The Geographies of Social Justice Research Group at the University of Edinburgh has published a series of reflections on COPP26 that can be found here
The Geographies of Social Justice Research Group at the University of Edinburgh has published a series of reflections on COPP26 that can be found here
On 20 September my friend and long-term collaborator, Irving Larios, became yet another political prisoner who has been illegally detained and incarcerated by the Nicaraguan dictatorship led by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo. Irving has been to Scotland twice, in 2018 and 2019, hosted by Scottish Solidarity with Nicaragua and the University of Edinburgh, where he has spoken about the political situation in Nicaragua as well the work of his NGO, INGES, on disaster risk reduction. In July this year, the Scottish government issued a statement on Nicaragua in which it condemned “the violence against peaceful protesters, arbitrary detentions, media restrictions, and the use of live ammunition” and called on the Nicaraguan government to “release all political prisoners immediately and without conditions.”
I first met Irving in the late 1990s through a mutual friend, Sadie Rivas, when the Sandinista Front for National Liberation, who was then in opposition had signed a pact with the ruling liberals which enabled them to divide up quotas of power. It was a time when many revolutionaries, Irving and Sadie included, who had fought against the Somoza dictatorship had become highly critical of the once revolutionary party for their verticalism, the lack of internal democracy, and the fact that the party leadership had access to benefits denied to the poor majority who were exhausted by the war, military conscription, the US-imposed trade embargo, and shortages of basic goods. We met for the second time at Sadie’s wake. Sadie had been tragically killed in a car accident in 1999, and Irving and I united in our grief at the loss of our beautiful and inspirational friend have been firm comrades ever since. My research and his rural development projects converged and over the years we have collaborated in Northern León, San Francisco Libre, and the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, as well as in Costa Rica where we worked on the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) referendum. His commitment to social justice and in particular to trying to find innovative and less welfarist ways to get Nicaraguans out of rural poverty have never wavered. Over the past two decades, he has supported my research as well as that of my graduate students in ways that I can never repay, with transport, accommodation, food, introductions, and ideas.
Irving gained his political education in the Sandinista revolution. In 1977, when he was just 19 years old, his university education was cut short when he joined the ranks of the FSLN and was forced into clandestinity to evade capture by brutal Somoza dictatorship. After the triumph of the revolution, he worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs. He is one of the many prominent Sandinista revolutionaries, along with Sergio Ramírez, Dora María Téllez, Victor Hugo Tinoco, Mónica Baltodano, and Gioconda Belli, who became highly critical of the FSLN. Dora María and Victor Hugo are also currently in jail and the others are in exile. On 7 September, the government ordered the arrest of Sergio Ramírez, former vice-president in the early years of the Revolution and one of Nicaragua’s best-known writers. Sergio is currently away from Nicaragua but his home in Managua has been raided and his new novel, Tongale no sabe bailar, has been taken out of circulation in Nicaragua
The FSLN returned to power in 2006 after 16 years in opposition and began to rule through a mixture of authoritarianism, alliances with big business, restrictions on press freedom, electoral fraud, and clientelist anti-poverty programmes, driven by an anti-feminist, anti-environmentalist, and anti-Black and anti-Indigenous politics. The repression enacted against critics of the regime escalated dramatically after a popular rebellion in April 2018, when more than 300 protestors were killed by government agents and nearly 700 became political prisoners. Thousands more went into exile fearing for their lives and have fought to rebuild Nicaraguan democracy from there. But Irving didn’t leave and has continued to denounce the human rights violations and work with various groups and networks including Reconstruimos Nicaragua and the Articulación de Movimientos Sociales to try and find a way out of the current impasse. In recent months, three years after the April 2018 rebellion and just before the presidential elections scheduled for 7 November, the repression has begun to escalate once again and has reached absurd proportions. In the past few months, the regime has arrested many of the critics of the government, on the right and the left, including all of the potential opposition presidential candidates who were hoping to run against Ortega in the coming elections. One of those arrested in June was Tamara Dávila, Sadie’s daughter, who was dragged away by police in front of her 5-year-old daughter and who is still in jail. As a new report by Human Rights Watch has clearly documented, the regime has engaged in practices of arbitrary detention on spurious grounds and fabricated charges without evidence, and political prisoners have been subject to horrendous conditions including prolonged solitary confinement, insufficient food, interrogation without legal counsel, and have denied visits from family members. Like many of the other political prisoners, Irving is detained on the basis of Law 1055, the “Law of Defence of the Rights of the People to Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination for Peace”, passed last year as a means to go after opponents. According to yesterday’s press release from the National Police, Irving is being investigated for carrying out acts that undermine Nicaragua’s independence, sovereignty, and self-determination, for requesting military intervention, for the use of foreign funds to carry out acts of terrorism and destabilization, for the promotion of trade sanctions, and for damaging the supreme interests of the nation.
Last month, INGES, the NGO that Irving created in the 1990s, was one of 15 NGOs stripped of their legal status. This entailed handing over all of their accounts and assets, including their vehicles and their premises where their offices were located, a house purchased for them many years ago by an Irish donation.
Irving has been strong and defiant for the past three years but after this attack and the forced dismantling of INGES and decades of work and commitment, he started to sound a little broken, as he tried to liquidate the organization in the short space of time demanded by the regime, lay off all his colleagues who are now unemployed, close ongoing projects that were bringing tangible benefits to rural communities and survivors of Hurricanes Eta and Iota, and deal with the constant intimidation. Everybody in Scottish Solidarity with Nicaragua demands his immediate release and that of all of Nicaragua’s political prisoners.
