BEJR author Interview: Abraham SingerPosted: December 22, 2014
Abraham Singer is a PhD student at the University of Toronto’s Department of Political Science. He’s the author of “What is the Best Way to Argue Against the Profit-Maximization Principle?”, published in BEJR in May of 2013, and which has been downloaded 137 times since then in PDF format.
BEJR co-editor, Chris MacDonald, sat down with Abe to talk to him about his experience with the journal.
Chris MacDonald: What inspired you to submit a Commentary to BEJR?
Abe Singer: I decided to submit a Commentary to BEJR because it was a quick way to engage in a scholarly debate. I mean quick in two senses: quick because BEJR wants short commentaries, so I knew I didn’t need to worry about crafting a huge, intricate paper with dozens of citations; and quick because the turnaround is incredibly fast. That was really attractive to me.
CM: Was your Commentary in BEJR part of a larger project?
AS: Sort of. The commentary I wrote for BEJR was a response to a paper that criticized profit-maximization as a default corporate objective. The author — Waheed Hussain — was arguing that this objective limits the various pursuits corporations might wish to pursue and therefore violates liberal freedom. The larger project I was, and am, working on (my dissertation) is on the relationship between political theory and the corporation, so I’m interested in questions about the ethics of capitalism and the profit-maximization principle. That being said, crafting a specific response to this type of argument was not on my short-term agenda. My work is largely focused on criticizing Chicago economics’ emphasis on profit and shareholder wealth; so I actually agreed with Waheed’s conclusions, but not the form of his argument. I wouldn’t have taken the time to argue about the nitty-gritty details with someone I generally agreed with had there not been a venue like BEJR that made that so feasible.
CM: How did writing for BEJR fit into your workflow?
AS: I literally wrote my Commentary as a way to avoid grading mid-term exams. The first draft took an afternoon at most. It beat the hell out of correcting undergraduate ruminations on Hobbes! Who says procrastination isn’t productive?
CM: What was the editorial experience like? Did we live up to our promises?
AS: For sure. I think the turnaround was a week or so. The review gave good and helpful comments that made my points stronger and clearer. The Commentary was published about two weeks later. Super fast!
CM: Did your Commentary get some attention on social media? We try hard to get the word out about everything we publish. Did it work?
AS: My Commentary was publicized on Facebook and got lots of “likes” from people who I respect in the field. I’m not on Twitter, but friends told me it was getting lots of publicity there too.
AS: It felt like an affirmation. When you’re in grad school it’s easy to feel isolated and unsure of whether you are progressing along the right track. This is true generally, but it’s especially true if you are studying business ethics type stuff in a discipline like political science where that is not a traditional object of study. So it felt good to have an established scholar engage with my Commentary.
CM: Beyond Hussain’s response, what kind of feedback or attention have you received, based on your Commentary?
AS: There have been times since then, at business ethics conferences, when people will tell me they read my commentary in BEJR and we’ll start discussing issues related to the idea of profit-maximization, or corporate objectives in general. That is the best part — that the commentary leads to more debate and conversation. A friend also recently punched my name into Google Scholar and discovered that my BEJR Commentary is cited in an Italian research document of some kind. So the “Singer-Hussain” debate has continental legs, apparently!
CM: As a junior scholar, how has being published in BEJR helped you and your career?
AS: Well, I’m still a lowly PhD candidate, so it is perhaps too soon to tell. That said, I definitely think I am taken more seriously as an academic and a professional by virtue of having engaged in this way. Aside from a line on my CV — which is obviously a very good thing, because I’m currently on the job market — having published a peer-reviewed Commentary is evidence that you are serious about scholarship, and that you’re engaged in the field. Again, this is especially important being a graduate student in a political science department. It has led to some important institutional affiliations, and co-authored projects (currently in progress) with scholars I greatly admire.
CM: How has being published in BEJR changed your attitude toward publishing?
AS: This is probably the most important benefit of publishing the commentary with BEJR: it pretty much eliminated the mystique associated with scholarly publishing, and lowered the psychological barriers. When you’re a grad student, publishing can seem like a far-off goal that is exclusively the domain of the accomplished scholars you study under. It’s intimidating. Publishing something in BEJR was great because after doing that I felt like, “Oh, I can do this!” That isn’t to say publishing is easy, or that I now approach it lackadaisically. But it helped make publication feel more like something I am capable of doing, and something I ought to be aiming for.
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