Third World Quarterly & the case for colonialism debate

This is a curated and regularly updated overview (last update: 18 April 2018) over the events that followed after the publication of Bruce Gilley's article The Case for Colonialism in the journal Third World Quarterly.

I have maintained a Storify about this topic since September 2017, but since Storify announced its end of life for May 2018 I recreated the developments in this blog post.
This post will be updated if and when new articles, comments etc. appear, but my original Storify will not be updated.

The original article is no longer available on the journal's website:

This Viewpoint essay has been withdrawn at the request of the academic journal editor, and in agreement with the author of the essay. Following a number of complaints, Taylor & Francis conducted a thorough investigation into the peer review process on this article. Whilst this clearly demonstrated the essay had undergone double-blind peer review, in line with the journal's editorial policy, the journal editor has subsequently received serious and credible threats of personal violence. These threats are linked to the publication of this essay. As the publisher, we must take this seriously. Taylor & Francis has a strong and supportive duty of care to all our academic editorial teams, and this is why we are withdrawing this essay.
However, after some back and forth, the author Bruce Gilley made it available through his university web page.

So here is what has happened so far between mid-September and mid-December 2017:

'The Internet' notices the article

The first petition
Retract "The case for colonialism" attracted over 10,000 signatures.


The first proper rebuttals come in

A controversial article praises colonialism. But colonialism’s real legacy was ugly.

It’s also worth noting that neither these arguments nor Gilley’s own essay touch on the worst legacies of colonial rule: violence, discrimination and repression. One study found that only 10 percent of African countries have experienced ethnic conflicts that can be traced back to some pre-colonial origin. Authors David Leonard and Scott Straus argue that the rest of these conflicts are explicitly products of the colonial experience.
A Quick Reminder of Why Colonialism Was Bad
I think the gut reaction of many people will be that Gilley’s arguments are “self-evidently” absurd. But apparently this is not the case, because the Third World Quarterly chose to publish them. I don’t know why they made that decision; frankly, it’s very strange. The board of TWQ is stocked with anticolonial lefties like Vijay Prashad and Noam Chomsky, and while Prashad has said that they didn’t see the article before publication (and threatened to resign if it’s not retracted), it’s odd that the editors themselves thought an essay suggesting that the Belgians should recolonize the Congo was a useful contribution to scholarly discourse.
But while TWQ’s motives remain inscrutable, I suspect I understand Gilley’s. This article does not read as if it is attempting to be taken seriously. Its tone toward critics of colonialism is polemical and mocking (these scholars have a “metropolitan flaneur culture of attitude and performance”). Gilley must intend to provoke people to rage
Another open letter
Open letter to Third World Quarterly on the publication of 'The case for colonialism'

Arguing the case for colonialism, and continuing the author’s crusade against what he sees as a left-wing bias in academia, the article has so far prompted: a wave of incredulity and outrage on social media; a couple of petitions (both of which managed to garner several thousand signatures) calling for the article to be retracted and for the editors to apologise for its publication; a handful of online articles; a problematic response from the editor; and, subsequently, the resignation of a large bulk of its editorial board.
The TWQ editor responds


One of emerging bigger themes is how the case is viewed very differently in North America (USA) and Europe
Is Retraction the New Rebuttal?

some wondering if retraction threatens to replace rebuttal as the standard academic response to unpopular research
There is also the bigger picture of an increasingly metricized academia
Clickbait and impact: how academia has been hacked
Surely, these views are not entirely new. That they exist is not shocking. We are slowly getting used to the alt-right. However, that these ideas and strategies, distilled into academic writing, not only get published but immediately jump to the top of some of the key metrics we use to identify success, influence, and “impact” in academia – this is chilling. Because this means not only that academia can be hacked, but that it already has been.
This article represents the culmination of broader trends in academia: from marketisation, to impact, to the promotion of artificially adversarial debate.
The saga continues! Many members of the editorial board resign in protest 

 