In November, Ortega, who has been president of Nicaragua for 26 of the last 42 years, will run unopposed, electoral participation will be low, and he will once again claim victory. Nicaragua deserves better.
Plenty of academics take to Twitter to vent about how dire email is for academics. Email is like a tyrannical to-do list that never gets smaller, no matter how much time you spend on it. Setting time aside to reply to overdue emails doesn’t help much as it just generates even more emails, often instantly, that require further responses. There is no doubt too that the academic inbox is also a source of anxiety as it often brings top-down managerial emails that usually announce some kind of deterioration in our working conditions or some new form of audit or surveillance. In spite of this, many of us compulsively check email more often than we really need to. There are several reasons for this, in addition to the way that emails functions as a source of general procrastination. We want to keep on top of the deletions so that we don’t lose control of the inbox which could result in our missing an important email from a student who needs help. We do so too perhaps because very occasionally our email is the bringer of career-affirming or enhancing invitations, emails that disrupt the general context in which we are constantly reminded that we are not publishing enough, not securing enough grant income, not grading papers quickly enough, and not practising sufficient acts of departmental citizenship. It is via email that we receive invitations to give a talk or keynote or to contribute an article or chapter to a journal or anthology. These invitations when they come from our peers and involve invitations to contribute to genuine conferences, journals, and books in our area of expertise are welcome. We are honoured to have been asked, as it means somebody believes our work matters. Sadly, such emails are but a tiny proportion of all the invitations received.
Like my colleagues, I get hundreds of email “invitations” to publish in journals or present at conferences that are not welcome. I am not going to call these invitations spam, fake, or predatory, as I know that those that have done so have been threatened with legal action. I am also in favour of disrupting the neoliberal journal rankings, making our work more accessible (but not in the Plan-S sort of way), and of publishing in journals that circulate outside of the Global North.
But these emails read like spam as they are irrelevant, badly written, and border on the abusive. It is clear that there are hundreds of people all around the world who spend their lives sending unsolicited emails to academics whose work they haven’t read to try and encourage them to publish in dodgy journals or present at dodgy conferences.
Kirsten Bell (2017) suggests that we should reject the term predatory for such journals, given the extortionate profits made by “legitimate” academic publishers such as Elsevier and recommends that we think of them as parody journals instead. I am also irritated by the time we are forced to spend time on for-profit Elsevier products such as Pure and the Elsevier Fingerprint Engine which potentially enable university managers to surveil and audit academics in wholly inappropriate ways and force us to present our own work on the internet in ways that make little sense (ie I had to spend half an hour recently deleting all the erroneous “fingerprints” from my official university website that uses an Elsevier platform). Article processing charges or APCs are levied by “respectable” journals too for open-access publication. There is no doubt that our academic publishing model is broken and even well-intentioned solutions to try and fix it such as Plan S are going to create a whole lot of different problems that will then need to be addressed. So I agree that the distinction between legitimate and predatory is not clear-cut. Bell also thinks these emails are so poorly written that it is not likely that any academic would fall for them. But there is some evidence as Alex Gillis (2017) writes, that some academics are getting reeled in by scam journals. The Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) has discussed the case of someone responding to such an invitation and having to threaten legal action to get the article withdrawn after realizing her mistake. COPE have usefully provided what they call “think, check, submit” approach, outlining a series of questions to ask before accepting an invitation. So the senders would not persist in the way that they do if they didn’t succeed at least some of the time.
So I am drawing attention here to the daily crap that fills my inbox, the invitations that are neither credible nor reliable, that make no sense, and wish to suggest to the senders of these emails that such mass emailing is unethical and that they should perhaps find something else to do. I am describing my own experiences in detail here in order to list some of the red flags to look out for when receiving an invitation and to name some of the journals and conferences that are the basis of the unsolicited emails. I am doing this because we really need to call time on these tedious bullshit practices.
Red flag 1: Invitation to contribute to an area outside of one’s expertise
Many of these invitations are not in my area of expertise. The journals listed below have asked me to contribute articles to them even though I do not work in any of these areas. If you do work in one of these areas, and get an invitation from one of these journals, you should check them out very carefully and take advice before accepting.
International Journal on Agriculture Research and Environmental Sciences
Net Journal of Agricultural Science (NJAS)
European Journal of Investigation in Health, Psychology and Education
World Journal of Agriculture and Soil Science
Cloud Computing and Data Science
Open Access Journal of Environmental and Soil Sciences
Open Journal of Nursing
International Journal of Earth Science and Geology
Earth Sciences (EARTH)
I am also frequently invited to present, sometimes even as keynote or “honorable invited speaker” to conferences in areas in which I have absolutely no expertise. These include the following:
International Meet on Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering (CIVILMEET2022),
The 3rd International Conference on Advances in Geosciences & Geochemistry
The 6th International Conference on Geology & Earth Science
World Congress on Medical Pathology
2nd annual Pharmacology & Toxicology Conference
Annual Conference on Immunology and Virology
2nd Annual Conference on Genetics
2nd Annual Global Conference on Neuroscience and Neurology
2nd International Conference on Infrastructure and Construction
SCON Vaccine Research
World Congress on Geology and Earth Science
International Conference of Industrial, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering (ICIMEE 2021).
One invitation to a conference called Environmental Science & Engineering even gave me the title of my paper which would have been “Sustainable Development of Environmental Science and Engineering towards Earth Science and Environmental Health” with the offer to suggest a different topic if I prefer. I hope nobody gives a paper with such a title ever.
