Together with tenure, peer review is probably the most distinctive feature of the modern academic system. Peer review, we are told, sets academia apart from all other professions by construing value through peer judgment, not market dynamics.
Given the remarkable epistemological and symbolic burden placed on peer review, it is surprising to find that so little research has analyzed it either empirically (in its actual daily practices) or philosophically (as one of the conditions of possibility of academic knowledge). While academics discuss it quite frequently, they do not frame it as an intellectual subject. Instead, they either confine it to private conversations or treat it as one of the practical aspects of the profession. Typically, peer review comes up in the context of personal complaints about the perceived incompetence (or other unflattering traits) of editors and referees. But when the dust settles, it is not uncommon to hear appreciative remarks for the referees’ time-consuming and unpaid contributions, or to see them thanked in the acknowledgments.
Biagioli, M. (2002). From book censorship to academic peer review. Emergences: Journal for the Study of Media & Composite Cultures, 12(1), 11-45.