Resignations at ‘Third World Quarterly’
Other members of the journal’s editorial board remain. Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor and professor of linguistics emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, told Inside Higher Ed that it’s “pretty clear that proper procedures were not followed in publishing the article, but I think retraction is a mistake – and also opens very dangerous doors. … Rebuttal offers a great opportunity for education, not only in this case.”
More reflections on the changing climate in academic debates and the broader epistemological context of TWQ from resigned board members
How an article defending colonialism was ever published is a mystery roiling academia: Paradkar

The desire to appear even-handed under pressure from faux free-speech defenders has created a damaging false equivalency model in mainstream media, where the compulsion to get “the other side” means unfounded ideas are given the same weight as sound reasoning.
Despite the imperfections of academia, academically credited facts established with rigour, empirical evidence and scholarship remain a credible tool to fight climate change deniers, racism deniers, anti-vaxxers or any one floating in the universe of “alternative facts.”
Third World Quarterly row: Why some western intellectuals are trying to debrutalise colonialism
To some extent the journal was also able to stand above the fray when neo-liberal ideas swept through the academies of the world, demanding that public sector development be given over to private sector growth. There was stubbornness in the journal, a desire to continue to speak for the peoples of the Third World even as its elites had taken a different direction. Shahid Qadir, who took over from Altaf Gauhar, was the captain in these difficult times.
The Third World Quarterly debacle
However, the current “shift from liberal racism to explicit white supremacy” in the United States and Europe have signaled to people like Gilley that it’s ok to come out and show their true racist colors.
There are many Gilley’s out there. Let them come out. Expose them and their racism, hatred, inhumanity, intellectual ineptitude, inferiority and deplorable propaganda and lies. And fight them.
A Revolt at a Journal Puts Peer Review Under the Microscope
The paper was rejected by peer reviewers, editorial-board members say, but it was published anyway.
To them, the controversy shows how academe’s broader headwinds, like the growing importance of metrics and the need for professors and journals to stay relevant in a hypercompetitive environment, can corrupt the peer-review process. It also is a cautionary tale about what can happen when communication breaks down between a journal’s editor and its board, and transparency in peer review becomes a casualty.
Taylor & Francis weighs in, supporting the editorial decision-making processes
Through nearly 200 years, we have not shied away from publishing what some may see as controversial material, maintaining strict editorial independence on our journals whilst ensuring the articles we publish go through a rigorous peer-review process and follow the polices we put in place as a company. This essay did undergo those processes and so, whilst its contents may make many of us uncomfortable (and indeed upset), we do not see it as our role to censor what is undoubtedly a highly controversial view.
‘Colonialism’ Article Flap Highlights Push for Transparency in Publishing
For Prashad, the latter issue was significant.
“Across the board, editorial boards have just become window dressing,” he said. “The use of editorial boards should be to provide intellectual gravity and, in this case, when there was conflictual evidence coming from outside reviewers, or when the editor realized there was some conflict, that might have been a good time to consult the editorial board.”
(...)
John K. Wilson, an independent scholar of academic freedom and co-editor of the American Association of University Professors’ “Academe” blog, said that, in general, “Editors make the choices, not reviewers. So it's not a question of veto power, it's editorial judgment.” At the same time, he said, “peer review exists for a good reason. If an editor is going to reject the judgment of all the reviewers, that editor ought to have a very good reason and inform the editorial board about it.”
Prashad didn’t rule out ever returning to Third World Quarterly’s editorial board, but said, “Surely there are questions a person of integrity would ask, to avoid coming back merely to be window dressing again.” Among them: What procedures are in place to assess articles that have garnered split decisions from reviewers? And every two or three months, will there be a letter from the journal editor to the board letting to them know what’s coming up?
In the end the author stands by his article 'in its entirety'
I am glad that Taylor & Francis has documented the process of peer review through which my article, “The Case for Colonialism”, was submitted and accepted for publication in the Third World Quarterly. I am also pleased that they have reaffirmed the C.O.P.E. principles of academic publishing that are designed to protect scientific research from censorship,including self‐censorship. I stand by the article in its entirety.
More reflections
Moral paralysis in American academia

