Lex Academic, the editing firm founded by philosophers Louise Chapman and Constantine Sandis, includes “sensitivity reading” among the variety of services it provides.
What is “sensitivity reading”?
Here’s an excerpt from how the people at Lex Academic describe it:
The conversation on diversity (or lack thereof) in publishing has highlighted the urgent need for nuanced and inclusive dialogue when representing marginalized individuals, communities, and their experiences…
[W]e work with expert readers who will address material with sensitivity, care, and scholarly rigour to draw attention to problematic, offensive, reductive, or misrepresentative content. This ensures that research is fair and accountable, steering the author away from infelicitous speech and unconscious bias that can result in peddling and perpetuating harmful stereotypes, tropes, or clichés. This ensures positive and engaged uptake of your work and ideas, thereby increasing the chances of a fruitful global conversation around it.
I think this is a great idea. Authors who want to ensure that they are engaging with their topics in responsible way and are not miscommunicating with their audiences can bring experts into the editing process to help them achieve these aims.
Readers may recall that when The Journal of Controversial Ideas was first floated, I proposed an alternative to its policy of allowing pseudonymous authorship. Such pseudonymity was to be offered by the journal, I noted, out of a “concern that some ideas don’t make it into scholarly journals because of their mere unpopularity, offensiveness, or political incorrectness, rather than any lack of intellectual merit” and to protect authors who might otherwise be discouraged from writing about such ideas “by the prospect of outraging others who have influence over their career prospects.”
I put forward an alternative: “make the publication of scholarly articles on controversial ideas less outraging.” How? By bringing those “others” into the publication process. I outlined one possible way of bringing “stakeholders” into reviewing, revising, and publishing. This was a way of protecting authors without the costs (to accountability, credit, and intellectual history) of pseudonymity. (The idea turned out to not be very popular with the commenters on that post and a follow-up post that addressed some criticisms of it.)
Sensitivity reading services may accomplish the same thing, giving authors more confidence as they tread into controversial waters and risk offending others, and receipts (literally!) that they’ve at least taken steps to offend responsibly.