Reed Elsevier and the boycott

As if to illustrate the previous post on our complicity in {surveillance | government}, here is an update on the moves to boycott Elsevier’s journals and projects.

As you may know, Elsevier have a sister company that organizes the world’s largest arms fair, DSEI. They are also an academic publisher, and I am a section editor in one of their flagship products, the International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (IEHG). There is currently a boycott of the IEHG, but I have chosen to remain involved.

Ideolect has coverage.

This choice has not come without cost, both to myself and to anti-military proponents. All the editors have chosen to remain involved, largely for reasons to do with completing their obligations (the boycott issue came up two years into the project) to contributors and to our original contracts. I have heard editors say (on and off the record) that they are opposed to the arms fair and to Elsevier’s involvement.

Nevertheless, around a dozen or so contributors have heeded the call for a boycott. Thus I find myself in a lot of difficulty over this issue, and I think the same is true for many other people as well (producers and consumers of Elsevier’s journals, which include many major geography journals).

The arguments were recently aired in the journal Political Geography (an Elsevier journal itself):

Arguments for boycott

Official response

The response was pretty poor in my opinion, not because it didn’t say the right things to justify the arms fair but because they didn’t really address the issues at hand. There will be further debates (there’s a pro-boycott piece being circulated for the journal Area, for example).

The whole thing is fairly unsatisfactory as the issue involves not just those in the IEHG but all the other Elsevier journals (such as the Lancet) and indeed the very larger issues of university’s being funded through military sources.

As editor of the GIS and cartography sections there is a further involvement given the military’s long investment and interest in mapping, GIS and remote sensing. Arguments such as this for example are persuasive:

Now I think that the militarisation of everyday life is all about technology and security but it isn’t Bentham’s panopticon, Foucault’s docile bodies or even the disciplinary power manifest in CCTV and consumer RFID that I’m talking about. It’s the research, development and deployment of biopolitics and network technologies of terror, control and bare life that are actively re-shaping our very understandings of what it means to be together-in-the-world. It’s how people with real power are constructing–in procedure, policy and law–what it means to be human, what it means to be social, and even what we should be able to expect from each other.

While I’m not big on the need to see everything through bare life and Agamben, it is compelling to think of our current times as a never-ending state of exception and that biopolitics is the key here. Security, risk-based threat analysis and the calling forth of surveillance are what is happening here.

Returning to the underlying issue then: our complicity. It seems that it is not possible at the moment to adopt a coherent position free of contradictions (perhaps I am speaking for myself only here but I don’t think so). If I oppose the arms fair I will also stay with the IEHG because it itself is a progressive project founded on critical principles and involves many voices who would not otherwise be heard (no one has disagreed with that). I do not want such a positive project to be damaged or prevented from happening in a world where there is all too little positive, critical geography.

And yet… I do fully support the efforts to make Elsevier dissociate itself from the DSEI. I will direct my own efforts to critically identifying the security-risk-surveillance nexus as I have been doing for some years now. My columns in GeoWorld (a GIS trade publication) are part of this.

But in a world that comes to you already pre-complicit, as it were, there can be no single response and we must be allowed to continue to make those choices. This is an unfinished business, and as blogs are ideally suited to the working through of issues, I post this entry in that spirit.


One Response

  1. […] wonder now if those who boycotted the IEHG will want to come back? They’d certainly be welcome to contribute from my perspective, since […]

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