Current PoLAR Issue May 2021

By Jessica R. Greenberg and Jessica Winegar

Midway through India’s 2014 parliamentary campaign, party workers temporarily electioneering to affix the ring symbol to their campaign vehicles. By Michael Collins.

Volume 44, Issue 1

Editorial May 2020:  Pandemic Journal Editing and Refusing a Return to Normal

Editing a journal during a pandemic has been an extremely challenging experience. In this editorial we refuse to perform the emotional labor of saying nothing or pretending everything is fine. We want to lay bare what this experience has been and what we might learn from it to improve academic publishing, and work in the academy more broadly. The exceptional time of the pandemic revealed in stark form all of the problems of the status quo. We have learned that we do not need or want to “return to normal.” Rather, we join the feminist, anti-racist, class-conscious multitudes who are screaming that the normal is not sustainable. The pandemic has revealed the inequalities built into our societies, and the unsustainable work arrangements that define neoliberal higher education and austerity-as-labor-control. White supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalist exploitation structure what is considered normal. This is true of the academic status quo, of which journals are a part.

Our goal here is to add to the analysis and conversation about what the pandemic reveals from an editing and journal perspective. Based on our experience, we have a better sense than we did of the specific, micro-level ways that unwaged intellectual labor for corporate profit functions at a discipline-wide level, and why this is not sustainable for individuals and our field. Many of us in academe are socialized to see the unwaged extraction of value from intellectual labor as a privilege, or even evidence of our merit. Meanwhile, neither our universities nor our publishing companies have any trouble simultaneously extracting that value for massive profit, while shaming us for not doing enough: not being productive, not being market driven, not being efficient. Below we detail some of the effects of these micro-level processes and the toll they take in the context of journal editing and publishing.

Normal in the world of academic publishing relies on free labor in editing and reviewing. In most cases, such as with PoLAR, publishers regulate access and profit from this labor, as well as from authors’ ideas. Given that anthropology is a highly feminized field, this exploitation is deeply gendered. White supremacy and sexism can intimately shape the review process, and our attempts to dismantle these forces often put increased labor on scholars of color. European and US-centrism, along with R1 favoritism, can also affect journal contents and processes. Our efforts to open the review process can put more pressure on already marginalized colleagues to do additional service. Smaller journals lack much needed funds for English as a foreign language editing and other kinds of support for non-native English speaking scholars. Most certainly, we have contributed to these exclusions because our normal is White, and based on training and working in R1 institutions which are English-language dominant.

Our personal experience editing during the pandemic also reveals the intimate gendered wages of the normal. The past fifteen months, we have co-edited PoLAR while working from home with children. One of us was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Without the possibility of in-person schooling and with limited childcare options, we had to manage our children’s new and shifting needs in online school and quarantine. Like all educators, we also had to adapt our teaching to online platforms, and to increase and indeed redefine our support of students, whose struggles were magnified by the pandemic. We tried to remain good academic citizens as our institutions strained under the weight of the pandemic. We were called to do more and more with little structural support. We had the luxury to afford medical insurance, childcare, and other kinds of support. We know many of our authors, reviewers, and staff did not. We and our families were vaccinated quickly and easily. Many of our academic colleagues around the world were not so lucky and are still laboring and grieving in the shadow of COVID-19.

Like other journal editors, we had a difficult time finding reviewers for manuscript submissions, or receiving reviews in a timely manner, because so many reviewers were facing similar circumstances. Many were caring for children, elderly parents, close friends, or themselves. We did our best to be understanding of everyone’s circumstances: the overwhelmed reviewers and the (often pre-tenure) authors. We changed our review language to acknowledge the labor of reviewing and the terrible circumstances in which we were asking for it. Meanwhile, we noticed that our submissions dropped significantly. When we surmised that the decline was a function of the pandemic, our managing editor said that she had not seen a similar drop in a different journal that she manages. Unsurprisingly, it is a journal in a more male-centric field than anthropology.

All of this unfolded in the larger context of pressures on higher education. Shareholders and boards of trustees are choosing to close some small liberal arts colleges. Large public universities constantly threaten and carry out cuts to programs, staff, faculty, and graduate and undergraduate support. Faculty are invited to participate in precaritization and austerity through the language of market competition. For many in the humanities and social sciences these factors force us to choose between the wellbeing and health of our students and colleagues and the sustainability of our academic programs. Faculty, graduate student, and staff unions have demonstrated that universities have resources but are choosing to create and sustain fiscal austerity through the language of crisis.1 A recent independent audit commissioned by faculty at the University of Illinois shows the clear connections between calls for austerity and the existence of discretionary funds, hidden behind opaque budgetary categories, and the growth of already bloated administrative budgets.2 As new movements for participatory budgeting in higher education make clear, budgets and budgetary categories are political decisions, not natural reflections of the world.3 We can not allow administrators to make these choices with faculty consent or silence. There is nothing normal or necessary about austerity, folding academic programs, underfunded mental health services, or food insecurity among students, staff, and adjunct faculty. It is these decisions that make necessary the unwaged, invisible labor many of our colleagues take up inside and outside the classroom in order to hold our communities together.

