Political Ecology Network

Petition! Third World Quarterly

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Dear colleagues,

I wish to bring to your attention a highly problematic practice in academia of not holding scholars or journals to high standards of accuracy, merit, or rigor. This is particularly so when they publish shoddy click-bait pieces. Some of you may already be following the debates for the last few days on other forums or online (there’s been a lot said on social media), but if you have not, I would be grateful if you could please read through this email and sign the petition below.

Recently, an author published a piece calling for the return of colonization and white supremacy in the well-respected journal Third World Quarterly. [In order to NOT raise the view or download metrics of the article or the journal, which will only increase its popularity, please read it for free here instead on a scholar’s own website: http://fooddeserts.org/images/paper0114.pdf ] The article is full of inaccuracies & falsehoods, misqualifies existing scholarship on the topic, lacks proper citations, is poorly written and conceptualized, cherry picks ideas, and morally reprehensible. It should’ve been rejected on lacking of academic merit alone, let alone the contents of its argument legitimizing racist brutality. The article seems like a faux ‘shock’ piece to manufacture controversy and very much conforms to click-bait practices. I understand that it was rejected in the peer-review process but was then as-is as a Viewpoint piece. Even though Viewpoints and Commentaries are usually reviewed by several members of the Editorial Board for most journals, we are not sure whether TWQ does this for Viewpoints. Apparently some of their own Editorial Board members were completely unaware of it until it came out in print. Some members of the Editorial Board (e.g. Vijay Prashad) have publicly threatened to resign if the article is not retracted. The Editorial Board consists of many distinguished scholars, so we are not sure who authorized the publication of this particular piece. Clearly whichever editor or editors who sanctioned the piece did not even bother to read it.  Journals should be held to higher standards than partaking in such practices, as otherwise it is a slap to our collective faces as scholars who strive for rigor, integrity and accuracy in our scholarship. We informally learnt that the journal wanted more ‘traffic’ to its website through publishing this piece, and thus we are actively discouraging people from giving them that (please view or download it above). We are instead calling for a retraction and an apology from the journal, and raising awareness of such problematic practices.

Here is a petition for this, which already has several thousand signatures in two days. Please sign it and share widely: https://www.change.org/p/editors-of-the-third-world-quarterly-retract-the-case-for-colonialism?recruiter=409526319&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=share_petition The petition already has several thousand signatures and we will close it on Friday in order to submit to the journal and the publisher in a timely manner.

The author in question (a political scientist at Portland State University) has published drivel disguised as scholarship in the past and has made a name for himself in doing so. We all know there are plenty of colonial and racial apologists in academia as well as overt and closeted white supremacists who enable/promote/encourage such success; many more support it through silence and enabling such behavior to go unchecked thereby allowing racism to flourish. Perhaps that is why there is an urge amongst many to act now. There are many other sites where meaningful interventions can be made about decolonizing, postcolonial critique, etc. (e.g. recent TIBG special issue and RGS sessions on this, etc.). We encourage such endeavors as well. Engaging with this piece does not advance our knowledge of colonialism or anything else, and thus does not serve any purpose, as there are plenty of excellent bodies of scholarship that exist already. Rather, this piece amplifies and emboldens horrific ideologies and practices to persist in academia and beyond.

What the journal probably did not expect is this much push-back or threats of boycott in readership as well as in contributing pieces or agreeing to peer review. These are strategies to hold journals accountable in our opinion. The lack of accountability and integrity displayed in this instance (among many others) makes a mockery of the academic publishing process. Accountability, rigor, empirical evidence, sound reasoning, and engaging with existing scholarship are essential foundations in academic publishing, and this particular article did not do any of that. TWQ needs to be held accountable.

Whether or not the petition we started will encourage TWQ to retract the piece or not is up for debate. Ideally they should. That would send the message to all and sundry that shoddy scholarship, based on racist or violent ideologies, has no place in academia. We were clear to state in our petition that we are not asking for curtailing of academic freedom (whatever that means anymore in the US), but holding the journal more accountable. We felt that the petition to TWQ and the publisher that produces it would demonstrate that we’re engaging the journal itself in order to improve overall scholarship and publishing processes and standards in academia itself. If in the process they do retract the article, then that author and his supporters will have hopefully learnt a lesson. This will put a dent in his dossier, however small. In the process of all this, it’ll also raise awareness that scholars and journals are responsible and can be held accountable.

This particular article has caused a lot of stir among various disciplines, groups, and organizations in the last few days. Many folks are writing letters of complaint to the journal about the piece, calling for a retraction and an apology (as which we have done). Even more are tweeting about it [If you’d like to see some of the tweet thread on this, here’s one example among many circulating now that contains information and details: https://twitter.com/Farhana_H2O/status/907440614144462848].

We do not want to give any more direct attention to this author. We will not be able to change the mind of this man or his allies. But we do worry about the hundreds of students who take his courses, and wonder what they have learnt. We doubt his university will take any steps to hold him accountable. What we can do is put pressure on TWQ and other journals who enable this kind of behavior to count as ‘scholarship’ to desist from doing so any further. In my opinion, not doing that is a disservice to all of us for all the labor we put into our own publications and scholarship.

If anyone is interested, my post that inspired the petition is here: https://www.facebook.com/farhanasultana/posts/10101130697230492

Thank you for your support. Please feel free to forward this email on to other lists and people who may be interested. Thank you.

In solidarity,

Dr. Farhana Sultana


Farhana Sultana, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Geography & Research Director for Environmental Conflicts and Collaborations, Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration (PARCC)

Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs
Syracuse University
144 Eggers Hall, Syracuse, NY, 13244, USA

Email: sultanaf@syr.edu
Web: www.farhanasultana.com
Web: http://www.maxwell.syr.edu/faculty/sultana.aspx
ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Farhana_Sultana
Twitter: @Farhana_H2O


Eating, Drinking: Surviving http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319424675

The Right to Water: Politics, Governance and Social Struggles https://www.routledge.com/products/9781849713597


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