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Ethnology’s Intellectual Focus

Ethnology in Intellectual Space



Ethnology is a quarterly journal devoted to “offering the broadest range of general cultural and social anthropology of any anthropological journal in the United States” (Ethnology 2006a).  According the journal’s website, Ethnology specifically:

  • provides its readers with a unique opportunity to stay rooted in traditional anthropology while keeping current with new directions of the field.
  • is an academically oriented journal not just for academics.
  • is highly readable and reflects an impressive cross-section of specializations, making it an ideal tool for teaching, reference, and general knowledge of anthropology.
  • is diverse enough to educate the most sophisticated research scholar as well as the occasional anthropology enthusiast. (Ethnology 2006a)


The journal only publishes articles – it does not publish book reviews, editorial comments, or book notes.  In short, Ethnology is a place to find or publish short ethnographic articles with a broad range of theoretical and geographic interests.

The current editorial board in charge of fulfilling these goals consists of: Leonard Plotnicov (Editor-in-Chief), Richard Scaglion, Joseph S. Alter, and Marie Norman (Editors), and Katherine A. Lancaster (Managing Editor) (Ethnology 2006b).  Plotnicov, Alter, and Scaglion are all professors of anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, which publishes and finances the journal through the Department of Anthropology and the University Library System (Ethnology 2006a).  Marie Norman works at Carnegie Mellon University (also in Pittsburgh), while Katherine Lancaster’s position with the journal is full-time (Katherine Lancaster, e-mail to author, February 28, 2006).  As can be seen, the geographical locus of the journal is firmly set in Pittsburgh.  However, this geographical locus does not impact the papers published by Ethnology.  Only three authors (out of 33 total) published in Ethnology in 2004 were alumni of the University of Pittsburgh, and none were present faculty.  The authors published in 2004 were housed in universities in several different countries, including the Netherlands, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

It is also important to note that Ethnology was founded in 1962 by George Murdock (Ethnology 2006a), who also helped to establish the Human Relations Area Files.  Murdock’s passion for making data-based ethnography available for comparison can be seen in the journal’s goals and composition.

In accordance with its goals, “Ethnology welcomes articles by scientists of any country on any aspect of cultural anthropology; theoretical or methodological discussions, however, will be published only if they specifically relate to some body of substantive data” (Ethnology 2005).  Authors who hope to publish in Ethnology can expect to wait approximately six months from the time they submit their manuscripts until the time their papers are published (Leonard Plotnicov, personal communication, March 2, 2006).  During the review process, an average of five reviewers, chosen from the editors of the journal and knowledgeable external referees, will review the manuscript (Leonard Plotnicov, personal communication, March 2, 2006).  Approximately 35% of the papers submitted to the journal are eventually accepted for publication (Leonard Plotnicov, personal communication, March 2, 2006).

Ethnology has a circulation of approximately 1250, including institutional exchange partners (i.e., institutions who exchange a subscription to their journal for a subscription to Ethnology) (Katherine Lancaster, e-mail to author, February 20, 2006).  The journal also reaches a wider audience through licensing agreements with electronic distributors, such as EBSCO (Katherine Lancaster, e-mail to author, February 20, 2006).  Compared to some journals, such as the American Anthropologist, which has a circulation of 13,000 (University of California Press 2006), Ethnology does not seem to be especially widespread.  However, the journal is somewhat comparable in circulation to other major journals focusing on cultural anthropology, such as Cultural Anthropology (total circulation 2100, including members of the Society for Cultural Anthropology within the American Anthropological Association (AAA)) (University of California Press 2006).

Ethnology’s Intellectual Focus

As mentioned above, Ethnology does not have a single topical focus.  After examining the published keywords from the last five years of the journal (the period starting with the Winter 2001 issue and ending with the Spring 2005 issue), I have identified the most common topical keywords in Ethnology abstracts, which can be seen in Table 1.

Table 1.  Most Common Keywords (topical)

1. Gender                                                                                                 10

2. Ethnicity                                                                                                 6

3. Religion                                                                                                  5

3. Globalization                                                                                           5

5. Migration                                                                                                4

5. Modernity                                                                                              4


These top six keywords are taken from a field of 350 keywords from 95 articles.  The keyword with the highest frequency, “gender”, was found in 11% of the articles.  Most keywords were found far less frequently – only 49 of the 350 keywords were found in more than one abstract.  The diversity of keywords reflects the variety of topics covered in the articles published by the journal in the studied period.  However, the general zeitgeist of anthropology is reflected in the most common topical keywords – gender, globalization, ethnicity, modernity and migration were all popular topics.