Such emails include invitations to join editorial boards that are also outside of my area of expertise. Within the space of a few weeks, an entity called Whioce invited me to join the editorial boards of the Journal of Secure Communication and System, Modern Materials Science and Technology, Wireless Communication Technology, and Materials Science: Advanced Composite Materials. I was also asked by Bilingual Publishing CO to become a part of the editorial board for Non-Metallic Material Science.
Red flag 2: Invitations that give you just a few days to submit
Even if the research area is one to which you do indeed contribute, there are other things that should ring alarm bells. Please be careful with invitations that expect you to send them an article in just a few days. These are the journals that have done this.
|Name of journal||Date of email||Expected date of submission|
|International Journal on Agriculture Research and Environmental Sciences||2 July||9 July|
|American Journal of Humanities and Social Science||6 August 26 May 28 July||10 August 30 May 31 July|
|World Journal of Agriculture and Soil Science||14 May||25 May|
|The Journal of Liberal Arts and Humanities||24 April||25 April (with publication on 30 April!)|
|Open Journal of Geology||21 January||25 January|
|Scientific Journal of Research & Reviews||14 May||25 May|
|Social Sciences and Humanities Open Access Journal||21 February 30 March||29 February 10 April|
|Open Access Journal of Environmental and Soil Sciences||13 February||20 February|
The World Journal of Agriculture and Soil Science stated they were “in deadly need” of only one more article for their next issue, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Open Access Journal noted that they were “confident that you are always will be there to support us.”
No legitimate publication expects you to produce an article in a few days. Genuine or credible requests would give you 6-12 months. Peer review should take at least a month, and usually takes a lot longer, and revision the same.
Red flag 3: An invitation that sends you back the abstract of one your own published articles.
Of course, nobody ever needs to do this.
Red flag 4: An invitation from a person you’ve never heard of or who doesn’t work at a university. While this is not always a red flag as an invitation might come from an independent non-affiliated scholar, genuine emails usually come from other academics whose work we know or who work in a university department in our field or discipline. If you can’t find the sender’s university website, there is a need to be cautious. Occasionally such journals use the names of emeritus professors who are no longer research active.
Red flag 5: The language used. While some of these emails are written by people whose first language is not English and that is undoubtedly part of the problem, the language deployed in these emails often borders on the bizarre. Red flags include emails from people who you don’t know that start with an excessively matey opening expression. Some of these that I have received start with:
“Hope you’re having a great week.
“Hope everything is fine with you.”
“I tried to reach you by phone last week.”
“Hope you had a great time.”
“Greetings! Hope this email didn’t bother you.”
One unsolicited email started with the following unsolicited advice
“Hope all is well with and your family. It is very important that we all remain attentive about the COVID-19 epidemic. Please be careful for doing research and collecting data and taking necessary protection to fight virus and to prevent the risk of pandemic COVID-19.”
Many of these emails include excessively sycophantic and/or bizarrely worded praise – here are some of the gems.
“Deeply inspired by your publiѕһed paper entіtled “xxx”, we honestly іnνіte you to sսbmіt other unpubliѕһed papers to our jоurnаl.”
“So, I appeal prominent authors like you to provide your generous support by article submission on or before ….”
“This new dimension in your field compelled me to write to you as I felt that your work is worthy of admiration, and requesting permission to cite it. This new dimension in your field compelled me to write to you as I felt that your work is worthy of admiration. I have shared the finding of the paper with my colleagues. Other scholars of our research community have also commended them. Additionally, as I am also Chief Author at Global Journals, which is an internationally acclaimed publication organization based in the United States and an accreditation authority for research standards, we cordially invite you there.”
“I think your paper has got many downloads and views till now. Please accept my sincere congratulations!”
“We are writing to show our deepest impression on your published paper entitled xxxx. The article has drawn much attention and interest from scholars specializing in earth sciences.”
“Given your impressive expertise, we would like to invite you to join the Editorial Board of Sustainability on behalf of the Editor-in-Chief.”
“I believe in you that; your one article brings out the best achievement to our Journal.”
“We get to know your precious paper with the title xxxx which has been published in xxxx and the topic of the paper has impressed us a lot. The paper has attracted attention from researchers and scholars specializing in this field.”
“We believe this collaboration will strengthen academic personnel and a management team in scientific world.”
“Recommended by the data analysis center, we know that you are an expert in your research fields and have been active these years. It would be honorable for us to have you.”
The publisher paper “xxxx” is quality and significant. We welcome Dr. Cupples, Julie to exchange and share your experiences and research results at the International Conference of Industrial, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering (ICIMEE 2021).
Red flag 5: Journals that are too broad
Many of these journals are open to you publishing pretty much anything. For example, a journal called International Journal of Arts, Humanities and Social Science (IJAHSS) is looking for manuscripts in the following areas: Arts History, Film & Television Production, Performing Arts, Architecture Industrial Design, Interior Design, Literature, Ancient & Modern Language, Law, Philosophy, History, Human Integrative History, Education, Linguistics, Politics, Education, Ecology, Anthropology, Archaeology, Political Science, Public Administration, Gender Studies, Development Studies, Sociology, IR, Geography & So on.
“& So on” – what else is left?
A journal called AIMS Geosciences wrote the following:
“As a researcher with a research interest in major geosciences disciplines, we are pleased to invite you to contribute a review or research paper on the topic of “Geology”. You can also choose other novel and interesting topics. We are also very welcome.”
I am not a geologist and wondered if cultural geography would be considered to be a novel and interesting topic too.
Red flag 6: Emails that show that the sender didn’t do their homework.
Sometimes the sender does not only get the wrong field, but they also reveal their ignorance of existing publications. For example, I have received four emails recently in which the sender thought that a short book review I’d published was a journal article based on my own research.
