CFP: Ethics of Anonymity: Violence of the Peer Review: (12/31/05; book/website/exhibition)

full name / name of organization: 
Al Planet
contact email:

Ethics of Anonymity: Violence of the Peer Review
Imagine if scholars applying for promotion, instead of strutting their
stuff - publications, praise from various quarters - were obliged to show
their betters and/or peers all the worst things that had ever been
written or said of them, whether anonymously or otherwise. What would
happen to academic culture if failures to publish and present were given
equal weight with success? Or greater weight? Better still, imagine if all
the vitriol the aspiring had - under the cover of anonymity - themselves
delivered their peers, were to come back to bite them in this manner.
Imagine if scholars were judged on what they had said of others
(students, peers, superiors) rather than on what had been said of them.
      In academia today - and in the "humanities" no less than elsewhere
- all kinds of abusive posturing and even bullying pass through the
anonymous peer review process to make the aspiring scholar/author feel
small, and to leave her wondering whether she should bother at all. Such
abuse is painted as being part of the rough and tumble of academic life,
even a necessary rite of passage (like the oral defence). It's associated
with "rigour", with "standards", with the "proper scrutiny of arguments
and evidence". But might it not be worth asking whether the power
positions implied in the posturing and the bullying conflate with the
class, gender, race and other biases built into and concealed by the
academy more generally? Fantasies of karma and just desserts aside, this
call is for papers and materials (textual or otherwise) which document or deal with
- abuses of position and/or the privilege of anonymity in the process of "peer" reviewing
- the relationship of peer reviewing and anonymous review/criticism to the more general gate-keeping customs and proclivities of academia
- other-than-academic analogies for anonymous rejection, disdain and negativity, for instance as directed at creative work
- power relations in and beyond the academy and the means by which these are fostered or challenged or otherwise refracted through peer review and related processes
- ways in which the review process (in scholarly and with literary and other kinds of work) might be used to offer constructive, engaged criticism, examples of same
- ways in which the critical process of peer review can aid the individual's creative and critical processes
- collaborative and less ego laden means of encouragement among scholars (likewise in the creative arts), and particularly of the apprentice by the more experienced scholar (and also artist)
- the relationship (positive, negative or otherwise) between anonymity and the prospects of scholarly (and other kinds of) community
- questions of intellectual property as these relate to the anonymous response (and indeed anonymous texts/works)
- "fair use", relationships between intellectual property, anonymity (critical or otherwise) and the prospect of intellectual/artistic community
- the relation of any or all of the foregoing issues to the more generally conceived ethical responsibilities of the scholar and the academy.
The object of this call is not to pre-empt the nature of the project's output. However from the outset eventual publication is imagined in the form of either a book volume, an exhibition or web-site or some combination of these. This work is not aimed at outing any individuals anywhere (although it might lead to some healthy self-recrimination), rather it is
aimed at exposing a culture of intimidation, mockery and myopic thinking which works to keep people in their scholarly boxes/corners and which works against the prospect of community and the cross-fertilisation of ideas from
different disciplines and from other than academic quarters of the world.
      The work of Pierre Bourdieu - among others - looms large on this
project's theoretical horizon. What are those powers of habitus or
cultural capital which enable the snobby or the grandstanding ego to do
its business, to belittle the competition? Guiding imagery for the
project at its outset is in the form of Kafka's man from the country who
in the story "Before the Law" stands for a lifetime deterred by a
gatekeeper frompassing through a doorway, which it turns out, was built
especially and only for him.
      One needs no prophetic powers to predict that a call of this nature offers a field day for the ficto-critically inclined. So be it. Forewarned is forearmed. Your sincerity will be appreciated, but in the spirit of the thing, the entire operation will be kept anonymous unless participants request things be otherwise.
      This call is made by the Planetdevotion Group. Planetdevotion is a
group of artists and writers dedicated to fostering the creative spirit,
to the healing power of imaginative expression and to the critical vocation of
thought and of art. Our group motto brings the issue of anonymity to the
fore. It's from Emily Dickinson's poem. "I'm nobody. Who are you?" Recall
it was with similar brave mien Odysseus faced a certain giant (and met
certain griefs later on for his trouble).
      Contributions (proposals, abstracts, completed papers, exemplary
texts, artworks, expressions of interest in participation) etc should be
addressed to:
      This call current till the end of 05, at which point those
participating in the project will be polled to decide a direction.
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Precedence: bulk
Received on Tue Mar 22 2005 - 19:41:37 EST

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