              Similarly, Ethnology does not have a geographical focus.  Table 2 shows the geographical keywords that appear with the greatest frequency in the abstracts in Ethnology of the last five years.

Table 2.  Most Common Keywords (geographical)

1. Japan                                                                     10

2. Indonesia                                                                3

2. West Africa                                                            3

4. Ten areas tied                                                       2


As can be seen, Japan is by far the area that received the most coverage, appearing in 11% of the abstracts.  No other area appeared in more than 3% of abstracts.  It does not appear that there is any editorial bias toward Japan – none of the editors have a Japanese research focus.  Nor was there a special issue devoted to Japan, so it appears that this focus on Japan is simply a reflection of the papers received.

Ethnology in Intellectual Space         

To examine where Ethnology exists in intellectual space, it is instructive to see which journals were cited most by authors in Ethnology in 2004 (see Table 3).

Table 3. Journals that Ethnology Cited Frequently in 2004

  1. American Anthropologist                          14
  2. American Ethnologist                                  13
  3. Ethnology                                                    11
  4. Asahi Shimbun                                10
  5. Annual Review of Anthropology              5

(Thomson Corporation 2006)


Ethnology exists firmly within the mainstream of American cultural anthropology, as is reflected in the appearance of four widely-circulated, mainstream anthropological journals in Table 3.  The relative dominance of Japan as a geographical focus explains the number of cites Asahi Shimbun (one of Japan’s largest newspapers) received.  These numbers reflect the journal’s place in traditional, mainstream anthropology, but also indicate the willingness of the editorial board to publish the highest-quality papers it receives, even if that means some geographical redundancy.

The following table, which lists the publications which cite Ethnology most frequently in 2004, shows that Ethnology has an impact on other disciplines as well as mainstream anthropology.

Table 4.  Journals that Cited Ethnology Frequently in 2004

1.     Ethnology                                                                                11

2.     Cross-Cultural Research                                                       7

3.     American Ethnologist                                                              6

        Journal of Anthropological Research                                   6

        Sociological Theory                                                                6

(Thomson Corporation 2006)


Ethnology is most frequently cited by two prominent anthropological journals as well as a sociology journal and a multi-disciplinary journal.  This is a tribute to the data-based approach Ethnology takes – it is not a journal that only publishes anthropological data and theory for anthropologists, but a journal that makes ethnographic data and theory available to a wide variety of readers.

According to the 2004 Journal Citation Reports (Social Science Edition), published by the Institute for Scientific Information, Ethnology had an “impact factor”[1] of 0.357 in 2004 (Thomson Corporation 2006).  To give some reference points, the flagship anthropology journal in the United States, the American Anthropologist, had an impact factor of 0.952 in 2004 (Thomson Corporation 2006), while another major journal, Cultural Anthropology, had an impact factor of 0.941 in 2004 (Thomson Corporation 2006).  Ethnology’s lesser impact factor is probably due to the lack of theoretical and methodological articles in the journal.  Ethnology’s focus on articles with a “substantive body of data” means that published articles are likely of interest to those with similar geographical and theoretical interests, but not to anthropologists in general.  This focus on data-based articles contributes to the cross-disciplinary appeal of the journal and ensures that Ethnology plays a unique and useful role in anthropology today.


1.     Ethnology

2006a    Ethnology: An International Journal of Cultural and Social Anthropology. Electronic Document,, accessed February 17, 2006.


2.     Ethnology

2006b    Ethnology Editors. Electronic Document,, accessed February 17, 2006


3.     Ethnology  2005       

Ethnology 44 (1):Front Page.

4.     University of California Press

2006      Journals of the American Anthropological Association.  Electronic Document,, accessed February 28, 2006


5.     The Thomson Corporation

2006      Ethnology.  Journal Citation ReportsÒ, 2004 Edition. 

[Footonote 1] The Impact Factor of a journal, is calculated as follows:

Cites in 2004 to articles published in:    2003 = 8      Number of articles published in:        2003 = 21

                                                                    2002 = 7                                                                   2002 = 21

                                                                    Sum: 15                                                                      Sum: 42

Calculation:             Cites to recent articles                       15              = 0.357

                            Number of recent articles                        42

(Thomson Corporation 2006)

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