We, like you, are exhausted. We do not want a return to the old normal in which any of us interpret these structural issues as personal failures of students or faculty, or of authors, reviewers, and editors. We want to acknowledge and highlight the experiential and affective aspects of engaging with journal publishing for all scholars involved. We want to reveal hierarchies endemic to the process, not pretend that they do not exist. We refuse to perform the emotional labor of grinning and bearing it, of saying that this is all okay. A feminist praxis of journal editing has to start from these principles.

We offer these reflections as a way of disaggregating the value of what we do as editors and educators from the value of what we do as part of a market driven logic in higher education. Both of us have derived intellectual joy and energy from this labor. We began our editorship talking about a commitment to mentoring our authors, and we stand by that. It is clear some aspects of editing cannot be made more efficient because the process involves commitment, dialogue, and connection. Despite calls from even our own platform, Wiley-Blackwell, for more efficiency, articles are not reducible to widgets. Editing is a crucial part of academic job training. Graduate students and junior scholars rely on such support. Journals provide space for our colleagues without institutional affiliations for the kind of feedback and engagement necessary to flourish professionally. If journals are to be a space for another way of doing scholarship and connecting with each other in the act of collective inquiry, we might ask whether and how we can create editorial practices that foster creativity, vulnerability and an ethos of care. But we must also begin this process with naming the labor involved at every step for all of us and asking how we both build it out and socialize it into institutions that serve goals and commitments other than that of corporate greed or institutional elitism.

The lessons the authors in this issue offer certainly speak to these questions of power and inequality. They offer insight into a range of life worlds and experiences that illuminate the status quo and destabilize what is normal. For example, several authors show how the everyday wages of power and structural exclusion position people against each other, extending the reach and influence of state categories and policies. As Davey and Koch note in their study of Council estates in the UK, residents may take up a situational” legitimacy of the state by using its powers to bring about a change in relations with each other. While such practices may provide a degree of agency or breathing room vis-à-vis state surveillance, they also reproduce institutional racism, logics of policing, and violence. Similarly, Smith and Castañeda demonstrate how the imperial logics of US citizenship and migration policies position indigenous groups in Guam against one another through discourses of the unwanted, the criminal, or the undeserving. In turn, imperial control manifests through the operation of racialized discourses that are mapped and remapped within families and communities. We see such processes in the realm of legal citizenship as well. Saleh discusses how the racial and ethno-religious logics of citizenship in Iraq and Israel excluded Iraqi Jews, and shows how in response they created a form of Iraqi citizenship based on political activism rather than legal citizenship categories created by states. And we see these processes in the legal regulation of the non-human, as Braverman shows in the case of Israel, where wildlife management is a technique of settler colonialism. In that context, the regulation of animals serves to justify the settler colonial project in several ways, but in particular by racializing Palestinians (through their animals) as criminal others.

Other authors demonstrate how individualizing logics of neoliberal and racial capital position individuals as responsible for “failures” that are structural in nature. For example, Valles shows how the State of California disciplines women licensed caregivers for actions that are often direct responses to structural inequality. Legal sanctions work as a form of racialized discipline that punish such providers for creative solutions that violate White, middle-class norms of play. While in some cases, the exercise of state and legal power works to individualize responsibility, it can also work by collectivizing through normative categories. For example, Doyle analyzes indigenous constitutional rights in practice through the case of a land dispute in Bolivia. These rights are the outcome of struggles over indigenous legal and political representation, and are meant to combat the longstanding impact of settler colonial violence. And yet, while these legal and constitutional remedies do offer room for maneuver, they also generate conflict that emerges from the mismatch between the law’s often inflexible categories, and much more subtle forms of solidarity and sociality on the ground.

This tension between the individualization and collectivization of forms of redress is also salient in Collins’ essay on elections in India and Salifu’s article on family dispute resolution processes in Ghana. Collins explores a quintessentially democratic institution—the election—in which votes tally with individual democratic expression. Yet, he shows how the material and institutional architecture that facilitates elections often works to reproduce structural exclusions. Taking a feature of elections as seemingly minor as election symbols, he shows how the process of attributing them to particular candidates works to favor or disfavor the status quo. Salifu argues against the assumption that collectivist cultural beliefs stand in the way of human rights claims by showing how Asante women are able to use state courts to forge individual rights claims in a supposedly collectivist setting.

Two articles show how affect and experience can be used to wage power with and against various forces. Razavi examines how Middle Eastern policy elites in Washington deploy gendered and racialized forms of strategic mimicry of American perceptions of the Middle East, through what she calls “gendered Occidentalism.” These elites adopt affective techniques that simultaneously perpetuate gender and race stereotypes in pursuit of geopolitical positions in a fundamentally unequal world of international diplomacy. Grant focuses on how the experience of risk among Vietnamese coffee farmers enables them to mitigate the negative effects of state policies and international development, precisely because they do not completely adopt the market-based, non-experiential notions of risk that are constructed through capitalist expansion in the coffee industry.

Taken together, we hope you find these articles generative for understanding what is unsustainable about the normal. And we hope that you get some deep rest soon.

