Outcry over pro-colo­nial­ism pa­per prompts jour­nal board mem­bers to re­sign

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - matthew.reisz@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Half of the ed­i­to­rial board of the jour­nal Third World Quar­terly have re­signed after an outcry over an ar­ti­cle ar­gu­ing in favour of colo­nial­ism.

The opin­ion piece by Bruce Gil­ley, pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science at Port­land State Uni­ver­sity, was ti­tled “The case for colo­nial­ism” and pub­lished in the jour­nal’s “View­points” sec­tion.

The pa­per ar­gues that Western colo­nial­ism “was, as a gen­eral rule, both ob­jec­tively ben­e­fi­cial and sub­jec­tively le­git­i­mate in most of the places where it was found” and, after giv­ing ex­am­ples of “Third World despots” and post­colo­nial “trau­mas”, pro­poses that in “weak and frag­ile states”, it might be worth “re­colonis­ing some ar­eas” or even “cre­at­ing new Western colonies from scratch”.

Fol­low­ing an outcry in re­sponse to the de­ci­sion to pub­lish, 15 of the 34-strong ed­i­to­rial board of the jour­nal opted to re­sign and, in an open let­ter, called for the pa­per to be re­tracted over its “fail[ure] to pro­vide re­li­able find­ings”.

Although com­mit­ted to free speech and even to “the value of provo­ca­tion in or­der to gen­er­ate crit­i­cal de­bate”, the re­sign­ing mem­bers of the ed­i­to­rial board con­tin­ued, this could not be achieved by “a piece that fails to meet aca­demic stan­dards of rigour and bal­ance by ig­nor­ing all man­ner of vi­o­lence, ex­ploita­tion and harm per­pe­trated in the name of colo­nial­ism (and im­pe­ri­al­ism) and that causes of­fence and hurt and thereby clearly vi­o­lates that very prin­ci­ple of free speech”.

Along with crit­i­cism of the contents of Pro­fes­sor Gil­ley’s pa­per, the re­sign­ing board mem­bers ex­pressed con­cerns about the process of pub­li­ca­tion: “As in­ter­na­tional ed­i­to­rial board mem­bers, we were told in an email on 15 September from [ed­i­tor] Shahid Qadir that this piece was put through the re­quired dou­ble-blind peer re­view process.” But the board mem­bers added that they had “been in­formed by our col­leagues who re­viewed the piece for a spe­cial is­sue that they re­jected it as un­fit to send to ad­di­tional peer re­view”.

Pro­fes­sor Qadir, of Royal Hol­loway, Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don, did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment. But a Tay­lor & Fran­cis spokes­woman said: “Con­tro­ver­sial ma­te­rial would be treated in the same way as any ar­ti­cle sub­mit­ted to one of our jour­nals.

“The ar­ti­cle…is as­sessed by the jour­nal’s aca­demic ed­i­to­rial team to en­sure it fits with that par­tic­u­lar jour­nal’s aims and scope and matches the re­quire­ments of their spe­cific in­struc­tions for au­thors. If it passes this first step, it is then sent to peer re­view­ers (usu­ally two) to as­sess its aca­demic mer­its.” The spokes­woman said that process “was fol­lowed in this case”.

With re­gard to the res­ig­na­tion of the ed­i­to­rial board, the spokes­woman went on, the ed­i­tor-in-chief was in dis­cus­sion with them, “propos­ing changes to the ed­i­to­rial struc- ture and de­ci­sion-mak­ing of the jour­nal. He has also out­lined ev­ery step of the peer re­view process that led to this View­point be­ing pub­lished, with the aim of be­ing com­pletely trans­par­ent on this and ad­dress­ing the in­ac­cu­ra­cies in their res­ig­na­tion let­ter.

“It was never the in­ten­tion to cause this enor­mous up­set but to bring into the light a par­tic­u­lar view and then to chal­lenge it through re­but­tal. We un­der­stand many peo­ple have not seen it as such, how­ever, and now our role, as the pub­lisher, is to sup­port the ed­i­tor and wider ed­i­to­rial board to put in place clearer guid­ance around the pub­li­ca­tion of such View­points in the fu­ture.”

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