Steve Cooke

measuring the boundaries of our nation by the sun

Anatomy of a terrible social sciences paper

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For various reasons I’ve been reading a considerable number of social sciences papers broadly falling within the fields of global political economy, human geography, sociology, and political science. A disappointingly large number of these papers have been so astonishingly woeful I’ve begun to doubt the value of peer review. On the plus side, that also means that publishing is must be easier than many people think. As a public service, I thought I’d lay out how you too might write in a way that seems popular right now. Maybe it will help you get published too.

1. Begin with the claim that gender, race, or class has been insufficiently analysed as a factor relevant to the understanding of X. With luck, this will be the first paper on the subject of X that your reader has read, so they won’t know just how many papers in the field make the same claim.

2. Pepper your paper with undefended normative claims. Treat egalitarianism is self-evidently synonymous with justice. Assume egalitarianism means equal distribution of resources.

3. Anthropomorphise any structural elements of your analysis in order to attribute intentions and agency to class, global capitalism, liberalism or whatever.

4. In the mid-point of your paper, reveal yourself as a Marxist. Whatever factor you initially identified as under-analysed turns out to really be the material base of global capitalism.

5. Assert that neo-liberalism is terrible. Leave a definition of neoliberalism and argument for your claim for another day.

6. Surprise! In your conclusion, include an utterly unsignposted and unexpected new claim, but, don’t bother to really justify it.

7. Finish with a request for funding in the form of an assertion that more analysis is needed. Of course more analysis is needed, the one made in the paper is terrible.

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Author: Steve Cooke

I work in normative ethics, specialising in animal and environmental ethics and political philosophy.

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