Based on participant observation of editors’ decisions for a sociology journal, the paper investigates the peer review process. It shows a hidden interactivity in peer review, which is overlooked both by authors who impute social causes to unwelcome decisions, and by the preoccupation with ‘reliability’ prevalent in peer review research. This study shows that editorial judgments are: (1) attitudes taken by editorial readers toward various kinds of text, as a result of their membership in an intellectual milieu; (2) impressions gained through the reading process (through a ‘virtual interaction’ with the author); and (3) rationalizing statements about manuscripts made by editors and addressed to their peers on a committee. Since all these judgments are themselves subjected to judgments about their quality, the ‘review’ of peer review does not consist in an asymmetric examination of a text, but in the mutual monitoring of expert judgments, complementing and controlling, supervising and competing with each other. What has become known as scientific ‘criticism’ is an ongoing panoptic organization of communication: in peer review, judgments themselves are judged and made public.
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