What is far more troubling than a non-entity seeking instant notoriety by going against the massively accumulated archival evidence of human suffering European colonialism has caused and scholarly arguments mapping out the planetary calamities of the white supremacists' conquest of the world is this bizarre bourgeois etiquette and liberal politesse that invariably rise obsequiously to meet such obscenities. Oh, he is our "colleague", the professoriate proffer. "Let us invite him for a 'dialogue'," they generously gesture. We need to respect freedom of expression - ad nauseam.
A Dangerous Withdrawal
Farhana Sultana, an associate professor of geography at Syracuse University who helped organize one of the petitions for retraction, said via email she, too, has faced “considerable attacks and abuse for my involvement in this debate, so I empathize with the concerns regarding safety, and I fully condemn all threats of violence, targeted harassment and online bullying.”
She added, “To reiterate, [the] aim of the petition was about upholding rigorous academic scholarly standards, integrity and ethics by the journal; it had nothing to do with curtailing the author’s right to free speech. It should also not be associated with any threats to the journal’s editor in chief or anyone else.”
Should you be on a blacklist because you signed the initial petition? Peter Wood thinks so
The Article that Made 16,000 Ideologues Go Wild

Thus the Gilley affair is yet another reminder of the hollowness of the university’s leaders. Confronted with a straightforward example of academic thuggery, they stand perplexed, unwilling to draw a meaningful line anywhere between legitimate expression of ideas and mob rule.
Peter Wood’s Call for a Blacklist
A blacklist against scholars who sign petitions criticizing articles is a radical step toward repression. It’s even more alarming because Wood is equating a petition with a threat of violence, which is a despicable smear against people who (even if they might be misguided) merely dislike the content and the process by which this essay was published. The death threats in this incident are a crime, and must be denounced, but Wood’s approach in blaming innocent people makes things worse. Whatever one thinks of The Case for Colonialism, we should all oppose Wood’s Case for Blacklists.
Former editorial board members respond to retraction of the article with their version of the story
Here is the real story behind the #TQW #ThirdWorldQuarterly debacle around 'The case for colonialism' @KristofTiteca @insiderhigher pic.twitter.com/63AdNWHoIO

A reminder from studying colonial economic history
There is No “Case for Colonialism”: insights from the colonial economic history.

as development economists and economic historians, we are aware of the risk of developing a neo-colonial agenda seeking to impose what we believe to be good economic policies. The risk relies exactly on imposing a policy; colonialism is a package that cannot be stripped off its violence, and its history teaches us that imposing rules in foreign territories is bound to fail. Any idea that the colonial “toolkit” would be different today because we know better forgets that the kind of violence that States exerted in colonised areas could not have happened in Europe at that time. France in the 1920s was a parliamentary democracy whose government would vote the most progressive workers’ rights in history just a decade later; and yet, an estimated 20,000 forced labourers died in the construction of the Congo-Océan railway in French Congo in the 1920s. Hundreds of thousands of people died during the independence wars in Algeria, Indochina, and Cameroon a just little bit more than 50 years ago.
No business as usual for some TWQ collaborators

A quasi #allmalepanel of Northern academics tries to defend TWQ on grounds of #academicfreedom The TWQ affair enters the academic conference circles: Panel discussion with former TWQ editorial board members at the African Studies Association conference The International Studies Association's Global Development Section is also not happy with TWQ 
The Times is reviving the debate with a pay-walled opinion piece at the end of November
Don’t feel guilty about our colonial history

But it is available from the author's Oxford University research center
Among the virtues of colonial rule, as Gilley sees them, were often the formation of coherent political communities, reliable state institutions and therefore living-spaces where individuals and their families could flourish.

Another article in the Times
Hate campaign against ‘colonialist’ professor

Bruce Gilley was in a coffee shop with a friend, an Afghan refugee, when an email from a colleague informed him his academic paper had caused a sensation — and not in a good way. Hate mail was piling up.

In a letter to the Times editor many scholars express their frustration with the newspaper's coverage of the TWQ issue & colonialism Scholars and the debate about colonial rule 
Full disclosure: I also signed the letter to the Times and identify myself as a proud 'dreamer'!

