Home » ProSeminar in Anthropology » 2014 Publication & Anthropology » “GIVE IT A TRY”: A Glance at the Medical Anthropologists’ Experiences, Thoughts, and Suggestion about Publishing

“GIVE IT A TRY”: A Glance at the Medical Anthropologists’ Experiences, Thoughts, and Suggestion about Publishing

Şafak Kılıçtepe



This study is the result of interviews conducted with four medical anthropologists in the U.S., in February and March 2014. As a Ph.D. student who aims to specialize in medical anthropology, I wanted to find out more about the landscape of medical anthropology publishing, as well as the experiences of medical anthropologists in publishing strategies in both anthropological and non-anthropological journals. The initial aim was to investigate: (1) the top five journals as the best places to publish in medical anthropology; (2) whether my respondents perceive any advantage and/or disadvantage of publishing/not publishing in non-anthropological journals; (3) which are the perceived key journals important for publishing in getting tenure; (4) when they started publishing and the best time for Ph.D. students starting publishing. Even though, at first, I was not planning to ask any question about publishing a book, my first interview showed that having a published book can be a critical element for getting a tenure-track position in the field of anthropology. Thus, my following interviews also focused on book publishing along with other issues.

All participants in this study are women. Three of my informants are faculty members at Indiana University Bloomington, and one of them is a faculty member at Yale University. To give a summary about my informants: Professor Andrea Wiley is my key informant, who also provided me contact with two other informants. She is a medical anthropologist affiliated with the anthropology department at Indiana University. Her work focuses on the evolutionary and biological side of medical anthropology. Her field site is South Asia, particularly India. She has published five books and has widely published in, mostly, anthropological journals. Furthermore, Professor Sarah Phillips is a medical anthropologist in the anthropology department at Indiana University. She is interested in the social-cultural aspect of medical anthropology. Professor Phillips has published two books, and many articles in both anthropological and non-anthropological journals. Her geographic research area is Eastern Europe; the Former Soviet Union, especially Ukraine and Russia. In addition, Professor Marcia Inhorn is a medical anthropologist and is the William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Anthropology, International Affairs in the Department of Anthropology and The Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University. She is also the current and founding editor of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies (JMEWS) and has served as director of the Council on Middle East Studies at Yale University[1]. She has published twelve books and many articles in both anthropological and non-anthropological journals. The last but not the least, my fourth informant, for whom I will use pseudonym, is Maria Gonzales. She holds a medical anthropology degree, and is an Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health. Gonzales‘s contribution to this study is essential not only because of her position as a medical anthropologist, working outside of the anthropology department, but also for her wide research on the strategies of publishing as a young scholar. The sample group in this project aims at representing a diverse range of medical anthropologists ‘experiences with different positions in their careers, age groups, different fields and regions of interests, different experiences and ideas.



I contacted my informants via email. In my emails, I explained the aim of the study. I, initially, contacted seven people, but only four of them were willing and able to allocate their time in the suggested time range. As three of my informants are faculty members at Indiana University, the interviews took place face-to-face, in their offices. My interview with Professor Marcia Inhorn was through Skype. All of my informants allowed me to record our conversations. The shortest interview was 21 minutes while the longest lasted 48 minutes. Before starting our conversation, I re-informed them about the purpose of and what I expected to gain from this study. After conducting interviews, I transcribed them separately, looked at common themes, agreements and disagreements.

One of the problems that I have encountered in this study was not being able to reach the intended sample size. I planned to conduct interviews with seven medical anthropologists from different universities, positions, and many arrays of interests in the field of medical anthropology. Some of the people who I contacted for this project did not reply to my emails at all. I believe that I would be able to get in contact with more people, i.e. more interviews, if this project was taking place in a longer time frame.



Summary of the Results: My interpretation of the data

Top 5 journals in medical anthropology:

There is a common theme in what are thought of as the top five journals in the field of medical anthropology although there are also different positions based on individuals’ topic of interests (see Table 1 and Chart 1). According to my informants, one of the most highly ranked journal in medical anthropology is Medical Anthropology Quarterly (MAQ), which is one of the journals published by the American Anthropological Association. Wiley stated, “It is indexed in med-line… The whole biomedical community has access to it. MAQ is a good place to start, especially if you are looking for making a career in anthropology.” Inhorn stated that Social Science and Medicine is one of the highly ranked and internationally reached journals. Phillips indicated that Cultural Anthropology and American Ethnologist are two of her favorite journals because she thinks, “they are publishing articles that are out of mainstream both theoretically and methodologically.” Gonzales sees MAQ as a journal that publishes both quantitative and qualitative data, Social Science and Medicine as publishing qualitative and more theoretical articles, and Medical Anthropology as the most theoretical journal. In addition, Medical Anthropology, Wiley stated, is changing by saying, “it used to be more biocultural and now it has much less biocultural approach and more cultural focus.”

