Bulmer, M. & Stanley, L. (1996) 'Editorial', Sociological Research Online, vol. 1, no 1, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/1/1/editors.html>.

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996



Welcome, readers, to the first issue of SOCIOLOGICAL RESEARCH ONLINE. This is an international journal intended to promote rapid communication among sociologists without limitation of topic or approach. It will publish high quality applied sociology which engages with current political, cultural and intellectual topics and debates. Articles published by SOCIOLOGICAL RESEARCH ONLINE will be concerned with the application of sociological forms of analysis to a wide range of public issues and private concerns, thereby demonstrating the wide social relevance of sociological research . We intend to make this journal a leading-edge means of communicating the results of the latest applied sociological research to an international community via the Internet[1].

It is important, we believe crucial, for the discipline of Sociology not only to make full use of the possibilities that these new developments occasion, but also to do so in ways fully informed by Sociology itself. Here we have in mind a range of factors which a sociological understanding can inform. Thus patterns of funding between institutions and the distribution of computing facilities and technological support within them will impact on who is able to make use of such possibilities, while gender, 'race' and age factors help shape ideas about and responses to new technologies, often on the side of providers rather than end-users, while there are extraordinary epistemological shifts made possible by the Web and its hypertext possibilities. All of these are of interest and also of concern to the discipline, not just 'the technology' itself.

The World Wide Web, it has (somewhat hyperbolically) been claimed, is 'probably the fastest growing technological phenomenon in the history of the human race' (Handley and Crowcroft, 1995: p. vii). Even discounting heavily such claims, there is no doubt about its growing significance as a means of scholarly publishing. The recent exponential growth of the WWW is likely to flatten out, but electronic publishing is truly still in its infancy. While its implications for sociology publishing are yet to be tested, SOCIOLOGICAL RESEARCH ONLINE intends to be at the forefront of proactive and sociologically informed uses of such media, rather than merely responsive to it.

In the sciences, the WWW is already becoming a standard means of scientific communication. The High Energy Physics E- Print Archive at Los Alamos National Laboratory provides free access and rapid publications and distribution world-wide, handling over 20,000 daily requests from over 60 countries for abstracts of the pre-prints which it holds. Users may then download copies of the complete papers. The archive is a leading means of communication in that scientific field (Stix, 1994). Leading refereed scientific journals are now available on the Internet, such as the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the Astrophysical Journal Letters and the Online Journal of Current Clinical Trials.

Those who argue that the social sciences are completely different in kind from the natural sciences and that these developments are irrelevant to disciplines such as sociology could take note of the standing of the online psychology journal Psycholoquy , refereed to standards most print journals strive hard to meet. In our own domain we follow the appearance of the Electronic Journal of Sociology based in Alberta, Canada, although our conception of scholarly electronic journal publishing is somewhat different from theirs and, the editors believe, more rigorous, following a conventional refereeing process prior to publication.

We insist on refereeing as a crucial element of quality control in the electronic publishing process. As an editorial in SCIENCE put it:

The current practice of peer-reviewed journals ensure that published results have been carefully scrutinised and provide a level of assurance of the quality of those results on which future research can be based. We must face the challenge of providing new mechanisms to ensure the same level of quality control in electronic publishing without sacrificing the advantages of rapid dissemination (Winograd and Zare, 1995: p. 615).
SOCIOLOGICAL RESEARCH ONLINE will rely upon the judgements of the members of its editorial board, its international correspondents, and other sociologists whom it uses to review submissions within their special areas of competence. All the articles appearing in this issue have been reviewed by three such referees. The WWW can be used as a serious channel of sociological communication. Granted the WWW is currently at a phase in its development of male-dominated childhood or adolescence, which lays itself open to casual dismissal by critics. There are many sites and pages which may be criticised on grounds of triviality, commercialism or bad taste, but the medium is emphatically not the message. Using the WWW, those interested in the potential of scholarly electronic publishing can use the medium to enhance international scholarly communication. Just as print media take many different forms, so will electronic publishing. One does not usually condemn the newsagent or news-stand for the range of its publications, but rather goes there to search for the one that one wants, and ignores the rest. So will it be with the WWW.

