream disciplines without specific regional interests started taking note of Eastern Europe and nationalism (and often both). Disciplines which earlier might have assigned scant attention to the fields covered by Nationalities Papers now take an active interest in the subject 58 matter contained within the pages of the ASN journal. The upshot of this trend is that the journal has extended its reach to those who conduct research in these areas, and thus made the study of nationalism and Eastern Europe more accessible to a far broader audience. The downside of wider interest in the region and in nationalism has been often superficial engagement with the concepts in general, and with the region in particular, on the basis of skimpy local knowledge. For the past decade, Nationalities Papers has emphasized the importance of regional knowledge, the understanding of the languages and cultures of the countries and societies that its articles cover. Only through this approach is it possible to ensure that the article of an anthropologist or of a political scientist is of interest to historians or sociologists (and vice versa). However, the key challenge, and thus the focus of Nationalities Papers, is to ensure that this local knowledge and expertise is relevant to larger scholarly debates. As the conflicts of the 1990s have yielded to a changing international environment, the region at the core of Nationalities Papers has receded somewhat from the front pages of newspapers and journals, scholarship about the former Soviet Union, Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans is not guaranteed the same level of attention that it enjoyed a decade ago. Consequently, the journal is now reaching out, seeking to integrate its regional expertise into broader theoretical discussions. As a result, Nationalities Papers seeks to emerge from Area Studies to participate in and shape global debates over identity, nationalism and ethnic conflict. The journal has to balance two fundamental values: excellent regional expertise, based on profound knowledge of

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From Nationalities to Diversity: How to Keep Nationalities Papers Relevant the core region; and a comparative and theoretical approach to broaden the readership and contributions to the journal. To reflect this changing trend in the development of scholarship, Nationalities Papers has increased its scope, and added the subtitle The Journal of Nationalism and Ethnicity to its cover. Although Nationalities Papers reflects terminology associated with a by-gone era, the title has become a recognizable brand name, which distinguishes it from other publications. The Future of Nationalities Papers The journal is undergoing major changes in 200910 to secure its place as the leading journal on nationalism and ethnicity in the post-Communist world. Firstly, the journal is increasing its number of issues from 5 to 6 per year. Secondly, the journal is strengthening its ties to its home institution, the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN). Finally, the journal has also made a number of strategic changes to better reflect the current needs of the academic community that it serves: An Editorial Team. Considering the broad range of submissions from multiple disciplines and regions, one editor cannot assess and manage the vast array of articles, maintain contacts with numerous potential authors, and identify the large number of reviewers necessary. Thus, the journal has put together an active team of associate editors, who are fully involved in the management of the journal and reflect the journals diversity in regional expertise and academic disciplines. . An Active Board. The journal is reformulating its editorial board to engage dynamic scholars who are eager

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to make a contribution to the journal and actively help raise its visibility. . Reaching Out. The role of the editor and the editorial team is to promote the journal. It is often surprising how many younger scholars who have conducted exciting field work do not have the courage to submit an article for consideration (and instead publish them in low-impact edited volumes). At the same time, the editorial team needs to reach out to senior scholars in order to represent scholarship at all levels. . Cutting Edge. Nationalities Papers wants to advance academic debates on nationalism and ethnicity, and be the leading journal in the field. As a result, the journal will organize an annual debate at the convention of the ASN in New York, which will subsequently be featured in the journal. Similarly, the journal is beginning to publish book panels with reviews of key books in the field along with a response by the authors. Concluding Remarks So what lessons can be learned? The first, and perhaps most important, lesson is that nothing succeeds more than success. What sounds like a banality is indeed more meaningful than it first appears: it is important for a journal to communicate a coherent image. Therefore, it needs to show its purpose, be comprised of a solid and pro-active team from the editor and associate editors to the board, authors and reviewers which not only stands for what the journal represents, but also wants to represent the journal. Without such a self-perception (and a reality to back it up!) a journal can perhaps survive, but it will certainly not grow. Second, the way to build a successful journal like 59

From Nationalities to Diversity: How to Keep Nationalities Papers Relevant Nationalities Papers is to mix efficiency and professionalism with the personal touch. Web-based programs, like ScholarOne ManuscriptsTM (formerly Manuscript Central), help to systematize the process of dealing with submissions and reviews, but it becomes even more important to personalize communication with reviewers and authors. Our authors and reviewers should feel that they are not just sending emails and submitting draft articles or comments to a big anonymous machine, but that they are becoming part of something bigger thus they need to know that they are not simply receiving anonymous standardized emails but rather they are engaging with a real team of colleagues. Closely linked to this is the need for speed (while simultaneously maintaining a high standard of work). Nothing is more frustrating for an author who has spent weeks and months writing an article, only to have to wait additional months without a word about the fate of her/his work. Even if the article is accepted in the end, the journal might have lost a future author, and certainly has not treated this person as a valued colleague. While delays are sometimes inevitable (we have probably all been late with reviews), it is important to maintain close communication and keep contributors informed in a timely fashion. Thus we will maintain a strong position in an increasingly competitive field of scholarly publications, and encourage authors to consider us their first port of call for submitting their work. Ask for more and you will get more is the motto of our journal: being professional and having high standards is generally well received by both authors and reviewers. We have not hesitated to contact reviewers to assess revisions and also have asked authors for multiple rounds of revisions. As long as the comments and suggestions are constructive and aimed at producing the best possible article, most scholars are appreciative and understanding. In fact, a journal needs to be seen as a team effort amongst the editor, the author and reviewers, with everybody interested in the best publication possible. Furthermore, it is important not to perceive the production of a journal as consisting of only submissions and reviewers, but rather to remember that you are working with colleagues, some of whom are submitting articles, others are reviewing, and that at times the order might be reversed. Mutual respect is thus the key principle here. Even if this sounds banal, such an approach reminds you always to broaden the number of reviewers as you also widen the number of potential authors. It also means that if you hear a good paper by one author at a conference which is already submitted to another journal, you should endeavor to persuade that author to submit future articles to your journal. To return to Misha Vainberg in Absurdistan: In the coming decade, it is unlikely that Nationalities Papers will follow his example and become the Journal of Multiculturalism. At the same time, the journal will increasingly move from a regional focus to a journal which is home to comparative and theoretical articles and ground-breaking debates on the importance of nations, nationalism and ethnic conflict. Notes
1. 2. Shteyngart, G. (2006). Absurdistan. London: Granta Books. 251.

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From Nationalities to Diversity: How to Keep Nationalities Papers Relevant

Dr Florian Bieber is a Lecturer in East European Politics at the University of Kent, Canterbury, UK and a visiting professor at the Universities of Bologna and Sarajevo, as well as at Central European University, Budapest. In 2009 he held a visiting chair at Cornell University, New York. Between 2001 and 2006, he was a regional representative, project advisor and senior research associate in Belgrade and Sarajevo for the European Centre for Minority Issues. He is also the vice-president of the Association for the Study of Nationalities.

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