An open letter to Elsevier and all those involved in the IEHG

An open letter to Elsevier and all those involved in the IEHG from geographer Keith Halfacree, 10 April 2007:

I am respectfully informing you of my decision to follow my fellow human geography academics at Newcastle University and elsewhere and am suspending work on my three contributions to Elsevier’s International Encyclopaedia of Human Geography. This is in protest at Reed Elsevier’s ongoing role as organiser of weapons fairs such as the Defence Systems & Equipment International (DSEI) exhibitions in London.

This has been a difficult decision for me to make as it pits the total repugnance with which I view the arms industry against a strong personal ethic of staying true to commitments I make to others. However, having been wrestling with these issues for quite some time now, and I especially thank Dave (Featherstone) and Paul (Routledge) for this, I feel that there is only one course I can take now that a greater formalisation of our protest has emerged and has been discussed most thoughtfully across the Critical Geography Forum.

I would like to add, though, that I have found past dealings with Elsevier themselves via seeking reprint permissions, dealing with the mechanics of publishing journal articles, etc. to be excellent and supportive of the promotion of knowledge. Thus, again following the Newcastle lead, my action initially only targets the high-profile IEHG and I shall not be boycotting contributions towards other Elsevier publications. However, I do of course reserve the right to revisit this decision.

Again lifting often directly from the Newcastle statement, in greater detail, I do not wish my labour to contribute to the profits of an industry that is not regulated and policed sufficiently to prevent sales of weapons to known abusers of human rights. Reports on the 2005 DSEI fair highlighted serious shortcomings of this nature – see also the excellent Mark Thomas’s (2006) As Used on the Famous Nelson Mandela (Ebury). More generally, echoing calls in Elsevier journals such as The Lancet, The British Medical Journal, and Political Geography, as a critical scholar committed to a culture of life I have profound concerns about the incorporation of my labour into an enterprise that profits from the production of the means of killing. Okay, so I am a small small cog and with politics like mine my labour is compromised everyday (!) but just sometimes one has to ‘scream’ (John Holloway 2002 Change the World without taking Power, Pluto) ‘enough’! After all, doesn’t ‘every little count’ (sic.)…

Finally, as those of you know me will appreciate, I find this kind of public statement attention seeking and hence embarrassing, but I do it as part of the call on colleagues elsewhere to join the boycott, and to urge those working in an editorial capacity on the IEHG to reconsider their involvement.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Keith Halfacree (Geography, Swansea University)

11 replies on “An open letter to Elsevier and all those involved in the IEHG”

Bravo! I assume that you’ll also be resigning from Swansea University, as it ranks 4th in a list published by the Campaign Against Arms Trade ( of universities in the UK that invest in arms companies?

You’re raising an interesting point there; is Dr Halfacree a hypocrite because he does not put himself through the (presumably considerable) discomfort of resigning from his position to make a political statement ? Being a disagreeable person, I would like to know if Matt renounced his British citizenship over e.g. the war in Iraq ? (assuming he disapproves of the war in Iraq). Of course from a purely logical point of view, both Matt’s and my argument are tu quoque ad hominem fallacies, but I’m more interested in the ethical side of things.

Just to make clear where I stand on the issue, I do not think the arms trade is wrong in itself; it depends what arms you sell to whom.


A friend of mine, Toby, argued to me once that hypocrisy was less than damnable, but in fact worthy – if you weren’t allowed to urge people to be better than you actually are, what chance for progress?

That aside, Matt obviously doesn’t believe in constructive engagement and probably should resign his citizenship (can you do this?)

Aside on the arms trade: GB has some quite progressive laws on arms dealing which invoke ‘extraterritoriality’ – which means, if i’ve understood it right, that when we make it illegal it is illegal for our citizens wherever they are, and they can’t get round it by doing their deals abroad

My grandmother said that hypocrisy is vice’s hommage to virtue (it sounds better in French).

Let’s assume that both Dr. Halfacree and Matt are sincere opponents of the arms trade. They can both boycott Elsevier’s scientifical publications. The harm they’ll suffer will depend on how often these journals have published them. Let’s assume they are suffering equally on this count. Is Dr. Halfacree’s gesture meaningless because he does not want to submit himself to the maximum harm he can impose on himself, whereas Matt would be a parangon of virtue because he did, although he actually suffers much less than Dr. Halfacree would since he does not have to resign from his job ?

As for rejecting your citizenship; you can only do that if you have another one.

Finally, the “progressive” laws are actually quite dangerous, since they basically mean that the state tries to extend its powers out of its borders. I don’t like that very much, and nor do I like the assumption that you’d somehow belong to the state wherever you are.

Hubert – good analysis, but wrong assumptions. I’m certainly not a sincere opponent of the arms trade.

It’s interesting that the issue of hypocrisy has been raised – this is something that Elsevier has been accused of, by publishing the Lancet and having a sister company that organises arms exhibitions for profit. I’m not sure that a company can be a hypocrit, so I can assume this charge is aimed at the people who work for the organisation. Does Dr. Halfacree think that Elsevier staff are hypocrits? And if so, how is his position different, working for Swansea University who also invest in the arms trade to make a profit?

The main accusation against Elsevier is not that they are hypocritical – it is that organising arms fairs is wrong. Furthermore, it is also unneccessary and contradictory for a publishing company to be involved in this. Companies do have values, not just the ones that they pretend to have (“[Reed Elsevier wants to play] a positive role in our local and global communities”). There’s nothing hypocritical about wanting academic publishing to be responsive to the values of academia. Asking Dr Halfcree to resign is mistaken because it assumes that we should just give up on those things we don’t like – a liberal ‘boycott’ attitude to ethics. If I don’t like my country’s policies I don’t move country, I take part in trying to change them. The same if I don’t like my University’s policies, and the same when I don’t like the policies of Reed Elsevier.


Just to be clear, I am not accusing you of hypocrisy – I am interested in your line of argument because it is very strong emotionally (when I read it I thought – “Ha ! ” ) but if you think things through it is undeniably a logical fallacy and it actually does not seem to make much moral sense.

It’s the link between logic and morality that I find interesting.

I don’t know if this is still possible, but it has been possible to apply to the UN for a kind of world citizenship – I know this because John Nash attempted it, as described in the much-more-interesting-than-the-movie A Beautiful Mind biography. It didn’t work for him if I remember correctly because he was pretty obviously not of sound mind at that stage.
Two more problems with trying to remove yourself from hypocrisy by changing your citizenship:
1. Which modern nation-state has not benefitted from the arms trade?
2. You are almost certainly using your high economic power assigned to you as a citizen of arm-trading country to do it. Is it okay to use arms-trade wealth to attempt to stop using it?

I am against the arms trade in general – people can be vicious enough without weapons. Hubert is a prime example of that.

Peter, I am even more vicious with weapon and I will prove it to you as soon as I get the occasion again…

More seriously, if I’m not mistaken, what you are talking about is the Nansen-passport. International law actually discourages and even prohibits apatridy. Normally, you should only be able to renounce your citizenship (and many countries do not allow it anyway) if you have another one and will not be stateless.

As for you economical status, imho the only way it can benefit from the arms-trade is if you are stockholder of a company that produces arms, or of course if you can get the weapons you need cheaply.

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