Three other issues are, we believe, much more salient in adapting to the electronic publishing of sociology on the WWW. Firstly, the rapidity of electronic communication will enable readers to respond to articles as they are published. Regularly attached to each issue will be ways to discuss and debate articles, issues and longer-standing sociological concerns, starting with Symposia from Volume one, number two onwards. Such possibilities of instant response are not, however, without their risks, and SOCIOLOGICAL RESEARCH ONLINE has adopted ethical guidelines concerning contributions to its Symposia. SOCIOLOGICAL RESEARCH ONLINE Symposia will be moderated, contributors are expected to use their full names and institutional affiliations when contributing. contributors are expected to maintain the same professional standards of conduct towards colleagues in an electronic context as are expected elsewhere in academic life, and harassment of any kind, including the various forms of 'flaming' (the use of aggressive, defamatory or obscene language and expression) and 'duelling' (competitive exchanges of a 'flaming' nature), will lead to contributions being removed by the moderator of a Symposium.

Secondly, new methods of communicating the results of research findings are opened up by electronic publishing. Articles in this journal will wherever possible use the innovative means of reporting empirical sociological research opened up by the WWW. To do this will take time, the technology of the WWW is in its infancy, and for the present HTML text is the standard form of display for most Web publishers. This, however, will change, and as it changes, the possibilities for presenting research data hyperlinked to the text as well as the summary of research results in the typical article will grow.

Thirdly, sociologists will need to accustom themselves to writing for the electronic media, which will be 'read' in ways different to that of the conventionally printed, linear, journal article or book. This journal, for example, has a home page which lists the contents, but it does not have a conventional beginning, middle and end, numbered from 1 to n. It is possible to move around the text in creative ways, and between the text and other WWW sites through links in ways either not possible with print media, or only possible in compendia such as encyclopedias or via bibliographical searching tools. Electronic data may also in time revolutionise teaching methods, since students may relatively easily be given access to data banks of material structured by links, which enable very large bodies of material to be made available. One does not have to accept the more extreme statements of what the electronic revolution in publishing portends (eg. Harnad, 1990; Lanham, 1993) to recognize that SOCIOLOGICAL RESEARCH ONLINE, as well as constituting a free-standing publication in virtual form, will rapidly become part of a world-wide network of information instantly accessible from the desk-top of any computer user with an Internet connection. It is noteworthy that many commercial print journal publishers are now taking rapid steps to make these journals available electronically on a subscription basis on the WWW, many of them using the Adobe Acrobat® technology (Smith et al., 1993).

SOCIOLOGICAL RESEARCH ONLINE has been established by a consortium composed by the British Sociological Association (BSA), the University of Surrey, the University of Stirling, and Sage Publications. SOCIOLOGICAL RESEARCH ONLINE has been established to make effective use of the possibilities provided by Web developments more generally, while in particular we intend that it will make full use of each of the above three kinds of development, all of which offer exciting opportunities for developing new and innovative forms of sociological writing. It is this, as well as its concern with applied sociological analysis, that differentiates SOCIOLOGICAL RESEARCH ONLINE from its sister BSA journals SOCIOLOGY and WORK, EMPLOYMENT & SOCIETY.

The electronic journal is a recent phenomenon - of the last five years or so - and intimately linked to the growth of the WWW. Its proponents are actively debating the rate at which electronic journals may be expected to grow (cf. Okerson and O'Donnell, 1995). A recent survey of electronic journals in the fields of science, technology and medicine suggests that up to 1995 the vast majority were electronic versions of journals already available in paper form (See Hitchcock, Carr and Hall, 1995). Original electronic publications include the Los Alamos physics archive and the Astrophysical Journal Letters, both supported by grants from the US National Science Foundation. This journal is supported by the UK ELi b research programme for an initial period of three years. In the humanities too, electronic journals are growing rapidly. The electronic journal Postmodern Culture is well established, and other projects in the ELib programme which supports this journal include Internet Archaeology and Electronic Reviews in History.

