Conference Proceedings: papers or reports?

 

Daniel Gile

March 2008

 

Meetings which scholars attend as peers (conferences, congresses, symposia etc.) have several functions such as reporting/hearing about new research, meeting and getting to know fellow scholars, strengthening social cohesion within a disciplinary community and, for beginners, facilitating acceptance into the community.

            In many established disciplines, good methodology and minimum innovation are a prerequisite for acceptance of papers in scholarly meetings. In TS, for well known historical and environmental reasons, many colleagues have not had the required training to produce excellent papers. If only papers with solid methodology and innovative content were accepted at TS conferences, this could encourage demanding scholars to participate and be beneficial to the overall scholarly level and reputation of the discipline. However, such a policy would also deny integration and learning opportunities to newcomers who may be isolated in their home universities, and could slow down the ‘social’ and institutional development of Translation Studies. If, on the other hand, screening policy is less strict in terms of scholarly quality, many presentations may turn out to have little scholarly value, and the examples which beginners will see and presumably follow will not be the best.

            Are there solutions to the dilemma? A relatively lenient selection of papers for oral presentation followed by a strict selection policy when publishing the proceedings might be an acceptable compromise. This however can induce much frustration among those participants whose papers are rejected, especially in view of the fact that many of them seem to expect publication of their papers as an integral part of the whole operation. Moreover, organizers of TS conferences, which as often as not are meant to give more visibility and a good reputation to the host university or department, can be reluctant to disappoint participants. One possible alternative might be to move gradually from the present system of paper-based conference proceedings to report-based proceedings, i.e. sets of reports on each session and workshop, prepared by the Chairs and/or rapporteurs rather than by individual participants (examples can be found in the proceedings of the Turku conference on interpreting in Gambier et al. 1997). Participants wishing to publish individual papers would be encouraged to submit them to journals, and journals are free to implement a strict qualitative screening process. Incidentally, the TS community may find itself pushed towards such a solution irrespective of its wishes, as universities in a number of countries increasingly demand that faculty members report their publications in A-grade and B-grade journals when seeking promotion, and publications in collective volumes seem to be more or less disregarded. This would be a significant change in the publication landscape of TS, since at this time, as is generally the case in the humanities, most citations in the literature refer to books as opposed to papers.

Would such a development be positive?

 

Reference

Gambier, Yves, Daniel Gile and Christopher Taylor (eds). 1997. Conference Interpreting: Current Trends in Research. Amsterdam/Philadelphia, John Benjamins. (Proceedings of a conference on interpreting held in Turku in 1994)