All informants mentioned the importance of familiarity with each journal’s “culture.” In other words, before submitting papers to a particular journal, it is crucial to read the instructions (e.g., how many words, and in what format the papers should be) and read articles in the journal; search for the journal’s expectations, what they are publishing, and their missions. Learning each journals’ “culture” is significant because it provides directions to the author(s) how to shape his/her/their paper based on the journal’s expectations. “You always want to tailor your writing based on the journal’s mandates, and requirements,” said Wiley and others agreed. Although each journal’s requirements might be different in terms of their expectations, my informants said that there are no trends in what each anthropology journal represents in terms of their topic preferences to publish.





Table 1: Top 5 Journals According to Each Person

Mentioned Order Phillips Wiley Inhorn Gonzales
Medical Anthropology Quarterly  Medical Anthropology Quarterly  Medical Anthropology Quarterly Medical Anthropology Quarterly
Anthropology and Medicine  Social Science and Medicine Social Science and Medicine Social Science and Medicine
Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry Medical Anthropology Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry Reproductive Health Matters
Social Science and Medicine The Journal of American Medical Association Medical anthropology Critical Public Health
Cultural Anthropology & American Ethnologist Others that are based on personal interests, such as Maternal and Child Health Journal, Epidemiology, Minorities and Health, and Urban Health Anthropology and Medicine Anthropology and Medicine



Chart 1: Frequency of Journals Mentioned as Top 5



Publishing books or articles in highly ranked journals for tenure: Thinking Strategically


Depending on how, in what field, and in which institution a medical anthropology degree will be used, the significance of publishing books or articles changes. All informants emphasized the importance of publishing a book for getting a tenure-track position in the field of anthropology. They said that the expectations could be different in the fields outside of anthropology and in different institutions. For example, School of Public Health faculty are expected to publish more articles instead of a book although having a published book might also be useful. In anthropology, the book is one of the essential elements for getting tenure, but having published in highly ranked journals is also important (see Chart 2). Thus, one needs to think strategically depending on institutions and their expectations.



Chart 2: Book or publishing articles in highly ranked journals for tenure-track



Turning a Dissertation into a Book?

In anthropology, a dissertation should be considered as the major part of a book. It can also be turned into different articles. If some of the dissertation’s chapters will be published as articles, it is important to keep the book novel as book publishers do not want to publish something that is already accessible online and/or on paper. As said before, think about what is most valuable in the field and institution that you are targeting in.


Publishing in non-anthropological journals:

Publishing in non-anthropological journals is encouraged especially in terms of reaching larger audiences. However, experiences with it are varied (see Chart 3). For example, three of my informants have had experience in publishing in non-anthropological journals, but only two of them had positive experience with it. The difficulty of publishing in non-anthropological journals usually comes from how anthropologists think about their data, how they interpret and write about it. Wiley said, “Actually the work I am doing right now with my colleague in India has been a real struggle because they are clinicians and the way they think about research questions, the structure of a paper, the content of a paper is very different for me. They keep saying to me you are writing like an anthropologist, and I keep saying, I don’t know, I feel like I have got rid of all of the interpretive material. And they said there is still too much of that here. So, it is a challenge to do.” All my other informants agreed that we need to tailor our writing style based on the journal’s expectations and instructions even though it might be challenging.



Chart 3: Negative and positive experiences in publishing non-anthropological journals.


The lesson of this project: When and where to start?

Suggestions for when and where to start also vary (see Chart 4). However, the general route for publishing is to start in graduate school. Aim for the big journals. If it is frustrating, submit papers and/or posters to big conferences, get feedback on them, revise, and submit them to the journals. The general, and the most important, suggestion is GIVE IT A TRY!


Chart 4: When to start publishing.

[1] http://www.marciainhorn.com/