“The Case for Colonialism,” published Sept. 8 in Third World Quarterly (TWQ), was written by Bruce Gilley, a professor of political science at Portland State University. For an idea of what the piece was about, here’s the beginning of the abstract:
For the last 100 years, Western colonialism has had a bad name. It is high time to question this orthodoxy. Western colonialism was, as a general rule, both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate in most of the places where it was found, using realistic measures of those concepts.
Since the essay came out, scholars have criticized both the article itself and the journal’s decision to publish it. Several critics have called for retraction. [Update: 15 members of the editorial board have resigned in response.]
One group of critics wrote that they objected to the essay because:
The sentiments expressed in this article reek of colonial disdain for Indigenous peoples and ignore ongoing colonialism in white settler nations.
Those critics also called the article “poorly executed pseudo-‘scholarship.’” One member of the TWQ editorial board has threatened to resign if it’s not retracted.
Monday, TWQ Editor-in-Chief Shahid Qadir issued a response defending the decision to publish the article, noting that the journal embraces controversial pieces:
As a peer reviewed, scholarly journal, our Aims and Scope sets out that TWQ “…examines all the issues that affect the many Third Worlds and is not averse to publishing provocative and exploratory articles.” Throughout its 40 year history, TWQ has been at the forefront of shaping development discourse, with Viewpoint essays enabling challenging opinions to be tested though (sic) rigorous double-blind peer review and then debated upon publication by fellow researchers.
Qadir writes that Gilley’s essay was no different and underwent double-blind peer review before being published.
Still, Qadir distanced the journal from the arguments contained in the piece, saying:
By publishing this article we are not endorsing its pro-colonial views, as would be the same for any Viewpoint piece. We are however presenting it to be debated within the field and academy, which this justifiably has been.
The TWQ article isn’t the first brush with controversy for Gilley. In 1995, as a reporter for the Hong Kong Eastern Express — a short lived, English-language newspaper that shuttered in 1996 — he published a questionable story about Chinese medical centers selling aborted fetuses as dietary supplements. The story has become fodder on internet message boards investigating urban legends, such as Snopes.com.
Gilley did not respond to our request for comment.
In a Sept. 11 Tweet, Vijay Prashad, a member of TWQ’s editorial board, said that he has threatened to resign if the article isn’t retracted. Prashad is also a professor of history and international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. [Update: Prashad and 14 other members of the TWQ editorial board have since resigned over the decision to print the article.]
A trio of scholars, led by Jenny Heijun Wills, an English professor at The University of Winnipeg, have voiced their specific objections to the piece in a petition posted to Change.org, requesting that TWQ retract the article and publicly apologize for publishing it. The petition was first reported by Campusreform.com a news site associated with the right-leaning Leadership Institute.
In the petition, Wills and company wrote:
we originally thought this work was satire; if that is the case, it is satire that fails … Your journal will continue to lose credibility the longer this article remains published.
They added that they were “suspicious” of Gilley’s intentions. Regardless of intentions, they said the article was “harmful” and “should be retracted immediately.”
In Qadir’s response, he wrote that he welcomes critics of Gilley’s essay to submit responses to the journal:
We will now continue this debate by publishing contradicting anti-colonial Viewpoints, to firmly challenge this opinion in the very best academic tradition. We invite academics from across the field of development studies, or related fields, to submit serious responses to the Viewpoint essay ….
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