Citation Politics, Special Issues, and Identifying “Core” Rhetoric Journals

You can Google “Rhetoric Journals” and find lists, usually from either disciplinary organizations or folks working for libraries, that identify journals that cover rhetoric as an academic subject area. American Rhetoric and The Consortium of Doctoral Programs in Rhetoric and Composition both keep a list, for example.

The problem with these types of lists is that they use a deductive approach that tends to marginalize scholarship that is important to scholars who identify with the subject area but are studying topics that haven’t been covered very much. This sort of oversight could be because the research is innovative, but I would guess that more often than not it’s because the topic might not be recognized as relevant by key gatekeepers such as reviewers, editors, graduate faculty, etc., etc. Sometimes gatekeepers will code that as a lack of “fit.” Or perhaps a writer who identifies with the field just prefers to publish in places with a different readership, and they’d argue that their audience and journal should be considered relevant even if others might not (yet) read it that way. Case in point, my colleague Nobert Elliot has been publishing his research on writing in linguistics journals, and it would be hard to make a compelling argument that something like the Journal of Writing Analytics is about rhetoric, at least with some of my colleagues. I think it should go without saying that much of this outgrouping and othering is an effect of the historical marginalization of BIPOC, LGBTQI+, and differently abled scholars.

So the predefined lists will only get you so far in identifying research that helps to better understand an area of research. A different way to identify “core” journals is to take these predefined lists and look at what people doing the research are reading, or at the least citing, since it hypothetically would provide a bigger picture of what is being practiced rather than prescribed. This is kind of a chicken-and-egg problem, though, since this type of analysis requires identifying a corpus of articles that count as “rhetoric” or whatever discipline you’re interested in. It doesn’t fix the central classification problem I mentioned above, but it can potentially point to alternative publication venues that aren’t as privileged that are being read by folks who are still attempting to publish in the conservative locations while reading more broadly to understand the topic area.I’d say at best, it can point to potentially important research venues that aren’t being valued as much as the historically valued journals.

This idea was interesting enough to me that I wanted to see what would happen if I tried it. Rhetoric Society Quarterly is arguably one of the most recognized academic rhetoric journals. It provides a unique test case since the journal grew out the collaboration of scholars who were being marginalized by their departments in communication, English, writing, and philosophy. Today RSQ is a popular venue for folks in departments of English, Communication, and Writing, and ideally, you’d expect that peer editors and reviewers would have to be a little more flexible about what they’re considering “fit,” since they’re gatekeeping for several different fields of study that overlap around the word “rhetoric.” But who knows?

So I collected every citation from the cited sources in RSQ articles from the last ten years, hoping that the references that were being cited would provide a different way of understanding where rhetoric is being studied. I fully expected that the most popular choices that show up in canonical lists would be highly cited, but I was hoping to find something that wasn’t expected: sources that were being read but were not making those “core” lists I mentioned above.

Here’s what I found. (After each journal I listed the number of times that journal was cited in my corpus. I intentionally left non-journal sources (books, newspapers, blog posts, etc.) because I wanted to start with a smaller question.

  1. QJS 359
  2. RSQ 306
  3. Philosophy and Rhetoric 161
  4. Rhetoric & Public Affairs 108
  5. Rhetoric Review 91
  6. College English 86
  7. Western Journal of Communication 75
  8. CCC 58
  9. Argumentation and Advocacy 33
  10. Critical Studies in Media Communication 32
  11. Communication Monographs 31
  12. Rhetorica 31
  13. Southern Journal of Communication 30
  14. JAC 26
  15. Written Communication 25
  16. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 23
  17. Communication Quarterly 21
  18. Communication Studies 21
  19. Argumentation 19
  20. Advances in the History of Rhetoric 18

Disappointing, but not unexpected. Each of those journals would show up in a bunch of the “core” lists. The only journals that are marginally interesting, IMHO, are the regional communication journals like Southern Journal of Communication, but even those are normative rhetoric journals.

But then I had another idea. What if I only looked at references in the special issues of RSQ? Special issues are proposed by guest editors who have a hand in selecting the pieces they want to publish. I got this idea after having read a special issue of RSQ issue on wearables, I felt like the articles just felt different. They seemed to imagine rhetoric differently than a status quo issue. I started wondering if these special issues might be different enough that they’d provide a platform for better inclusion. I can’t help but imagine that innovation might be one of the reasons that special issues are valued by journal editors.

