Still at the Cutting Edge...
35 and Counting
I am grateful to Julian Go for inviting former editors of Political Power and Social Theory (PPST) to offer our personal reflections marking the journal’s 35th anniversary. Spanning thirty volumes and four editors, PPST has never deviated from its founding mission to promote innovative social science research at the intersection of power, history, and society. Through its refreshingly provocative “scholarly controversy” devoted to central challenges facing the social sciences, it has advanced and in some cases transformed research agendas across multiple fields. Its pages, while featuring many of the leading figures in historical and political sociology, have always been open to new ideas and fresh faces regardless of disciplinary home or career stage. It is no exaggeration to say that PPST has provided the most consistent venue of its kind for high quality scholarship that is at once rigorously empirical and theoretically informed, a formula that has yielded numerous citation classics along with more than its share of award-winning articles.
I was introduced to PPST as a graduate student at UCLA. Its founding editor, Maurice Zeitlin, who was also my mentor and dissertation chair, generously invited me to co-edit a special volume on the role of leftist insurgents in the organization of U.S. basic industry from the pivotal 1930s through World War II. I had recently embarked on my dissertation that would become Reds or Rackets? while Maurice was in the initial stages of an ambitious project that would culminate (with Judy Stepan-Norris) in Left Out and a string of influential articles on the role of Communists in the formation of American labor. We were both still learning our way around the burgeoning literature on this topic, most of which was being carried out by labor historians at that time, but we knew enough to be able to identify a group of outstanding contributors. It was truly a labor of love. But the real payoff for me was working closely with Maurice, learning not only the ropes of editing but also having an opportunity to discuss with him many of the substantive ideas and arguments contained in that volume – conversations that would significantly shape my own thinking and writing for years to come.
"It is no exaggeration to say that PPST has provided
the most consistent venue of its kind for high
quality scholarship that is at once rigorously
empirical and theoretically informed..."
I remained an avid consumer of PPST after joining the faculty at Michigan in the mid-1980s but figured my editorial days were now behind me. I was thus surprised and genuinely flattered when Maurice invited me and Diane Davis, a good friend from graduate school, to take over the journal’s editorial reins. Truth be told, I was also a bit terrified at the thought of taking on responsibility for a journal that had set such high standards and figured so prominently in my own intellectual growth. Diane and I, following a few pep talks with each other and reassured by the extraordinarily distinguished editorial board that Maurice had assembled, decided to give it a try.
Conscious of the journal’s already stellar reputation, we did little to tinker with the original mission statement laid down by Maurice. At the same time, it was impossible to ignore the changing intellectual terrain among critical historical social scientists, including an ongoing rethinking and eventual retreat from the diffuse neo-Marxian influences that had accompanied the launch of PPST almost two decades earlier. We tweaked our mission statement accordingly, decentering but not displacing class analysis from the journal’s mission statement – replacing the earlier focus on “the class analysis of political relations and historical development” with our less class-centric commitment to “understanding… the linkages between class relations, political power, and historical development.” Class, politics, and history would thus remain, in slightly revised fashion, the guiding themes of PPST.
Diane and I had the pleasure of co-editing two volumes together in the mid-nineties before I was forced to step away from the journal owing to my growing administrative responsibilities at Michigan. I did so reluctantly because I really enjoyed working with Diane; indeed, it was a model of collaboration, with each of us bringing our distinct yet complimentary perspectives to the review process. We seldom if ever disagreed in our assessments. And while the editorial work load, despite being divided between us, was quite heavy at times, the intellectual rewards were greater still.
"The one constant over the past thirty five
years is that PPST remains the preeminent
journal for students of social change,
power, and history."
Following my departure, Diane continued editing PPST on her own, doing a brilliant job of expanding the journal’s intellectual reach to different topics, times, and places. When she decided to hand over the reins, we, along with others, considered a number of promising candidates for editor, but Julian Go stood out as everyone’s top choice. And he has fully lived up to expectations. Under his editorship, PPST has remained faithful to its founding mission while still responding to the constantly changing intellectual currents sweeping across the social sciences. Class is no longer specifically referenced in the mission statement; it is now subsumed under the more inclusive category of “social relations” and featured alongside “political power” and “historical development.” That, in my mind, is a welcome development for keeping the journal where it belongs: at the cutting edge of interdisciplinary, critical social science scholarship.
The one constant over the past thirty five years is that PPST remains the preeminent journal for students of social change, power, and history. In addition to my brief stint as editor, I have published there, my colleagues and friends have, and I regularly direct students to submit to PPST. I feel privileged to have played a small part in its rich intellectual legacy, and I look forward to many more years of stimulating reading.
HOWARD KIMELDORF, former PPST Editor and current member of the PPST Editorial Board, is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Michigan.