“My name is Rossella and I am the Journal Manager at Frontiers in Communication. We regularly check for interesting research using Altmetric and I have noticed that your article “The politics of operations: excavating contemporary capitalism: Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson (2019) Durham: Duke University Press, 304pp, $27.95/20.99 Paper, ISBN: 978-1-4780-0283-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-01” attracted special attention.”
The article in question here was not an article at all, but just a book review and what on earth was the “special attention” this attracted?
The same mistake was made by an entity called Research Outreach who said “Please excuse the direct nature of this, however I would like to speak with you regarding your work on the The politics of operations: excavating contemporary capitalism study.” And somebody called Roy Gent went on to suggest that they would like to produce an article “possibly covering some basic details of the published paper I have seen online” for their September 2021 edition and that “[t]his publication will feature a wide variety of science disciplines.” Similarly, Kate Rossiter from an entity called Science Animated offered to make an animated video of my book review that they thought was a piece of independent research. A person called Chris Temple from an entity called Research Futures in an invitation to contribute a “feature article” to their October 2021 edition said “I understand your work is ongoing but hope this could be good timing.” No, it’s not ongoing, I read the book and wrote the review, I’m all done! In February 2022, I got a similar invitation from someone called Noah Thomas from an entity called ResearchPod.org.
Of course, if these senders had already read or indeed even seen the article online, they would have realized that it was a very short book review, and not a study of my own. By the way, I am not a scientist.
Red flag 7: Publications that ask for money
An email from an entity called Gavin E-books noted that they were “truly jubilant” to introduce their upcoming ebook and would I like to submit a chapter to the e-book for USD300. The American Journal of Humanities and Social Science said I could pay them whatever I liked as long as it was more than $30. I can think of many better ways to spend $31.
This pandemic is making me grumpy, but I am concerned about the collective labour involved in deleting these bullshit emails and the (admittedly small) risk that some people might fall for them. If you belong to one of the journals or conferences mentioned in this blog post, please do not write to me again. Ever. I would be most honoured if you would accept.
Today is the 42nd anniversary of the Nicaraguan Revolution. Today, as I have done every day for the past few weeks, I woke up and remembered that Tamara Dávila is still in jail.
I stopped supporting the FSLN in the 1990s. This “socialist” party did a dodgy electoral deal with the right-wing liberals and formed an alliance with the ultraconservative wing of the Catholic Church, they refused to engage in an internal debate about the democratization of the party, and the leader and former president Daniel Ortega was accused of sexually assaulting his stepdaughter, Zoilamérica Narváez since she was 11 years old. The past 15 years working on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, where the Revolution was very differently experienced and accommodated and drove many Indigenous peoples to join the Contra forces, have also done much to complicate my understanding of the 1980s. Nonetheless, I have always celebrated this day in some way, distinguishing Sandinismo from Orteguismo, like many Nicaraguans do. The Nicaraguan Revolution is the historical event that more than any other has shaped my life, politically, professionally, and emotionally. I first went to Nicaragua right after the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas in 1990 on a Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign brigade (Figure 1). I got hooked on this tiny country that had courageously stood up to US imperialism and tried to create a world that was on the side of the poor and dispossessed.
I was in Nicaragua on the 11th anniversary of the Revolution. In figure 2 is 24-year-old me with my brigade comrade Emma Dooks, both of us beaming with revolutionary fervour as we got to meet Comandante Daniel Ortega. I was also in Nicaragua for the 20th anniversary of the Revolution when Daniel came to Matagalpa and spoke in a rally (see Figure 3). Since then, I’ve been back many times, mostly for research and my commitment to working with Nicaraguans in their struggles for social justice has remained as strong as it ever was.
It has now been 42 years since the triumph of that revolution and although all the signs of what the FSLN would become were already there in 1989 before the electoral defeat of 1990 and contributed to the 1990 defeat, and certainly were by 1999, it is truly horrific to see that they are now just as repressive, dictatorial, and murderous, and just as much into corruption, crony capitalism, perpetual re-election, and extractivism, as the Somoza dictatorship they overthrew. The FSLN returned to power in 2006 after 16 years in opposition with the same leader, Daniel Ortega. In those years, many Sandinista revolutionaries left the party or were expelled. Since returning to power, the government has turned against all of Nicaragua’s progressive sectors, including the feminist movement, the LGBTQ+ movement, the campesino movement, the environmental movement, pensioners, Indigenous and Afrodescendant peoples, the NGOs, and independent media. Daniel Ortega has now been president for 27 of the last 42 years and he is a neoliberal through and through, in spite of the socialist rhetoric he spouts. In April 2018, when the people rose up in anger at growing authoritarianism, environmental destruction, and the erosion of pensions, Ortega and his wife and vice-president Rosario Murillo turned their thugs and their weapons against the protestors, many of them students. Hundreds were murdered and imprisoned, thousands fled in exile to other countries. One of my research participants, Bluefields journalist and broadcaster Ángel Gahona, was shot while reporting on the protests. Babies and children were caught in the crossfire too. The FSLN was expelled from the Socialist International in 2019 for grave human rights violations.