So I limited my lists of cited sources from the last ten years to just special issues. The themes of those issues were: Rhetoric’s Demagogue (2019), Keywords (2018), Rhetoric’s Bestiary (2017), Wearables (2016), La Idea de la Retórica Americana/The Idea of American Rhetoric (2015), Untimely Historiographies (2014), Comparative Rhetoric (2013), Regional Rhetorics (2012), Human Rights (2011), and Neurorhetorics (2010). Here’s what I found were the most cited journals, issue by issue. I should point out that these counts aren’t exhaustive–there were lots more sources, these are just the most popular ones.

Human Rights (2011) 41(3):

  1. The Lancet 5
  2. Quarterly Journal of Speech 3
  3. PMLA 3
  4. Harvard International Law Journal 2
  5. Philosophy & Rhetoric 2
  6. Critical Studies in Media Communication 2
  7. Rhetoric & Public Affairs 2

Interesting, right? The issues on rhetoric and human rights draws heavily from the Lancet and the Harvard International Law Journal. And I found that each other special issue also contained a more varied list of preferred sources.

Regional Rhetorics (2012):

  1. Philosophy & Rhetoric 4
  2. Critical Studies in Media Communication 4
  3. Rhetoric Society Quarterly 3
  4. Quarterly Journal of Speech 2
  5. Southern Communication Journal 2
  6. Geographical Review 2

Not as interesting, but Geographical Review!

Comparative Rhetoric (2013)

  1. College English 12
  2. Style 6
  3. Rhetoric Review 6
  4. Rhetoric Society Quarterly 5
  5. Quarterly Journal of Speech 3
  6. PMLA 2
  7. Rhetorica 3
  8. College Composition and Communication 4

Meh. No big differences, but more citations to writing/English journals.

Untimely Historiographies (2014)

  1. Rhetoric Society Quarterly 4
  2. Quarterly Journal of Speech 3
  3. Media, Culture, and Society 3
  4. Advances in the History of Rhetoric 2
  5. Critical Inquiry 2
  6. Philosophy & Rhetoric 2
  7. Political Theory 2

Media, Culture, and Society? Critical Inquiry? Political Theory?

La Idea de la Retórica Americana/The Idea of American Rhetoric (2015)

  1. Rhetoric Society Quarterly 9
  2. Quarterly Journal of Speech 5
  3. Presidential Studies Quarterly 3
  4. College Composition and Communication 2
  5. Advances in the History of Rhetoric 3

Cool! Presidential Studies Quarterly.

Wearables (2016)

  1. Rhetoric Society Quarterly 6
  2. Quarterly Journal of Speech 3
  3. Mobile Media & Communication 3
  4. Written Communication 3
  5. Critical Public Health 2
  6. Journal of Business and Technical Communication 2
  7. Rhetoric Review 2
  8. Philosophy & Rhetoric 2
  9. College English 2
  10. New Media & Society 2

I was right! The citation distribution in this one was more varied. Many more journals, including a smattering of technical communication scholarship.

Rhetoric’s Bestiary (2017)

  1. Philosophy & Rhetoric 17
  2. Rhetoric Society Quarterly 7
  3. Environmental Communication 4
  4. Southern Communication Journal 1
  5. Presidential Studies Quarterly 1
  6. Rhetoric Review 1
  7. Western Journal of Communication 2
  8. PMLA 1

Environmental Communication! More references to Philosophy & Rhetoric makes me think that several of the articles could have been theory (re: canonized Western lit theory) heavy.

Keywords (2018)

  1. Rhetoric Society Quarterly 52
  2. Quarterly Journal of Speech 20
  3. Rhetoric Review 6
  4. Western Journal of Communication 4
  5. Computers and Composition 4
  6. College Composition and Communication 3
  7. Review of Communication 3
  8. Philosophy & Rhetoric 3
  9. Rhetoric & Public Affairs 3

Reifying. The disciplinary keywords issue overwhelmingly cited RSQ.

Rhetoric’s Demagogue (2019)

  1. Rhetoric & Public Affairs 21
  2. Rhetoric Society Quarterly 6
  3. Western Journal of Communication 4
  4. Women’s Studies in Communication 4
  5. Quarterly Journal of Speech 4
  6. Communication Studies 2
  7. Western Journal of Speech Communication 2

I’m curious who was citing Women’s Studies in Communication in this issue.

Overall, each of these lists mostly includes the normative journals in different ratios. But in most of the special issues you also see a few sources that might not be identified as part of a “core.” There are some methodological issues with assessing this way (how comparable is the corpus for each special issue in relation to entire ten year run? how big of sample would I want? Is 2009 citation comparable to 2019 citation?) but I’m wondering how important special issues are for shifting the thinking of entire communities? I guess a follow-up question would be–how much were any of these less cited journals cited after they were highlighted in the special issue? I want to keep looking at this, but it seems that it’s possible that the special issues could be important media for transforming how a field thinks about itself.

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