Introduction to academic reading

In this section of our website, we would like to point you to academic books and journals that might play an important role in your encounter with sociology. To begin with, though, it seems important to ask what makes academic books and journals ‘academic’. What are academic books and journals, and how are they different from other kinds of media?

To begin with, please take a look at the website of the International Center for Abduction Research. Now consider: How much evidence does the website give to sustain its claims? What is the quality of this evidence? Do you believe the website’s claims? Why (not)?

We found the website of the International Center for Abduction Research through an online Google search that took less than a minute. There is no way to know whether any of the material presented on the website is genuine. Consider, for example, the description of the uses of telepathy among aliens or the first-hand accounts of alien abductions. No sources are given, the claims made lack plausibility even at first glance, and everything could well have been made up by the website’s author.

Academic publications are different. Most commonly, original academic work is published in books issued by a relatively narrow range of dedicated publishing houses, as well as in short form in journals that are published several times per year. The statements we make in such publications must be not only be plausible, they must be backed up with substantial and verifiable supporting evidence. In sociology, this may include both references to previous academic publications as well as data from empirical research, such as interviews of different kinds, the analysis of documents, observations and so forth. Prior to their publication, academic publications undergo a strict, multi-stage review process, called peer review, in which experts in a given area of research assess the quality of the work presented. For example, Imagining Society passed through three rounds of peer review, in which the reviewers made important suggestions to change and improve the text. Bristol University Press would not have published the book had its editors not been confident that we had addressed the requested changes in a satisfactory manner. In contrast, anyone can set up a website with claims about alien abductions without any review of the information presented.

Academic publications are also different in another sense. They are associated with scholarly work that typically, but not always, takes place at universities and other research centres within particular disciplines or areas of study, such as sociology, history, biology or mathematics. Each of these disciplines has its own ongoing debates about subjects of study that are considered important at a particular moment in time, its own quality standards and its own theories and methods. In other words, even though history and sociology often cover the same issues and topics, the standards by which historical and sociological publications are judged vary considerably. There is, of course, significant exchange and collaboration between scholars from different disciplines. Nevertheless, it is important to bear this point in mind, as most published research speaks, more than anything, to conversations particular to the discipline from which it has originated.

As we develop this website, we will publish lists of interesting and important journals and books. To get you started, we have provided this list of well-known Sociology journals.

Many publishers host a very large number of journals. Why might this be? How might it be significant for sociological research? To answer these questions, you might need to look into the history of these publishers and to look for further information on trends in corporate academic publishing. In this regard, you may also wish to take a look here