Hitchcock, Carr and Hall (1995) report that the online journals which they surveyed come from three main sources: commercial publishers, mostly well-established and familiar names; learned societies which are themselves invariably highly commercial, if non-profit, organisations; and other research institutions, typically, but not exclusively, universities. The latter might suggest university presses, but this is not the case, probably because the presses generally have a limited interest in the sciences and with a few exceptions such as Oxford University Press and Johns Hopkins University Press, have not been leaders in electronic publishing. Instead, within this sector on-line journals are often initiated by individuals, departments or special-interest groups,sometimes across faculties or between different universities. This journal is a case in point.

We intend SOCIOLOGICAL RESEARCH ONLINE to be an innovative presence within sociology journal publishing, taking a proactive line in relation to technological developments, while being highly responsive to its readership through the Symposia and by other means. We look forward to a growing readership for SOCIOLOGICAL RESEARCH ONLINE and to becoming an international forum for publication on all aspects of sociology relevant to the contemporary world. Readers' contributions in the form of comments and responses will be an integral part of this publication process from the second issue onwards, and we invite you to send us your comments on electronic publication in sociology in general, and the evidence and argument of particular articles specifically.

Martin Bulmer and Liz Stanley
University of Surrey and University of Manchester


1 Our definition of 'applied sociology' is more inclusive than that which currently prevails in North America. We use the term more in the spirit of G. Payne and M. Cross in their edited collection SOCIOLOGY IN ACTION (London: Macmillan, 1993), to refer to sociological works which have had a public impact yet at the same time are major contributions to the discipline of sociology. Examples could include Emile Durkheim's Suicide, Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma, Rosabeth Moss Kanter's Men and Women of the Corporation, William J. Wilson's The Truly Disadvantaged, George W Brown and Tirril Harris's The Social Origins of Depression or Ann Oakley's The Sociology of Housework.


HANDLEY, M. and CROWCROFT, J. (1995) The World Wide Web: Beneath the Surf. London: UCL Press.

HARNAD, S. (1990) 'Scholarly Skywriting and the Prepublication Continuum of Scientific Inquiry', Psychological Science, vol. 1, pp. 342-3 (also at <ftp://co gsci.ecs.soton.ac.uk/pub/harnad/Harnad/harnad90.skywriting>).

HITCHCOCK, S., CARR, L. and HALL, W. (1995) Multimedia Research Group, University of Southampton, "A survey of STM online journals 1990-95: the calm before the storm", <http://journals.ecs.soton. ac.uk/survey/survey.html> (For responses to the article see the 'Correspondence files' at this page).

LANHAM, R.A. (1993) The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology and the Arts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

OKERSON, A. S. and O'DONNELL, J. J. (editors) (1995) Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads: a subversive proposal for electronic publishing. Washington DC: US Association of Research Libraries, Office of Scientific and Academic Publishing.

SMITH, P. N. et al. (1993) 'Journal publishing with Acrobat: the CAJUN project', Electronic Publishing, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 481- 93.

STIX, G. (1994) 'The Speed of Write', The Scientific American, December, pp. 106-111.

WINOGRAD,S. and ZARE, R. N. 1995. '"Wired" Science or Whither the Printed Page', Science, vol. 269, August 4th, p. 615. (See also correspondence following, vol. 270, October 13th, pp. 217-19).

Journals Cited

<http://www.aas.org/Epubs/eapjl/e apjl.html>


<http://ukoln.bath.ac.uk/elib/f lyers/reviews.html>




<http://www.oclc.org/oclc/form s/ojcctord.htm>

<http://jefferson.village.Virginia.E DU/pmc>

<http://cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harna d/psyc.html> [Europe]
<http://www.princeton.edu/~ha rnad/psyc.html> [North America]

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1996