Food for thought
 

The empire dreamt back

Lhuzekhu’s dream was among hundreds collected from across the British empire – from the Indian subcontinent, Nigeria, Uganda, Australia, the Solomon Islands and elsewhere – on the instructions of an anthropologist at the London School of Economics (LSE) named Charles Gabriel Seligman. Seligman was a longtime adviser to colonial governments, which funded his research and helped to train colonial officials at the LSE. Seligman made his career as a physical anthropologist at the height of racialist science. That meant defining human groups on the basis of physiognomy and locating them in evolutionary hierarchies. Seligman was, in short, an imperialist and a classifier par excellence. So what did he hope to accomplish by amassing dreams such as Lhuzekhu’s?
(...)
In the end, it is perhaps the British government’s decades-long support for research into unconscious minds that is most revealing. Lacking the mechanisms that register public opinion in democratic societies – elections, protests, press criticism – and confronting immense cultural differences to boot, British imperial rulers fretted over what Africans, Asians and West Indians were thinking. The British sensed their ignorance, and they felt vulnerable, a position that made the tools of psychoanalysis irresistible. The trouble was not that these tools failed on their own terms, but that they failed to tell imperial rulers what they wanted to hear.

Happy holidays!

The TWQ article and the broader debate about colonialism's impact continue to make waves in the UK


Oxford University accused of backing apologists of British colonialism

The dispute reignites debate within Oxford about its historical baggage, with Biggar’s proposal referencing the recent controversy over the statue of Cecil Rhodes in Oriel College, which critics say memorialises Rhodes’s racism.Biggar has dismissed criticism of his plans as “collective online bullying” and said the Ethics and Empire project “will pay careful attention to the historical variety of things that empire can be, and work out a more sophisticated way of evaluating them morally.”
Nigel Biggar, the Oxford academic behind the proposal continues to defend Bruce Gilley and his original article:
Both The Times and Daily Mail continue to support the Oxford establishment:


And then Bruce Gilley returns with a new essay:
Brandon Kendhammer's initial response to Gilley's piece:
Gilley, Biggar & the debates around colonialism seem to have started a bigger debate in the UK about 'free speech' and 'no-platforming' initiatives at UK universities.
Jonathan Healy dissects this Times piece:

Last Fall This Scholar Defended Colonialism. Now He’s Defending Himself.
The ultimate flaw of that argument is, I’m fully tenured. I’m not trying to make an impact on the professional ladder because I’ve already climbed to the top.
Secondly, I was a journalist prior to my career as an academic. So yes, I have a tendency to write clear and concise prose that is widely read. I know what a good headline is. And "The Case for Colonialism" was a good headline.
Vimal Patel for The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Professors Are Targets In Online Culture Wars; Some Fight Back
(Gilley) calls the response "a mass global mob." The article was withdrawn after threats of violence were made against both him personally and the editor of the journal that published it, Third World Quarterly.
Experts who study the spread of hate speech online say there is a difference in patterns of online harassment between the right and the left. Attacks from the left tend to originate from within campus communities. Thousands of self-identified academics, for example, signed online petitions calling for Gilley's article to be retracted.
Anya Kamenetz for NPR links some of the responses to the TWQ case indirectly to 'hate speech' and lets Gilley repeat his position unchallenged in an attempt to find a 'balance' in what she described as 'culture wars'.

Invitation to Apply for TWQ Editorship

Having steered the journal in that time, founding editor Shahid Qadir is now stepping aside and will focus on a more ambassadorial role. TWQ is therefore looking for a new academic Editor, who will shape and work on the journal with a core team of Associate Editors and a new and expanding International Editorial Advisory Board.
Official announcement on the TWQ homepage that the journal is looking for a new editor.

Popular posts from this blog

Squeezing development research juice out of the Millennium Village Project evaluation

Links & Contents I Liked 276

The Office meets global politics: New sitcom on life inside the United Nations

Links & Contents I Liked 277

Should I consider a PhD in International Development Studies?