Writing teachers often make use of a system whereby students write comments on one another’s papers, with those comments intended to help the student revise her writing. It’s a labor-saving pedagogical device, but when implemented carefully, it works well: students get a sense of how audiences read and respond to their writing, and revise accordingly. There is a name for this system.
Scholars who wish to share their insights make use of a system whereby their peers read and evaluate those insights and deem them worthy or unworthy for publication, and offer comments on those insights, with those comments intended to help the scholar revise her writing. It’s a labor-intensive academic practice, but our hope is that it keeps us honest: scholars revise, and only the best scholarship gets published.
While these two systems are similar, they are separate, and serve separate functions. However, there is a frequent tendency in our pedagogical and theoretical discourse to refer to both as “peer review.” I’d like to counter that tendency, because it too easily and conveniently elides the status differential between student writing and scholarly writing, and that status differential is something I’d like to see called into question. Mariolina Salvatori and Amy Robillard, among others, have already done substantial and significant work to make visible and problematize that status differential.
I think we need a more precise vocabulary that extends the work of Salvatori and Robillard and foregrounds the differences between those two systems in order to call into question that status differential. For that reason, I’d like to call our classroom work, wherein students read and respond to one anothers’ papers, “peer response,” and I’d like to call our scholarly work, wherein we review one anothers’ work for publication, “peer review.”
And I’d like to be a part of a conversation that discusses how we might productively blur those two terms.