March 9, 2016 | David Canter, Editor, Contemporary Social Science

'The theme’s the thing': developing and editing a multidisciplinary journal

David Canter, Editor of Contemporary Social Science describes his approach

David Canter, Editor of Contemporary Social Science sheds light on his experiences of developing and editing a multidisciplinary journal based around themed issues.

From David Canter, Editor, Contemporary Social Science

Where it began

How do you bring an multidisciplinary social science journal to life if it has no central topic to hold it together? Economists would rather publish in a bona fide economics journal, sociologists in places that focus on their discipline, and so on for different social sciences.

Besides the challenge of attracting quality publications, there was also the difficulty of knowing enough about the full range of social science disciplines to be able to identify reviewers with confidence. As an editor, I needed to find reviewers to review papers on a diverse range of topics; from remittance to India to innovations in secondary education.

Changing direction

It seemed to me that there was a route to making the journal thrive. This was to build each issue around a topic or theme that was inherently multidisciplinary.

Why? I believed that experts who usually published in their own journals would be more likely to want to reach out to a wider audience by contributing to a themed issue. It also dawned on me that, by drawing in guest editors who were engaged in a specific topic, they would know who to get to review papers, as well as who to encourage to submit them.

As a result of all of the above, the journal became a general social science journal based around themed issues (they are not special issues - as every issue is themed, that’s what makes the journal special!)

The act of faith underlying all this is one shared by the founders of the Academy of Social Sciences.  This is that the social sciences are cognate; that they do relate to each other, and there are important topics that benefit from being explored from different social science perspectives.

The joys of editing the journal

Unexpected topics

The exciting discovery was that my beliefs were supported by topics that were offered, and emerged into themed issues of the journal. Some topics that are clearly multidisciplinary are obvious, such as social science aspects of climate change, or even protest movements. But others were a complete surprise. Our recent issue on social death deals with a fascinating area of research of which I had been completely unaware. The legacy of hosting the Olympic Games is another theme that requires inputs from many different disciplines.

New endeavours: podcasts

To promote the journal, I produce a podcast for each issue. This has the added requirement that I have to get some mastery on the theme, and how it is explored in the issue. This has turned the editorial process on its head. The journal is teaching me what is happening in the social sciences, drawing my attention to topics that are trending.

A transcript (written version) of the podcast is available for those who prefer to read than listen. (Check the podcasts out here, under ‘Latest Audio Clip’.)

Books from themed issues

Because the issue brings together writing on a specific topic as an entity, it is typically a useful resource for something that may not have been brought together in one pair of covers. So, libraries are happy to purchase hardback versions, which include an index as well as my foreword that summarizes the volume. Guest editors produce an overview introduction that puts the papers in context.

In the five years that the journal has focused on themed issues, a dozen books have been generated. Now guest editors see this as a distinct perk, wanting details of how this comes about when they sign up to put an issue together.


The uptake of the journal has increased dramatically since it became devoted to themed issues. The downloads have increased exponentially, and many individual papers achieve significant citations. But more importantly, a host of social science topics are emerging as multidisciplinary with a coherent range of perspectives that elucidate them.

Whether it is the study of how social science has an impact, the nature of identity in the modern world, or the behavior of crowds and many other issues, the social sciences, from social psychology through to economics and geography, history, educational studies and political science, come together in contributing to our understanding of these matters, opening up possibilities for policy and practice.

The natural sciences have always assumed that different disciplines can sit happily in one journal. Perhaps the recognition of the themes that hold the social sciences together, rather than arcane methodologies and abstruse theories, is a coming of age of the study of people and their social contexts.

Get involved: be a guest editor

We’re recruiting. For further details on guest editing the journal, click here.

Published: March 9, 2016 | Author: David Canter, Editor, Contemporary Social Science | Category: Front page, Managing my journal, News and ideas | Tagged with: