To Boycott or Not? Phil Steinberg weighs in on Academic Boycotts, the AAG, and the Trump Muslim Ban

Published February 4, 2017
By Phil Steinberg
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In response to the now week-old (and partially suspended) US ban on migrants and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim nations, as well as President Trump’s announcement that subsequent easing of these restrictions would include a preference for non-Muslims, I have been following a growing number of conversations, online and sometimes literally around the office water cooler. It appears that I am far from alone in trying to figure out an appropriate response.

Inspired, in part, by the apparent success that the cancellation of major events has had in generating opposition to North Carolina’s transgender ‘bathroom bill’, and, going back to the 1990s, in forcing recognition of Martin Luther King Day in Arizona, there has been a growing movement to boycott US-based academic meetings. Given the timing of things, and the particular academic community that I belong to, most of my exposure has specifically been to debates surrounding the annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers, to be held next month in Boston. I’m well aware, though, that similar debates have been transpiring among the membership of other international professional organizations with planned annual meetings in the US.

Before continuing, a bit of self-positioning is in order. As a US passport holder living abroad, I am arguably more affected by this order than US citizens in the US, but less affected than non-US citizens or, of course, citizens of (or past visitors to) any of the seven named states. I also am less affected than any of the countless individuals who, for reasons of skin tone, surname, travel history, birthplace, nationality, or religion, have long sought to avoid US border crossings. On the other hand, although it doesn’t usually weigh heavily on my identity, I myself am the child of a war refugee, and that may also  influence my perspective.

And finally, as editor of a journal called Political Geography, I don’t feel like it would be right for me to be silent on this topic which is most certainly one of political geography. That said, Political Geography has its own long history with boycotts, and what follows are purely my own beliefs and opinions and not those of the journal.

So, here goes….

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