Jessica R. Greenberg, University of Illinois, and Jessica Winegar, Northwestern University, are Co-Editors-in-Chief of PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review.

Research Articles

Wild Legalities: Animals and Settler Colonialism in Palestine/Israel
Irus Braverman

Behind the Ballot: Democracy, Chicanery, and Electoral Technique in Modern India
Michael Collins

Everyday Authoritarianism: Class and Coercion on Housing Estates in Neoliberal Britain
Ryan Davey, Insa Lee Koch

The Case of Piruani: Contested Justice, Legal Pluralism, and Indigeneity in Highland Bolivia
Matthew Doyle

“You Have a Lot to Answer For”: Human Rights, Matriliny, and the Mediation of Family Conflicts at the Department of Social Welfare in Ghana
Jovia Salifu

Nonimmigrant Others: Belonging, Precarity and Imperial Citizenship for Chuukese Migrants in Guam
Sarah A. Smith, Heide Castañeda

Chill Pills Panic: Legal Constructions of Play, Race, and the Policing of Care in California’s Administrative Courts
Dario Valles

Review Essays

New Perspectives on Energy
Gökçe Günel

Gender, Agency, and Consent in the Global South
Julia Kowalski

Thinking with Trans
Brian Riedel

Book Reviews

Buying into Fair Trade: Culture, Morality, and Consumption. Brown, Keith R. (New York: NYU Press, 2013)
Josh Fisher

On the Doorstep of Europe: Asylum and Citizenship in Greece. Cabot, Heath (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014)
Julie Kleinman

War in Worcester: Youth and the Apartheid State. Reynolds, Pamela (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013)
Emily Margaretten

Born Out of Place: Migrant Mothers and the Politics of International Labor. Constable, Nicole (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014)
Hung Cam Thai

The Rise and Fall of Human Rights: Cynicism and Politics in Occupied Palestine. Allen, Lori (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013)
Steven C. Caton

No Billionaire Left Behind: Satirical Activism in America. Haugerud, Angelique (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013)
Elise Kramer

Our Word is Our Bond: How Legal Speech Acts. Constable, Marianne (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2014)
Robin Conley

Humanism and Humanitarianism over the Longue Durée  Humanism in Ruins: Entangled Legacies of the Greek-Turkish Population Exchange.  Iğsız, Aslı (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018)  Life Lived in Relief: Humanitarian Predicaments and Palestinian Refugee Politics.  Feldman, Ilana (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018)
Esra Özyürek

The Gray Zone: Sovereignty, Human Smuggling, and Undercover Police Investigation in Europe. Feldman, Gregory (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019)
Davide Casciano

Hunted: Predation and Pentecostalism in Guatemala. O’Neill, Kevin Lewis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019)
Elizabeth Cullen Dunn

Channeling the State: Community Media and Popular Politics in Venezuela. Naomi Schiller (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018)
Anna Fournier

Contingent Kinship: The Flows and Futures of Adoption in the United States. Mariner, Kathryn A. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019)
Jessaca B. Leinaweaver

Atenco Lives!: Filmmaking and Popular Struggle in Mexico. Stone, Livia K. (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2019)
Naomi Schiller

El Duelo Revelado: La Vida Social de las Fotografías Familiares de las Víctimas del Franquismo.  Moreno-Andrés, Jorge (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2018)
Ignacio Iturralde

Catching a Case: Inequality and Fear in New York City’s Child Welfare System.  Lee, Tina (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2016)
Naomi Glenn-Levin Rodriguez

Paradoxes of Hawaiian Sovereignty: Land, Sex, and the Colonial Politics of State Nationalism.  Kauanui, J. Kēhaulani (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018)
Tomonori Sugimoto

War is Coming: Between Past and Future Violence in Lebanon.  Hermez, Sami (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017)
Joanne Randa Nucho

A Future History of Water. Ballestero, Andrea (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019)
Veronica Strang

The Ethics of Staying: Social Movements and Land Rights Politics in Pakistan.  Rizvi, Mubbashir (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2019)
Mel Gurr

Islands of Sovereignty: Haitian Migration and the Borders of Empire.  Kahn, Jeffrey S. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019)
Greg Beckett

Identity, Development, and the Politics of the Past: An Ethnography of Continuity and Change in a Coastal Ecuadorian Community.  Bauer, Daniel (Louisville, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2018)
Joe Quick

Beyond Debt: Islamic Experiments in Global Finance.  Rudnyckyj, Daromir (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2019)
Johan Fischer

People’s Car: Industrial India and the Riddles of Populism.  Majumder, Sarasij (New York: Fordham University Press, 2019)
Maura Finkelstein

Infrastructure, Environment and Life in the Anthropocene. Kregg Hetherington, editor. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019)
Stephanie C. Kane

Editorial Notes

1 https://www.chronicle.com/article/when-university-leaders-fail

2 https://cfaillinois.org/2020/10/07/bunsis-presentation-video-and-slides/

3 See for example https://www.uiucgeo.org/people-first-cancel-debt-presentation

About Jennifer Curtis

Jennifer Curtis is an Honorary Fellow in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh: http://www.sps.ed.ac.uk/staff/social_anthropology/curtis_jennifer.

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