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