Tamara Dávila is a member of Unidad Nacional Azul y Blanco, the coalition formed to oppose the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and a political prisoner. She was arrested by government forces on 12 June while she was at home with her four-year-old daughter. She was arrested along with a number of prominent members of the opposition including several precandidates for the November elections. Many of those currently in jail – Cristiana Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Juan Sebastián Chamorro, Felix Maradiaga, Violeta Granera, José Adán Aguerri, José Pallais, Dora María Téllez, Hugo Torres, Victor Hugo Tinoco, Medardo Mairena, Lesther Alemán – are household names in Nicaragua. They are well known and respected for their political contributions and commitment to Nicaragua. They hail from right across the political spectrum and include former Sandinista comrades, as well as former business collaborators of the current government leadership. They were arrested thanks to the repressive Law of Sovereignty passed in 2020. On 16 July, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) requested that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights extend provisional measures in order to protect Tamara’s rights. They also requested her immediate release.
Tamara grew up with the revolution and its legacies. Her late parents, Irving Dávila and Sadie Rivas, both made major and historically documented contributions to the revolution. Tamara is a feminist activist whose progressive and revolutionary credentials have never been in doubt. She is a member of the new generation of political leaders needed to build a revolutionary Nicaragua for the 21st century, but one without the masculinism, verticalism, misogyny, and racism of its 1980s variant.
Tamara’s mom, Sadie Rivas, was my most inspirational friend. She participated in the so-called Insurrección de los Niños (the Insurrection of the Children) against the Somoza dictatorship, so-called because those participating were so young. I first met her in 1991 on my second visit to Nicaragua and she came to the UK a few months later to participate in a scheme run by the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign to bring party members to the UK. We spent time a few months together having fun and campaigning in solidarity events to defend the gains of the revolution. In the 1990s, Sadie was one of the many revolutionaries who was expelled from the party for questioning its internal politics and the betrayal of its revolutionary politics. Today many of those who fought and sacrificed, the people who made revolutionary history, are no longer with the FSLN. They conduct their revolutionary politics outside of the party and have done so for more than two decades.
I was living with Sadie and her children in 1999 when she was tragically killed in a car accident on her way back to Matagalpa from Managua. I was doing my doctoral fieldwork and had my own children with me, then aged 4 and 7. Tamara was just 18 years old; the sadness of those days still grips my body from within. But Sadie would be so immensely proud of Tamara, for standing up for justice and fighting for Nicaragua and Nicaraguans who deserve something so much better than what they have.
Sadly, it seems that some people on the left (including bizarrely the current Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign that really should know better) are still taken in by Ortega’s anti-imperialist and socialist rhetoric and they ignore and overlook the repression that the government has unleashed on protestors, on Nicaragua’s Indigenous and Afrodescendant peoples and on its lakes and forests, as well as the courting of local oligarchies and transnational capital and the nepotistic distribution of business contracts. I have activist friends who wake up to riot police outside their homes who monitor their every movement and that of anyone who comes to their homes. The faces of Ortega-Murillo are everywhere as they tried to manufacture a cult of personality (see Figure 5). Some commentators and activists on the left circulate the idea that all of Nicaragua’s problems are created by US intervention and even suggest in a rather colonizing fashion that all those in opposition are manipulated and funded by the empire, as if Nicaraguans don’t know how to lead and organize their own rebellion. Respectable publications such as CounterPunch have fallen for this dangerous narrative. Yet, Nicaragua is full of Sandinista revolutionaries and their descendants, who can produce the sharpest Marxist-Leninist analyses, as well as excellent feminist and Indigenous ones, who are opposed to the current government. Those in opposition are on the right and the left; some seek out the support of the likes of Marco Rubio in their struggle to topple the dictatorship, while many cannot abhor Rubio or his politics and remain vehemently opposed to any kind of US government intervention in domestic politics. Let’s try and understand the messiness and heterogeneity of the political conjuncture (it was messy in 1979 too).
But in the 1980s, the Nicaraguan Revolution attracted many activists and internationalists like me, who went to Nicaragua from the US and Europe to work on solidarity brigades in support of the revolution. Working alongside Nicaraguans, we picked coffee, planted trees, provided health care, built schools, shared stories, showed solidarity, and we learned about the struggle to make a better and fairer world against the odds. For most of us, these experiences were profound; they were utterly life-changing. But now hundreds of those brigadistas, internacionalistas, and solidarity workers in both the US and Europe have signed open letters denouncing the government. As Margaret Randall, author of Sandino’s Daughters, writes in response to the US letter:
The grandchildren of the Sandinista generation have no firsthand memories of the revolution but know the betrayal in its aftermath. They are part of a world-wide generation confronting authoritarianism, police brutality, domestic violence, and the devastating effects of climate change. It is time to make way for this new generation of Nicaraguans to determine the country’s future.
If you are not one of the signatories to our letters and you think you know what is going on in Nicaragua, please take a closer look. Nicaragua is the beautiful, inspirational and politically significant place it always was, except that contemporary demands for social justice also condemn the racism, homophobia, transphobia, and extractivist politics of the traditional left, as well as the necropolitics and carceral politics enacted by Ortega-Murillo, who are left-wing in name only. The new generation of activists are tackling political, cultural, and environmental issues that were taboo in the 1980s. Ortega-Murillo need to step down, they are politically exhausted with no shred of legitimacy. We need to renew the solidarity movement with Nicaragua that was so important in the 1980s as it is just as important today. We demand the release of all political prisoners and for free and fair elections to be held in November.
Understanding Nicaragua’s crisis through politics and arts
★✊Scottish premiere of LAS SANDINISTAS! + Speakers + Cancion Protesta: Songs from Latin America and Food from Nicaragua.
This is a submission based on the collated and collective views of the Human Geography Research Group (HGRG) in the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh as our institution is considering adopting lecture capture by default. I am sharing it here as it might assist other academics who are confronting and concerned about mandatory lecture recording and it might help students to understand why default lecture recording is not necessarily in their interests.
