The story of an article: ‘Developing an Independent Anti-Racist Model for Asylum Rights Organizing in England’

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I recently had an article published in the Ethnic & Racial Studies journal, under the title ‘Developing an Independent Anti-Racist Model for Asylum Rights Organizing in England’. The background to the article is my involvement in campaigns for asylum rights, and in particular anti-deportation campaigns, in a city in Northern England since late 2005. The article draws on my experience of one organisation in particular, which I helped to found and build, which is referred to in the article by the acronym CAMP, changed from the organisation’s real name to provide a level of anonymity for the individuals I interviewed. Alongside this involvement as a participant, over the same period I carried out research as part of a three year PhD, which also contributed to a book, Refugees, Capitalism and the British State: Implications for social workers, volunteers and activists. This article was written around two years after completing the PhD, and several months after completing the book. Whereas the book focuses more on the material basis of refugees’ oppression in Britain, and the ways the British state has managed this oppression, the article explores the experiences of one organisation that took a position of active opposition to the state’s policies. Although themes of oppression and resistance are present in both, the book leans toward the former, and this article focuses more on the latter.

I also used the article to return to a book chapter written by one of my supervisors, Sarah Banks, before I really started my PhD, for which I carried out several interviews and a focus group in 2006. Sarah uses CAMP to illustrate a model for ‘Critical Community Practice’, and this model proved to be a useful counterpoint when elaborating and refining my own model, which I have called the ‘Independent Anti-Racist Model’ for asylum rights organising. By looking at one particular case study, I have aimed to concretely address how different forms of activity relate to one another, challenging the rigidity of divides between categories such as ‘volunteering’, ‘activism’ and ‘professional practice’, for example. Presenting a model may seem overly formulaic, abstract, mechanistic even; the intention behind it is certainly not to lay down a prescriptive blueprint, but to situate the approach that CAMP represents within the wider range of activity among those aiming to support refugees (including those who have been denied refugee status by the British state). I would be very interested to hear people’s thoughts on the extent to which the use of a model works in this context, and in particular whether it has been of use to you. Feel free to either leave comments below this post or to send them to me in a private message or email.

As is the case for many academic journals, if you’re not a student or a member of staff at an institution that has a subscription, then the price of downloading the article from the journal is prohibitive (£23.00 for 8,000 words). The publishers have given me a link that can be used by up to 50 people to download the article for free. Beyond this, I am allowed to distribute an unlimited number of copies of the original version I submitted, before the editors sent it out to reviewers, who then commented and prompted me to develop the article further. If you or your institution do have a subscription to the journal, the final version can be accessed here, or if you don’t then the 50 free copies of the article in its published form are available here and the article as it was originally submitted is available here (if you use the ’50 free copies’ link and get sent to a page asking you to log in or pay, that probably means the link has been used more than 50 times now, my apologies for that). Within a couple of months of the article’s publication online, the number of people who had accessed the original version (40) was nearly double those having accessed the final, published version (20-odd), although since the release of the 50 free copies the published version has pulled into the lead with 64.

So what’s the difference between the two versions? Quite a lot really: the reviewers both had some very helpful and thoughtful things to say about my original submission, and as a result I developed the article in significant ways. Below is an excerpt of my letter to the editors explaining the main changes I made:

Referee 1 asks for clarification about how the model might be transferred, and in particular how its precarious funding base can be addressed. I have responded to this by reframing the fifth dimension of the model as ‘Resources’ instead of ‘Finances’, and by drawing out the different ways CAMP found the resources it needed – some cash, some in-kind (pp. 22-23) and have referred back to this when considering the transferability of the model (pp. 26-27). I have also made more explicit the relationship between the enabling conditions and the transferability of the model (pp. 23-24). Secondly, the referee asks for further explanation of how the decline in the organisation’s activity came about. I discuss factors that I argue contributed to this in the context of the wider conditions that made CAMP possible, and how these changed. I have reworded the relevant section to improve the clarity of the causal links I am drawing (in particular pp. 25-27).

Referee 2 calls for:

• more discussion of identity politics, in particular the way they have been coopted within state-sponsored initiatives;

• more engagement with the literature on anti-racist activism and in particular alliances across racialised difference;

• more attention to ‘race’ and in particular ‘how invocations of ‘postracialism’ may have a bearing on the specific struggles of refugees’.

The detail with which I can deal with any of these questions within the scope of this paper is limited by space, but I have attempted to respond through a combination of widening the discussion of the literature and pointing to the connections between these wider debates and the specific focus of the article. I have responded to the first point by expanding the discussion of identity politics, with additional references to Yúdice (2003) and Shukra (1995) (pp.12-13). I have responded to the second point by adding to the literature on anti-racist and migrant activism that the article already references (Anderson, 2010, Bailey, 2012, Bunyan, 2010, Chimienti, 2011, Hill Collins, 1990, Nicholls, 2011, Però, 2008, Takhar, 2011), with references to literature specifically concerning alliances across racialised difference (Ledwith and Asgill, 2000, Penketh, 2000) (pp. 12, 14-16). I have used this to support a more detailed discussion of the diverse membership of CAMP (including making explicit the involvement of black people who were not refugees) (pp. 12, 16-17), developed the discussion of refugees’ public and internal roles in CAMP (pp. 16-17), added an acknowledgement that the relative absence of refugees from some kinds of roles raises questions of representation (p. 17)), and restructured the section about the organisation’s structure to improve the clarity of the argument (pp. 14-18). The third point, regarding ‘race’ and post-racialism has been responded to with reference to Lentin and Titley (2011) and discussion of the impact on white people of involvement in CAMP (pp. 11-12).

Referee 2 also questions whether the case study provides a basis for a model, ‘as it is not unique nor absolutely innovative’. I have responded to this by explaining in more detail the purpose of developing a conceptual model, that it is ‘not intended to imply that CAMP was unique or unprecedented, but rather to: facilitate comparisons within wider histories of political community organising (although such comparisons are beyond the scope of this paper); demonstrate the utility and challenges of such approaches in the contemporary UK asylum context, where they are largely absent; explain the relationship between objective and subjective factors that enabled CAMP to develop, to inform transferability to other contexts’ (p.7).

Responding to these comments within the word limit has required some sections to be reduced, particularly in the contextual discussion of the asylum system, although this is discussed in detail in my book, to which I refer readers of the article (p. 3). In some places I have also removed or edited down some of the data that was presented in the previous submission. I have removed some of the works cited in the previous submission, in places were multiple sources were given for the same point, and where I felt this could be done while still leaving all points adequately referenced.

As you might have noticed, developing the elements of the article requested by the referees also required something to be lost to keep within the journal’s strict word limit. So while some elements of the analysis and the reference to the wider literature are dealt with more fully in the final version, parts of the context and the details about CAMP are dealt with more briefly. As hard copies of journals come to play a less significant role, I wonder whether journals will relax their upper word limits, at least at the stage that authors are responding to reviewers’ comments, and we can have the best of both worlds (and preferably open access!).

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