Editor quits over ‘ultimatum’ to add female author to collection

LSE historian accuses journal of ‘compromising intellectual quality in favour of identity politics’

November 23, 2022
an LSE building
Source: LSE
Credit: LSE

A London School of Economics academic has accused a prestigious history journal of prioritising “identity politics” over intellectual quality, claiming he was told that a proposed special issue would not go ahead unless it featured a female contributor.

In a resignation letter to the Journal of Global History’s editorial board, Gagandeep Sood, an associate professor of international history at the LSE, said he was quitting as a co-editor of the Cambridge University Press (CUP) title because he was given a “make-or-break” ultimatum to include at least one female author in a planned collection of essays.

While he would make efforts to find a suitable female contributor, Dr Sood explained that the project concerned “an incipient subfield of global history…currently populated by a very small number of scholars who are very largely male”, so this might not be possible. By making the inclusion of a female author an “a priori condition”, the journal was indicating that it was “open to compromising intellectual quality and intellectual fit in favour of considerations of identity politics”, he continued.

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Describing the policy as “misguided”, “insidious” and a “form of dogma”, Dr Sood added: “If we begin by allowing considerations of [this] kind of identity politics…to compromise intellectual quality and intellectual fit, where will it lead us?”

Prioritising “non-intellectual considerations” of “race, class, gender, skin colour, creed or caste” within peer review threatened to “severely damage the journal’s reputation and its position in the field”, he concluded, adding: “The only metrics that have counted for me when it comes to deciding on whether or not to proceed with a particular submission are intellectual quality and intellectual fit.”

Speaking to Times Higher Education, Dr Sood said: “I explained we would work hard to find a suitable female contributor but, given the current nature of the subfield in question, we could not guarantee one a priori. At that point, the conversation moved from the need for bringing a multiplicity of viewpoints to the journal to a dogmatic insistence that a female author be included, or the project would not go ahead.

“If the imposed condition had been ‘we must include someone with Punjabi heritage or with brown-coloured skin’ – as in my case – I would have responded in the same way,” added Dr Sood, who explained that “the principles of intellectual quality and intellectual fit must be supreme” for peer-reviewed journals.

However, the journal’s senior editors, Ewout Frankema, professor of rural and environmental history at Wageningen University, and Heidi Tworek, associate professor of international history and public policy at the University of British Columbia, stood by their actions.

In a statement, they said it was “suggested that Dr Sood consider adding some highly distinguished female historians to his line-up”. “He was provided with several concrete suggestions” that were “starkly rejected”, they asserted – a claim denied by Dr Sood. “He was simply asked to consider and try to include female historians in the line-up in accordance with the editorial team’s commitment to encourage diversity in submissions,” the pair said.

“Articles in the journal’s main section are double-blind peer-reviewed, to ensure that no identity characteristics influence the assessment of the quality of articles under review,” they added.

A CUP spokesperson backed Professor Frankema, stating that “in choosing to challenge a proposed all-male section of solicited contributions in an academic field that has many distinguished women, he and his editorial colleagues upheld the journal’s mission. They were right to do so.

“The journal pursues scholarly excellence and a diversity of perspectives and ideas while defending academic freedom. These elements of the journal’s mission can be, and are, mutually reinforcing.”


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Reader's comments (10)

"Distinguished" associate professor? What am I missing? It is 2022. He should remove himself from a place of responsibility. It certainly not "scholarship" v. "identity politics," or any such radical, demeaning, discriminatory, anachronistic, and self-serving dichotomy
I must beg to differ. You cannot demand that authors who happen to be [insert whatever arbitrary physical classification you please] are included merely because they fall into that category without playing 'identity politics'... any more than you can refuse to publish an author merely due to such a classification rather than due to the quality of what they have to say.
I would love to know this subfield of global history which lacks female authorship. Perhaps there should be clarification on this point
Yes, it is not very plausible that there is a 'field' without female researchers. I cannot think of a single one. But if there is, that field has a problem. And that problem is likely bigger than just the absence of women. It's not something anyone would be proud of or want to draw attention to...
Drs. Frankema’s and Tworek’s statements are self-defeating, despite their being oblivious to the fact, so indoctrinated are they. They confirm the grounds of Dr. Sood’s principled resignation. There is some irony to the fact that a Punjabi scholar, a person of colour, should be the one to take such a stand, while his white colleagues cower in the shadows. He reminds me of that famous photo of the man with the groceries blocking the tank at Tiananmen Square.
Dr. Sood could invite women - or transgender or youthful/aged [a category unmentioned in the article] scholars to submit to the blind reviews, but NO ONE can guarantee than any "kind of person's" paper will pass muster and be included! Full stop.
Double-blind peer review checks academic quality, anonymously. But mysoginy lurks everywhere
The Modern Law Review run out of the LSE law School has only ever had white male editors and does not open up editor roles in open contests so that a wide range of academics from a wide range of institutions and backgrounds can participate in the gatekeeping. It is only right this editor resign as academic quality is not compromised by having women or academics from participating on merit. There are many very able women who could have made a contribution to the collection he was editing.
Double blind review is often done by lecturers who are way below the league of the world leaders whose papers they review.


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