The HGRG is strongly opposed to the policy of default recording on four main grounds:
We understand why stressed, anxious and highly indebted students might well believe that their interests are best served by having access to recordings of lectures, but it is our belief that for the majority of our students it will have a detrimental effect on their learning.
Many of us are dealing with difficult and often quite controversial material in class and we try to encourage a high level of student engagement and class participation. Lecture content is therefore often quite spontaneous and responsive to student input. An interactive lecture requires students to be actively present in the classroom. This mode of participation is not possible when viewing a recorded lecture later. Furthermore, the fact of recording changes the way in which both teachers and students behave, deterring both us and them from dealing with sensitive or controversial content. For many students it takes a lot of courage to speak up in class and they will simply not do so if they know they are being recorded. Lecturers would be forced to substantially change their lecture content and style of delivery that will make lectures less interesting, interactive and engaging – hallmarks of “innovative” learning. We believe that recording will destroy the classroom rapport, spontaneity and informality that are fundamental for effective learning and critical thinking. Even if lecture recording has no impact on attendance (which is debatable), it might also encourage students to be less than present during the class as they know that they can access the material later.
We also live in a highly saturated media environment in which in addition to books and journal articles, we have instant access to a range of media content, include YouTube clips, documentaries, movies, Ted talks, podcasts, and radio shows that might well provide useful supplementary learning material for students. In addition, most students are active and competent users of social media and are used to being exposed to media texts that that can be consumed very quickly. While instant access to this kind of media content is valuable in many ways, it does create an economy of distraction and is making it harder for many people to listen and pay attention to something for more than a few minutes. Attending lectures in person and being required to pay careful attention to what is being said for one or two hours without being able to pause or rewind provides students with an important set of skills, namely the ability to pay attention for more than five minutes, select information and critically prioritize what is important within an argument and take a useful set of notes. Students need to learn to listen. The ability of thinking critically can only be acquired by focusing on the unfolding of an argument, by struggling – and perhaps disagreeing – with it and this is a skill best acquired in the classroom rather than through another online media text. There is plenty of useful material online already for students who wish to listen to a course-relevant podcast while relaxing, walking to campus or doing exercise. We should not add recorded lectures to this already abundant and often overwhelming media content.
There are of course universities and courses that specialize in online delivery (ODL), where all of the students study remotely and material is only available in an online format and delivered in a unidirectional way from teacher to student. While ODL works for some students, these courses lack the participatory and creative learning environments that in-person course delivery provides. If there are students that wish to avoid class participation or need to study remotely for other reasons, there are courses that cater for this mode of learning. The learning needs of the vast majority of students are better served by lectures and tutorials that they attend in person and are combined with reading and independent study.
Furthermore, most of our students do not read anywhere near enough. The failure to read sufficiently is amply reflected in students’ written work and is a shared concern often raised during examination boards. Reading is central to getting a university education and good writers and critical thinkers are also avid readers. The best thing our students can do outside of the classroom is to read material from class reading lists, rather than to watch online a lecture that they have already attended. A good set of notes taking during the lecture is more than sufficient for reviewing this material later when doing assessed work. Even if recording lectures does not impact on attendance, it might impact negatively on the time students dedicate to reading.
One of the issues we struggle with at times is poor class attendance, which can very quickly undermine learning outcomes. Availability of online lectures is likely to deter some students from attending class as they know they can catch up later. As teachers, we try to produce a collective dynamic in the classroom based on co-learning (we all learn from each other) and in which insights unfold over the course of the semester. The most stimulating classes are ones in which conversations are developed, evolved and built on. The only way to do this effectively is to do so in an embodied face-to-face way, by being present in the room with others and by coming to class every week.
The proposed policy states that opting out of recording will require the permission of the head of school. The members of the Human Geography Research Group are engaged in critical work in the humanities and social sciences but are based in the School of Geosciences. This school is dominated by physical scientists who often use quite different pedagogical strategies and tend not to teach the critical social theory and political perspectives that are central to our own teaching. This school organization means that our heads of schools and directors of teaching tend to be physical scientists and sometimes do not have sufficient familiarity with approaches and pedagogical techniques in human geography and the critical social sciences. While we are confident that our existing head of school would support our requests to opt out, we cannot speak for future heads of school that might base decisions on a physical science model. It is important for our own personal safety, the protection of our academic freedom and the quality of our teaching that our need to opt out in respected in the future. It should not depend on whether the current or future head of school is sufficiently familiar with and sympathetic to our pedagogical approaches.
We recognize that for some lecturers and some courses and classes, lecture recording might be seen as a valuable pedagogical tool. The person giving the lecture is best placed to decide on the pedagogical advantages and disadvantages of recording and the decision on whether to record should be left to the class lecturer. Academic freedom is being eroded in all kinds of ways in British universities to the detriment of both teaching and research (see Karran’s 2017 report at https://www.ucu.org.uk/academic-freedom-in-2017) and this policy would exacerbate this state of affairs.
There is already too much administrative work and bureaucracy at the University of Edinburgh and for many academics workloads are unsustainably high. This policy would create additional work and an unnecessary layer of administrative bureaucracy for both lecturers and heads of schools. We are not given sufficient time to prepare and deliver lectures, grade assessments and meet with students in our office hours. These things take far longer than the time allocated to them in the workload model and most human geographers are also working over capacity. So we do not have time for the additional work proposed by the policy, not only seeking permission to opt out from the head of school but also “reviewing and editing the recording, where required, and publishing it to the students on the Course(s) via the service, normally by the end of the next working day.” The policy assumes our time is elastic, but it is not.
