Katie Strom is Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, Core Faculty, Educational Leadership for Social Justice EdD at California State University, East Bay, USA.
Dear Division K Proposal Submitter,
Thank you for your submission. While your submission was not accepted this year, we wanted to give you some insight into the review and decision-making process for the Division K program at the AERA annual meeting so that you may better understand the process. Division K receives an extremely high number of very strong proposals for a very limited number of spots. As you may have seen, AERA received over 13,000 proposals, and Division K received almost 2000 of these. Because of the high number of strong proposals and limited allotments, the overall Division K acceptance rate was 49%.
Many factors go into the creation of Division K’s program. Section Chairs work hard to create a balanced program that reflects the annual theme. Peer-review feedback is the most important factor in developing the program, but it is not the only factor. The entire Division K program team looks at the theme, the specific calls for the sections, as well as the balance among perspectives, topics, and approaches. Ultimately, Section Chairs often have to make very difficult decisions among many equally high-rated sessions.
We are unable to accommodate requests to re-review proposals or to re-consider decisions; please know that the decisions made were done with great care and attention to detail.
All the best,
This year, the academic communities I’m connected to were reeling even more than usual from the high number of rejections of proposed papers and panels for the American Educational Research Association’s (AERA) annual meeting. Indeed, the message above, which I received about a week after the original notifications were sent, attests to the large volume of complaints the organization must have received. Beginning the day we were notified of the fate of our proposals, my Facebook and Twitter feeds were filled with post after post bemoaning rejected proposals or cursing AERA in general. I, too, had received some bad news—two symposia I had organized and was chairing had been rejected, one that had been submitted to Division K (Teacher Education) and one to the Qualitative Research (QR) SIG. Maddeningly, both had also received positive peer reviews. However, as the email I received from Division K also notes, the peer reviews are only one piece of the puzzle. They are taken into account, but those in charge of the particular SIG or Division strand/subsection make the final decisions on acceptances. Even a paper with perfect reviews, then, might be rejected for a range of reasons, including whether those in charge feel the paper is a good “fit” theoretically, methodologically, and/or politically for the section or SIG to which it was proposed.
The conservative leanings of AERA, collectively, means that it is particularly difficult for those critiquing dominant educational narratives/methods and proposing different ways of thinking, educating, and researching to get proposals accepted (especially symposia, which are the most competitive type of proposal). Like all highly regulated institutions, AERA represents a striated space (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987) where power (potestas) is used, in most cases, to maintain the status quo. In this way, it serves a policing, disciplining, and/or exclusionary mechanism for the field, filtering out and subduing different (e.g., feminist, queer, indigenous, posthuman, and so on) ways of looking at the world.
My research exists at the juncture of teacher learning/practice and posthuman/neo-materialist theories, and in the past few years I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of spaces within AERA that are willing to consider work with a significantly different ontological (or onto-epistemological) stance. As a notable exception, the Qualitative Research (QR) SIG has recently served as an incubator for research employing posthuman and new materialist thinking, but this space also contains its own molar lines or constraining forces. For example, the QR SIG can’t accommodate that many symposia, since AERA SIGs are allotted only a certain number of slots for panel presentations. Further, while posthuman/new materialist-informed methodologies may be important to those currently in leadership in the SIG, this is just one of many topics of current interest in the field of qualitative research in education, so not all of their panel slots would be likely to go to posthuman/new materialist driven symposia. So this SIG may have only been able to accept, in reality, a handful of panel proposals with this focus. Since they likely received many more than that, they probably had to reject even some strong, well-received proposals.
Although it would be easy to turn away from AERA and simply take our research elsewhere to spaces that are more welcoming and open to work that troubles dominant thinking, methods, and politics in education, to do so means that we may have less of a chance to really change status quo thinking and practices in education systems and research. We should of course still engage in these spaces that not only allow for, but encourage and delight in, theoretical and methodological experimentation. In these spaces we expand our learning, nurture our practice, and build communities of solidarity—something that is so, so necessary in the often cut-throat and soul-crushing neoliberal academy. However, we can’t give up on spaces like AERA. In fact, we need to double down our commitment to infiltrating such mainstream research spaces to proliferate those different ways of thinking, research, and practice to shift the field as a whole.
Unfortunately, as those of us who have attempted to present our work via formal AERA conduits have discovered, the exclusionary mechanisms that preserve the status quo tend to do their job well. For this reason, we need to adopt a strategy of infiltration, which can take many forms. One idea is to be strategic and subversive with language when you initially write your proposal. Purposefully use language that can help “translate” or “scaffold” the ideas for those who may have not had exposure to different ways of thinking. While on the one hand, language certainly has the power to reproduce the status quo, on the other, even introducing a few new concepts or terms into your work can help move people’s thinking. Another option is to find the “in-between” entrypoints for AERA presentations. For example, there are several committees that receive their own slots for panels, and they make the decision as a committee without putting it through a peer-review process. Find out who is on these committees and make a connection with them, and propose a panel for the following year. There are also affiliated events like the AERA Invisible College, an event hosted by the Narrative Research and Self-Study SIGs, which was started by Jean Clandinin and is now headed by Stefinee Pinnegar. I was able to get a spot to present one of my rejected panels in this space, which takes place the day prior to the start of the conference. As another example, the Queering Education Research Institute (QuERI) is holding an event during the conference and has invited scholars doing work with gender, sexuality, or related studies whose proposals were rejected to present at their event instead.
We can also create new territories within AERA. One mode of doing so is by volunteering for positions in SIGs and divisions so that we can directly participate in the decision-making processes that determine which knowledge gets to be disseminated. As another territory-making movement, I’m working with Jessica Ringrose and Shiva Hassan-Zarabadi, as well as receiving support and input from multiple scholars, to propose a Posthuman & New/Neo-Materialism SIG. This SIG will look to explicitly support work, especially from emerging scholars, that puts to work affirmative, complex theories of generative difference and proliferation to produce new thinking and practices across educational disciplines.
Getting your work rejected is traumatic and, with the continual cycle of publication and conference submissions, exhausting. It might feel like a stoppage or a closing down of a productive line of thinking. But we may just need to take a different route to get our work out in mainstream research spaces. Taking a cue from Deleuze and Guattari (and the many feminist scholars who have taken up and expanded their work- e.g., Braidotti, Hickey-Moody, MacLure, Ringrose), we need to think rhizomatically and find ways through the cracks and in-between spaces to forge new territories (but not be territorial about them) where we can disrupt the rigid thinking and disciplinary/exclusionary mechanisms of institutions like AERA.
 The American Educational Research Association is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious educational research organizations. It has approximately 25,000 members and its annual meeting draws about 15,000 people internationally.