A reflection on infrastructure of academia and the Close-Up section of the 10th issue
By Amina Nolte and Ezgican Özdemir
The recently published 10th issue of Middle East: Topics and Arguments (META) features brilliant authors on the theme of “infrastructure”. As co-editors, we are proud to be part of a publication that combines our joint conceptual interest on “infrastructure” with an empirical focus on the Middle East & North Africa (and beyond).
We were imbued with the responsibility to choose, reject and edit the articles we received. In so doing, our work and academic practice is not just about infrastructure as an object of study. Rather, such editorial practices are part and parcel of an infrastructural foundation of academia that we all create, sustain and reproduce as academics. Publishing on material and social infrastructures in the MENA region is thus inherently related to the very social and professional networks in which we all work, write, publish and thrive.
As editors, but also as young feminist scholars, we strived to ensure both the quality of the papers and an equal number of articles by female* scholars. We are thus proud to not only have published an issue on infrastructure of and in the Middle East and North Africa, but also that we were able to feature 6 young female scholars and their interesting work on infrastructure. However, when we were looking for an interview contribution for the Close Up section, it proved really difficult to find a prominent female scholar, dealing with infrastructure in the Middle East and North Africa. This is not, as we would like to emphasize, because there is no relevant work being done by female scholars in this field. Rather, we would contend, it is a matter of visibility and networks. We ended up picking Ronen Shamir for the interview because we felt that his work on electricity in Palestine directly speaks to many pieces featured in the issue. However, we have come to learn after the publication of our issue that Shamir, as a faculty member at Tel Aviv University, has been reprimanded for unbecoming conduct for his intimate relationship with a female student.
As editors and interviewers of the Close-Up section, we feel responsible – not only for the content published but equally for the platform we provided. We experience now and again that what is rendered visible by means of publishing is inseparable from what and who gets to be represented (and what is not in the ever-competitive field of academia). This is not a matter of hard academic work exclusively, but rather of infrastructures of (in)visibility that we all (re)produce, sustain, or obstruct one way or another. Thus, our issue as well as the interview with Shamir is based on our academic network which helped us to great contributions but also channeled our decisions regarding the interview with Ronen Shamir.
Now that we provided a platform for a male academic with allegations of unbecoming conduct against him, we reject the notion of a possible separation between content and context. We find it impossible to fall silent on the discomfort we feel about having provided a platform to an academic who has allegedly abused his position and power. Acknowledging the complexity of the situation and the ambiguity of the allegations, we have decided to not exclude the interview from our issue. This commentary therefore is to state that allegations against Shamir and the official case against him at Tel Aviv University has only come to the knowledge of us, editors and the META Editorial Board, after the publication of the issue. We also express that had we known about his alleged actions before, we would not have conducted or published the interview.
The situation we find ourselves in reminds us that, once again, the infrastructure of academia includes a wide web of people and simultaneously excludes other social positions of people, knowledge and classes. Just like any other infrastructure that we tried to shed light on in this issue, academia is ridden with networks of power. The infrastructure we talk about here may not be as tangible as pipes, roads, or tramways. Instead it is the social hierarchies that permeate us and which enable and disable many of us and our work to become visible in the field of academia.
An earlier version of the comment misstated that Ronen Shamir was reprimanded for sexual misconduct.