Furthermore, with the change to an opt-out policy, the onus will be on us as individuals to explain and justify our decision to opt-out to our students – with the default being that recording is a “good thing” against which we will need to articulate an argument. We think that this could place an undue degree of stress on us as staff and detract from the learning aims of the course.
There is also concern that the recording of lectures could easily be used for a range of non-pedagogical purposes, including for evaluation by managers. Furthermore, mandatory recording would place intolerable pressure on academics. New hires or those developing new courses often have to prepare a large number of new lectures from scratch in a very short space of time. If staff were being recorded for all of them, they might well feel more pressure to prepare these lectures perfectly and this may mean they end up reading from scripts to remain in control of what they say and avoid any momentary lapses of concentration, fluffing of ‘lines’ etc. They will find that time for research and other non-teaching activities is even further reduced.
Staff and student safety
As noted above, as experts in our fields, we are the best placed to know whether recording is appropriate or useful. The decision on whether to record should therefore be in the hands of academics. We believe that students should be exposed to difficult and complex material that might critique and challenge the cultural or political status quo. Students in human geography need to engage with a range of feminist, queer, anti-colonial, decolonial, anarchist, and socialist ideas that are central to our discipline and facilitate understanding the world through a geographical lens. We are doing them a disservice if we do not give them the analytical and theoretical tools to interrogate the uneven and unequal world in which we live. In addition to do so requires engagement with many of the complex issues of our time, including war and conflict, forced migrations, violence against women, racism, social injustice and socio-economic inequality.
We are however living in dangerous times in which white supremacy, colonial apologetics, sexism, racism, Islamaphobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment are resurgent and are promoted by the present political conjuncture, characterized by the Trump presidency, the politics of Brexit, austerity and the use of Prevent legislation in universities as well as other factors. Online trolling and abuse by sexist, racist, and neocolonial actors is often directed towards academics. To date, universities have done very little to protect academics from this kind of abuse and as a result many are suffering and living in fear. See for example:
“I’m a Stanford professor accused of being a terrorist. McCarthyism is back”
“Death threats are forcing professors off campus”
See also the numerous articles detailing the attacks and abuse directed at Farhana Sultana, Syracuse University, and Lola Olufemi, University of Cambridge, two examples here
Online lectures make it possible for small pieces of lecture material to be placed on the internet and shared on social media and potentially expose us and our students to all kinds of emotional and physical harm. Streamed lectures can easily be recorded, edited into memes and other forms of social media content, and used for various non-pedagogical purposes. While the proposed policy states that students who share material would be subject to disciplinary action, there would be no way to identify who was responsible for its dissemination.
Our classrooms need to be safe spaces for our students and for us and our colleagues, particularly those who are BAME or who teach through a decolonial or feminist lens. We want our students to be able to ask questions, say what they think, and participate in class discussion and we want to be able to respond to them without fear that our words and interventions will appear on the internet without our consent.
Many of us draw on our research experiences in our teaching and some of us do research in countries with high levels of political repression and authoritarianism, often directed at political opponents of the government, feminist activists or LGTB people. If we criticize the government in power, as we often do in our classes to provide context or illustrate theoretical points, this could also expose us to danger when we do fieldwork, should this material be shared.
We know from historical and contemporary experience that the lives of academics can be put in grave danger because somebody doesn’t like their politics.
This policy must therefore be strongly opposed in the interests of sound pedagogies, academic freedom and the well-being and safety of both staff and students.
Chaired by Paul Laverty, scriptwriter of I, Daniel Blake and Carla’s Song
Tuesday 10th JULY 2018, 5pm
University of Edinburgh
Room 1.20, Dugald Stewart Building
3 Charles Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9AD
The Nicaraguan government, led by President Daniel Ortega and his vice-President wife Rosario Murillo, is waging war on its own people. For the past two months, the unarmed population has faced attack after attack from the police and paramilitary forces using war weapons to shoot to kill. Police have consistently fired into crowds demonstrating peacefully, including the massive Mother’s Day March on May 30th in solidarity with the families of those killed in mid-April. Every day state and irregular forces continue to shoot protesters who have raised barricades in towns across the country as a way of defending themselves, reminiscient of the popular resistance to the Somoza dictatorship in the 1970s. The atrocities against the civilian population are worsening and have resulted in at least 285 killed, another 2500 injured and countless others detained.
Madelaine Caracas is a 20-year Nicaraguan activist who is travelling through Europe to denounce the Ortega massacre as part of an informational caravan of solidarity.
This event is supported by Scottish residents in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua and the Human Geography Research Group and the Global Development Academy of the University of Edinburgh.
This is my translation of a document prepared by young people who are protesting in the streets of Nicaragua that has been shared and is circulating on social media. The original Spanish is below and can also be found here (https://www.facebook.com/oscarrene.vargasescobar/posts/1895756457124524).
This protest is not just about cuts to social security. It is because of corruption. It is because of electoral fraud in the municipal elections.
It is because young people as used as violent mobs. Because the Constitution was illegally amended. It is because democracy has been violated and because your vote doesn’t count because they create their own votes. Because dead people get to vote. Because dead people get to hold high office in the National Assembly.
Because there are no efficient public servants. Because public servants got a pay rise three days before they told pensioners that their C$400 (US$13) a month pension would be cut by 5%.
Because top ranking civil servants such as Roberto Rivas are immune from prosecution, corrupt and receive salaries of more than USD5000 a month plus benefits (vehicle, petrol, life insurance, health insurance that provides coverage outside of Nicaragua, private education for their kids).
Because the government creates metallic trees instead of real trees.
