Education

Mass Resignations at Third World Quarterly Over Article on Colonialism

Bruce Gilley’s essay said that notions about the harm caused by colonialism are exaggerated.

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Nearly half of the editorial board of the anti-colonist academic journal, Third World Quarterly, has resigned over the publication of a controversial essay titled The Case for Colonialism. Fifteen scholars sent in a resignation, stating that the essay was published without consulting the editorial board.

The essay in question, written by political scientist Bruce Gilley from Portland State University, argues that the idea that Western colonialism harmed colonized countries and their people is exaggerated. He writes that the negative connotation surrounding colonialism needs to rethought “in light of the grave human toll of a century of anti-colonial regimes and policies”.

The paper received immediate backlash. A online petition asking for it to be retracted got more than 10,000 signatures in a span of two weeks. Portia Roelofs and Max Gallien, two scholars from the London School of Economics and Political Science, published an essay on the institute’s Impact blog in response, calling the paper “a travesty, the academic equivalent of a Trump tweet, clickbait with footnotes”.

Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and professor of international studies at Trinity College in Connecticut, who resigned from the journal’s editorial board, said to the website InsiderHigher Ed: “And just because I’m saying the journal shouldn’t have published the essay doesn’t mean that I’m operating on behalf of the state to curtail free speech. But the journal has certain values, and this is coloring outside the lines.”

He added: “I’m willing to have a debate about real issues, but the question is who sets the terms of the debate? This essay was just juvenile. It set the debate at such a low level, I feel embarrassed to have to respond to it. It’s like saying, ‘Let’s debate whether women are inferior to men.’ It’s not the place you want to start that conversation.”

On Sept. 21, Gilley asked for his piece to be retracted. He wrote on his website: “I regret the pain and anger that it has caused for many people. I hope that this action will allow a more civil and caring discussion on this important issue to take place.”

The editorial board also objected to how the paper was published in the first place. The resignation letter states that Shahid Qadir, the Third World Quarterly’s editor-in-chief, told board members in an email that the essay had gone through the journal’s required double-blind peer-review process. However, he did not provide copies of those reviews upon request.

The editorial board later found, through backchannels, that guest editors had rejected the essay for peer review. The resignation letter also says that an editor of the journal’s “Viewpoint” section also rejected the essay.

“Thus the fact is established that this did not pass the peer-review when we have documentation that it was rejected by three peer reviewers,” the resignation letter says. “Thus, Bruce Gilley’s Viewpoint essay, ‘The Case for Colonialism,’ must be retracted, as it fails to provide reliable findings, as demonstrated by its failure in the double-blind peer-review process.”

Not all members of the editorial board are in favor for retraction. Political activist Noam Chomsky told The College Fix website that instead of retraction, a published rebuttal would offer an educational opportunity.

“Journals often don’t follow proper procedure,” Chomsky said. “In such a case, the editor should explain and apologize publicly, as I assume he will. I don’t think that that’s a sufficient reason to destroy a journal — the likely consequence of mass resignation.”

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