The Chronicle of Education reports:

The journal Ethnic and Racial Studies is standing by an article that has proved controversial among sociologists and race scholars. The article, about the Black Lives Matter movement, was peer-reviewed and underwent major revisions before being published, the journal said on Tuesday.

In an open letter (doc) circulating online, Szetela is criticized for ignoring, or misunderstanding, black feminism, among other disciplines.

“We are particularly perturbed by this because of the long history of negation of research by people from marginalized backgrounds as neither rigorous nor empirical research,” says the letter, which was primarily written by Buggs and Rory Kramer, an associate professor of sociology and criminology at Villanova University.

If Rory, a former EphBlog board member, has time to engage in these sorts of intra-progressive wars, he must have received tenure from Villanova. If so, congratulations! I wish I had tenure . . .

Thanks to an anonymous Williams faculty member for the link.

article below the break

‘You Have to Provide Evidence’: A Journal Article on Black Lives Matter Draws Scholarly Fire
By Emma Pettit July 30, 2019 Premium

The journal Ethnic and Racial Studies is standing by an article that has proved controversial among sociologists and race scholars. The article, about the Black Lives Matter movement, was peer-reviewed and underwent major revisions before being published, the journal said on Tuesday.

“I just don’t see that,” said Jennifer Patrice Sims, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Alabama at Huntsville who said she had reviewed for the journal before.

Sims is one of many academics who criticized the article for what they called its lack of intellectual rigor and ignorance of scholarship. More than that, the scholars say, the article is a case study in how the machinery of academic publishing can be sympathetic to certain types of arguments, often made by white men, while women of color see their work rejected or ignored.

In the abstract of the article, “Black Lives Matter at Five: Limits and Possibilities,” the author, Adam Szetela contends that the theoretical framework and orientation of the movement, as understood through its co-founders, hinder the movement’s own goals “as well as the possibilities for a broader vision of social justice.” He writes that scholars have uncritically celebrated the movement and its leaders, which obscures its “considerable problems.”

(The article says that Szetela is affiliated with the sociology department at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Szetela was a graduate student during the fall 2018 and spring 2019 semesters but is not now a student, the department chair said in emails.)

The problem with Szetela’s article isn’t that he criticizes Black Lives Matter, said Shantel Gabrieal Buggs, an assistant professor of sociology at Florida State University who called attention to Szetela’s article on Twitter. “No concept is perfect. Everything can be critiqued,” she said in a phone interview. “But if you’re going to do that, then you have to provide evidence.”

Szetela didn’t, she said. For one, the article lacks a methodology section, Buggs said. He uses terms like “Oppression Olympics” and “wokeness,” but does not define them or indicate under what framework he uses them, she said. (After this Chronicle article was published, Szetela emailed The Chronicle to point out that he cited a 2017 book by another scholar — in which she uses the phrase “Oppression Olympics” — in the same sentence where he uses the phrase.)

In his article, Szetela writes, “intersectionality … papers over the class conflicts that exist between blacks. Despite its theoretical ‘wokeness,’ it is apparent that intersectionality in practice often considers class less important than the aforementioned categories of ascriptive identity.” This passage shows that Szetela does not understand what intersectionality means, Buggs said, because class is “literally at the center” of intersectional theorizing.

And he does not cite past articles, in Ethnic and Racial Studies or other major journals in the fields about which he writes, she said. “That tells us that you don’t actually know the conversations that are happening in the field,” she said, “so how are you making a useful intervention?”

Szetela declined to respond to questions about the critiques. But he said in an email that senior scholars of color have argued similar points, including Adolph L. Reed Jr., a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania; Cedric Johnson, an associate professor of African-American studies and political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago; and Touré F. Reed, a professor of history at Illinois State University. (All three scholars are cited by Szetela in his article.)

“That tells us that you don’t actually know the conversations that are happening in the field.”

Reached by email, Adolph Reed said Szetela’s arguments “are sound and defensible” and draw from a “sizable existing body of scholarly literature.” Johnson wrote in an email that the online debate over the article is “unfortunate” but familiar. “The fact that there are black academics who agree with some of his claims is inconvenient for those who want to argue that Szetela is an illegitimate interlocutor on this subject on the basis of his identity,” Johnson wrote.

Touré Reed agreed Szetela’s arguments were sound. Szetela “presumes racism is the expression of an ideology intended to reify socially contrived hierarchies, rather than a primordial sin or a genetic affliction,” Reed wrote. “The fact that this is controversial does not bode well for any of us.”

A ‘Gut-Wrenching Process’

Scholars who saw major flaws in the article, however, wondered how it had been published in a leading journal so quickly. Szetela submitted the article in January, and it was accepted in June. “An article going from submission in January to acceptance in June? 5 months? How does that happen?” tweeted John Smolenski, an associate professor of history at the University of California at Davis.

In a written statement, the journal’s “editorial team” (no one was named) said the article had undergone double-blind peer review, like other pieces published in the journal. The author completed “major revisions” overseen by the editorial team, the statement says.

The article “is not a research piece, but instead intended to focus and generate debate,” the statement says.

It’s frustrating, said Sims, to see a paper full of mischaracterizations get published. The joke in academic publishing is that “Reviewer 2” is notoriously nitpicky. But for women, queer people, and people of color, Reviewer 2 sometimes does not understand the fundamental thrust of their work, leading to outright rejections, Sims said, adding that she had had a paper rejected because she included the phrase “this note.”

Peer review is a “gut-wrenching process” for a black woman and junior scholar like herself, said Brandi Thompson Summers, an assistant professor of geography at the University of California at Berkeley. She’s baffled, and offended, by how Szetela’s article got through peer review so quickly.
The article ‘is not a research piece, but instead intended to focus and generate debate.’

At journals, editors are the gate-keepers, and for scholars of color, it’s exceedingly hard to get through, said David G. Embrick, who co-founded the journal Sociology of Race and Ethnicity and is an associate professor of sociology and Africana studies at the University of Connecticut. The peer-review process has glaring holes, he said. Reviewers aren’t paid, and articles about race, for example, can end up in the hands of people who do not fully understand racism, he said. It’s not unique to any particular field, he said, but a feature of scholarly publishing in general.

Then there’s the issue of who gets cited and which names become the foundation upon which scholarship is built. In an open letter circulating online, Szetela is criticized for ignoring, or misunderstanding, black feminism, among other disciplines.
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“We are particularly perturbed by this because of the long history of negation of research by people from marginalized backgrounds as neither rigorous nor empirical research,” says the letter, which was primarily written by Buggs and Rory Kramer, an associate professor of sociology and criminology at Villanova University.

And once a piece like Szetela’s is published, black women, women of color, and queer and nonbinary academics find themselves having to debunk it on social media, said Susila Gurusami, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto at Mississauga. This becomes “an additional layer of labor.”

The journal said on Twitter that it welcomes responses to Szetela’s article, to be considered for inclusion in a symposium in the journal.

Scholars who signed the open letter asked for space in the journal to respond and for a thorough review and re-evaluation of the peer-review process that led to the piece’s publication.

Embrick thinks the journal should retract the article. Even with additional dialogue, when something is published, it’s legitimized. It still counts, he said, on the author’s CV.

Update (7/31/2019, 9:58 a.m.): This article has been updated with information provided after publication by Adam Szetela.

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