Because the police force lacks professionalism. The police attack students and other people with rubber bullets, tear gas and AK-47 bullets.
Because the government bought a bunch of tanks from Russia for nothing. Because petrol is super expensive even though the price of crude oil is low.
Because Daniel Ortega should never have been re-elected. Because the wife of the president should never have become vice-president. Because the vice-president lies.
Because they don’t let people protest.
Because they take advantage of the poor by giving them handouts of piñatas and bags of rice and deprive them of education.
Because those of us who come from poor families and have made progess in life, we have done so because our parents have sold nacatamales, tortillas, have taken in washing and ironing and have paid for our education with honest work. Because they recognize they quality education enables you to succeed in life, to think critically. Education helps you out of poverty.
Because a school teacher who works two shifts a day doesn’t even earn US$200 a month. Just a few receive a few paltry benefits on top that amount to nothing more than an end of year basket with soap, a bag of rice and a bag of beans.
Because the government employees earn more than C$25,000 (US$800). They receive two extra bonuses per year. Because the INSS (Department of Social Security) pays US$1000 a month for each child in a private school while the state schools function by magic.
Because they give concessions to mining companies that take away the gold and leave poverty, disease and polluted water behind.
Because they don’t provide accurate press releases. Because they appropriated 98% of the media companies. Because they censor information. Because they shut down independent media.
Because the roundabouts are full of state employees, secondary school and university students who are forced by the police to be there.
Because they persecute those that defend human rights.
Because people who express an alternative point of view are repressed and murdered.
Because they pay delinquents and disguise them as Sandinistas to attack students.
Because they are shitting on the country.
Esto no es, ni ha sido solo por lo del INSS! Es por la corrupción! Por robar alcaldías. Robar derechos y libre expresión. Es por Indio Maíz.
Es por usar a la juventud como turba. Porque se modificó ilegalmente la constitución Por violar la democracia y que tu voto no cuente porque inventan votos. Porque los muertos votan. Porque los muertos ejercen en altos cargos en la Asamblea.
Porque no hay funcionarios públicos eficientes. Porque a los funcionarios públicos les hicieron un aumento de sueldo tres días antes que se nos informara que a un anciano se le iba a quitar el 5% de los C$400 pesos que recibe al mes.
Porque Roberto Rivas y otros políticos son inmunes, corruptos y los mantienen en su cargos con salarios de más de U$5,000 dólares + beneficios (vehículo asignado, gasolina, seguro de vida, seguro de salud con cobertura fuera de Nicaragua.
Educación privada para sus hij@s, etcétera. Porque hay árboles de la vida y no árboles reales.
Porque la policía no es profesional. Porque la policía dispara balas de goma, bombas lacrimógenas y balas de AK-47 a los estudiantes y pueblo en general.
Porque compramos tanques a Rusia para nada. Porque la gasolina está carísima y el petróleo barato.
Porque no debió reelegirse Daniel. Porque la esposa del presidente nunca debió ser vice-presidenta. Porque la Vice-presidenta es mentirosa.
Porque no dejan marchar. Porque se aprovechan de los pobres dándoles piñatas, dos libras de arroz y NO Educación.
Porque quienes venimos de familias humildes y hemos progresado en la vida, lo hemos hecho porque muchos padres han tenido que vender nacatamales, tortillas, lavado, planchado y han pagado la educación de sus hijos con trabajo honrado.
Porque con Educación de calidad es posible superarte en la vida. Porque con Educación podes tener pensamiento crítico. Porque con Educación se puede salir de la pobreza.
Porque un maestro trabajando dos turnos no gana ni U$200 dólares y los pocos que reciben beneficios, esos beneficios son ridículos (una canasta con jabón de baño, una bolsita de arroz, de frijoles, a fin de año).
Porque los empleados del INSS, la DGI, las alcaldías y otros ganan más de 25 mil córdobas. Porque esos empleados reciben 2 aguinaldos por año o dos bonos más un aguinaldo.
Porque el INSS paga 1000 dólares por mes por cada niño de un centro privado mientras las escuelas públicas funcionan de milagro.
Porque dan concesiones a empresas mineras que se llevan el oro y dejan pobreza, enfermedades y aguas contaminadas.
Porque no dan comunicados de prensa objetivos. Porque se apropiaron del 98% de los medios de comunicación. Porque censuran la información. Porque cierran medios de comunicación.
Porque las rotondas están llenas de trabajadores del estado, estudiantes de secundaria y universidades obligados a estar allí, su presencia es resguardada por la policía.
Porque persiguen a las y los defensores de derechos humanos.
Porque quienes expresan otro punto de vista son reprimidos y asesinados!
Porque le pagan a delincuentes y los disfrazan de sandinistas para que golpeen a los estudiantes.
Porque se están cagando en el país.
Excellent post on the collective thoughts on the REF enacted mostly through Twitter. Essential to our efforts to create a more humane and intellectually stronger university
I am writing this piece at what looks like the final phase of the USS strike involving academics from pre-1992 UK universities. A good deal of solidarity has been generated through the course of the dispute, with many academics manning picket lines together discoverying common purpose and shared issues, and often noting how the structures and even physical spaces of modern higher education discourage such interactions when working. Furthermore, many of us have interacted regularly using Twitter, enabling the sharing of experiences, perspectives, vital data (not least concerning the assumptions and calculations employed for the USS future pensions model), and much else about modern academic life. As noted by George Letsas in the Times Higher Education Supplement (THES), Becky Gardiner in The Guardian, Nicole Kobie in Wired, and various others, the strike and other associated industrial action have embodied a wider range of frustrations amongst UK-based…
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