Half the editorial board of the journal Third World Quarterly have resigned after an outcry over an article arguing in favour of colonialism, with the author then “requesting the withdrawal” of the essay.
The paper argues that Western colonialism “was, as a general rule, both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate in most of the places where it was found” and, after giving examples of “Third World despots” and post-colonial “traumas”, proposes that in “weak and fragile states”, it might be worth “recolonising some areas” or even “creating new Western colonies from scratch”.
After an outcry in response to the decision to publish, 15 of the 34-strong editorial board of the journal opted to resign and, in an open letter, called for the paper to be retracted over its “fail[ure] to provide reliable findings”.
Although committed to free speech and even to “the value of provocation in order to generate critical debate”, the resigning members of the editorial board continued, this could not be achieved by “a piece that fails to meet academic standards of rigour and balance by ignoring all manner of violence, exploitation and harm perpetrated in the name of colonialism (and imperialism) and that causes offence and hurt and thereby clearly violates that very principle of free speech”.
Along with criticism of the contents of Professor Gilley’s paper, the resigning board members expressed concerns about the process of publication: “As international editorial board members, we were told in an email on 15 September from [editor] Shahid Qadir that this piece was put through the required double-blind peer review process.” But the board members added that they had “been informed by our colleagues who reviewed the piece for a special issue that they rejected it as unfit to send to additional peer review”.
A spokeswoman for publisher Taylor & Francis said: “Controversial material would be treated in the same way as any article submitted to one of our journals.
“The article…is assessed by the journal’s academic editorial team to ensure [that] it fits with that particular journal’s aims and scope and matches the requirements of their specific instructions for authors. If it passes this first step, it is then sent to peer reviewers (usually two) to assess its academic merits.” The spokeswoman said that process “was followed in this case”.
The Taylor & Francis spokeswoman said in a subsequent statement that Professor Gilley “has been in touch...with the editor-in-chief of Third World Quarterly to request the withdrawal of his Viewpoint on “The case for colonialism”.
“As the publisher, our role will now be to work with the author and editor-in-chief on this, ensuring the same fair and transparent standards are applied in this case as we would do in all others. As in any case where a change is being requested to the scholarly record, we will be using Committee on Publication Ethics guidance on this.
“While we fully appreciate the many competing voices that have debated the publication of this article over the last week, we will continue to address this situation in a rigorous, methodical and measured way.”