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Canon ain’t just numbers, baby!

Canon ain’t just numbers, baby!


The objective of this project is to examine the construction of the canon in sociocultural anthropology by examining frequency of publication in three major anthropological journals. In selecting our three journals, we sought ones that have a prominent place in the discipline as well as being primarily focused on sociocultural anthropology. Therefore certain other prominent journals, such as Current Anthropologist, were not used due to their four-field approach. Our study focused on authors, rather than works.

Our working definition of canonicity was based on an author’s frequency of publication. That is, multiple publications in prominent journals would put an author in a position of high recognition. We thus assumed that there would be a correlation between an author’s frequency of publication and their potential canonical status. Additionally, we investigated the role gender and institutional affiliation played in achieving potential canonicity. We assumed that women would be structurally disadvantaged in publishing and therefore be less likely to achieve canonicity. We also believed that association with prestigious institutions would increase an author’s likelihood of achieving canonical status. For institutional affiliation, we examined both the institution where the author received her or his Ph.D. as well as the affiliated university at the time of publication. While we do not believe that this method alone can determine what authors are canonical in sociocultural anthropology, we think that our data and conclusions can be used in conjunction with other findings from colleagues in the social theory class, such as citations, sales rankings, syllabi, conference presentations, awards, and translations. We believe that taken together these findings represents a justifiable way to measure canonicity.

Data and Methods

We examined the frequency of publication in three major journals: American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, and Cultural Anthropology over a ten year span. We chose these journals due to their consistently high impact factor in sociocultural anthropology. There were a total of 852 research articles published from 1990 to 1999: 315 in American Anthropologist, 334 in American Ethnologist, and 203 in Cultural Anthropology. We recorded only research articles; book reviews and other incidental articles did not factor into our study. In selecting our range of years, we wanted a period of time that was recent enough to be relevant to current anthropological thinking while allowing enough time to have passed to not simply reflect short term trends. The data that we recorded for each article was entered into an excel spreadsheet, noting the following categories: journal name, year, issue, author name, gender, and institutional affiliation. For the most frequently published authors, we also noted where they earned their Ph.Ds. In cases of co-authorship, we noted each of the first two authors. We counted each publication equally for all journals as well as for single or co-authorships. Three ways in which we could have improved our methods were: to use a broader sample, to weight single and co-authorship differently, and to note the gender and institutional affiliation of the journal editors, since they serve as gatekeepers of publication (Mcelhinny et al. 2003, 302-303).


Our entire sample consisted of 771 authors. Of these authors, 448 (58%) were male and 323 (42%) were female. Our results show that the vast majority of authors, 629 out of 771, published only once for our sample. The rest of the data is as follows: 108 authors published 2 articles, 25 authors published 3 articles, 8 authors published 4 articles, and only one author, Frederick Errington, published 5 articles (see figure 1). The authors with 4 publications each were: George Marcus, Deborah Gewertz, John Kelly, Martha Kaplan, E. Paul Durrenberger, Alessandro Duranti, Eric Gable, and Jeannette Marie Mageo. The authors’ institutional affiliations at the time of publication were diverse. The 5 universities with the most publications were: University of Chicago (25), University of Michigan (21), Stanford University (16), University of California at Irvine and Washington University (15 each). For the next ten universities see figure 2.

Popa.Librato_Fig1 Popa.Librato_Fig2

In the top three positions of publication (3, 4, and 5 times) there were 34 authors, 23 male and 11 female (see figure 3). Of these authors, 8 earned their Ph.Ds. from the University of Chicago, 5 from Harvard University, 3 each from the University of Texas and from Columbia University, and 2 from the University of California at Berkeley. For the remaining schools, which granted one Ph.D. each, see figure 4. The Ph.Ds. were granted over an extremely long period of time, from 1954 through 1990. This reflects the continuing importance of these journals across generations of anthropologists, including established authors as well as for those looking to make their name in the field and possibly become canonical.


Based on the data we gathered, we saw no clear indication of canonicity, since the total range of publications was only from 1 to 5 per author. We had expected to see the top authors publish much more often for our data set. This fact notwithstanding, we did see patterns related to gender, institutional affiliation, and Ph.D. granting universities. As expected, a strong majority of authors were male. Likewise, elite institutions (both degree granting and affiliated institutions at the time of publication) were disproportionately represented in general as well as among most published authors. This correlates to Marcus’s notion of “textual communities” (Marcus 1991: 391), in which certain institutions have more power in shaping the canon. However, we were surprised to note that some of the top authors were affiliated with less prominent institutions. In rethinking the canon, it is clear that frequency of publication in prominent journals cannot stand alone as a measure for influence and inclusion in the canon.


Marcus, George E.

1991 A Broad(er)side to the Canon Being a Partial Account of a Year of Travel among Textual Communities in the Realm of Humanities Centers and Including a Collection of Artificial Curiosities. Cultural Anthropology 6 (3): 385-405.

Mcelhinny, Bonnie, with Marijke Hols, Jeff Holtzkener, Susanne Unger and Claire Hicks

2003 Gender, Publication and Citation in Sociolinguistics and Linguistic Anthropology: The Construction of a Scholarly Canon. Language in Society 32 (03): 299-328.