Over the years I’ve been a full-time activist and a full-time academic, and I’ve settled into the role of an engaged anthropologist, a kind of activist/scholar. It’s not an easy gap to bridge. As an activist I have no access to university libraries (unless I do guerilla research using some academic friend’s password), I’m not invited to academic conferences or to submit chapters to books — even on topics I research and live — and I certainly don’t have sabbaticals, financial support for my studies or secretarial help.
As an academic in an activist setting, I find myself frustrated by the lack of interest activists have in analysis, concepts, research or even looking out beyond their particular silo. Just think about this: What do you say about something that’s irrelevant? Its…. “academic.” A pretty damning commentary on both the academic & activist worlds.
I write occasionally for academic journals just to keep my hand in — although a recent study found that 85% of these articles are read by less than 10 people, most not at all. The main problem for an activist/scholar is trying to introduce a political analysis into an academic journal without being “polemic.” Its a skill a little like walking a tightrope.
So I decided to write a critical article on Zionism, settler colonialism and the need to decolonize the Zionist project. Now I could send it to the Journal for Palestine Studies, which has published me before, but I wanted a new, unconvinced audience. So I sent it to the journal “Israel Studies,” in perfect academic form (an original analysis of decolonization, footnotes, charts, analysis, etc.). I didn’t have great expectations — academic journals may not be polemical, but they certainly have a political point of view — and usually, such a submission as mine would go to academic referees before it was turned down (or, as sometimes happens, accepted). This time it didn’t get that far. The very next day I got an e-mail from the editor saying: “Thank you for submitting your article “Decolonization in Palestine: Beyond Conflict Resolution” to the journal… We do not publish policy proposals… We suggest you seek another, more appropriate journal as a venue for your work.”
OK, a little more abrupt than expected, but expected. But I had another article, this one very delicate but, I think, important: the lack of engagement of Palestinian academics and professionals in the political struggle “on the ground,” something we activists are missing terribly, both because we need relevant political analysis and policy recommendations that activists can’t provide, and because the struggle must be led by Palestinians. Now, again, I couched it carefully in academic language, replete with footnotes, analysis and charts — and submitted it to the Journal of Palestine Studies. I soon got my reply: “Thank you for following up on your article submission…. unfortunately, after much consideration, we feel unable to use it for publication. Our reviewers were moved by the vigor and passion in your call to action but in the end, the piece is not for us.”
If I merely want to publish, the solution is clear: switch the articles. Israel Studies would be happy to publish an article by an Israeli leftist criticizing Palestinians, while the Journal of Palestine Studies would happily publish a piece on decolonizing Zionism. But that’s not the point. As an activist/scholar I am unable to reach my academic colleagues with critical, timely and, yes, political analysis, while as an activist/academic I can’t get my activist colleagues to think politically, to spend time analyzing what’s happening, formulating a plan and a strategy and organizing effectively.
Too often we have to choose between being an academic and being an activist. It’s a fatal disconnect for radical political change.