The fall 2021 semester has commenced on most US university campuses. It is the second autumn school term amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, and for many of us, the first in-person semester in 18 months. A few weeks ago, I entered the physical classroom with great trepidation. Had I forgotten how to be a professor? Had I forgotten how to lecture in a physical space, how to pace myself, how to make small talk, how to gauge the body language of students and the atmosphere of the class, and how to get students to engage with one other or with me? Having taught semester after semester for 23 years—first as a graduate student and then as a professor—I’ve found that every week I am learning to meet the rhythms I have been practicing over the years. This process of re-learning and re-membering is hardly smooth. It is riddled with awkward moments, lengthy silences, gestures misread, tones misheard, and accents misunderstood. Our students, who are our audience/co-participants, are also learning anew how to be students in a physical space. They are trying to remember how to learn in-person. How to interact with their peers and their professors. How to be present in a class that is no longer a screen. Even so, I am sure of two things—the body remembers and the mind recollects. My students are re-learning how to be students in a physical space, just as I am re-learning how to be a professor in a physical space. I continue to remind myself that how to be and become a teacher gets accrued on the body, which recovers and restores that knowledge. Teaching is a both a performance and a performative.
It is a sweet irony that I am teaching a doctoral seminar titled “Performance Methods,” in which every week, I emphasize the importance of performativity to both my students and myself. Performativity, or the notion of repetitive/iterative/citational doing with language, with the body, with culture, is a central idea in performance theory. Teaching this class is reminding me that in repetitive doing we are either disciplined to become something or we become who we want to be. Last week, after lecturing on the genealogy of performativity, I turned to this Introduction you are reading. It is the last one I will write as the Editor of the journal. I will risk the cliché (another kind of repetitive doing) and tell you that it feels bittersweet, as endings often do. In March 2018, when I received word from University of California Press that I’d been selected as the incoming editor of Departures in Critical Qualitative Research (DCQR), I was happy, but overwhelmed. While I was active in publishing and editing forums and special issues, I had never edited a journal. I’d applied because of my admiration for the material published in DCQR and my respect for the intellectual labor and vision of the former editor, Stacy Holman Jones. I was both excited and daunted by the task.
How does one become an editor? Academic friends and fellow editors were generous with their counsel and their time. So many of them shared with me their routines, habits, decision-making styles, and ways of navigating the process—in short, they were telling me stories of how they became editors. What my editor friends were saying was one becomes an editor by doing the work of (becoming) an editor, submission after submission, issue after issue. Reading manuscripts, choosing the best and most appropriate reviewers, sorting through reviews, reading revisions, working with authors, engaging difficult decisions and communiques—rinse and repeat. Becoming an editor, just like becoming a teacher, is a performative process. The doing gets it done. Editing is both a performance and a performative.
It has been an eventful three years, framed to a large extent by social and geopolitical moments in US and global history. When I began my term in January 2019, the United States and the world were still reeling from the repercussions of Donald Trump’s election: the inhuman ban on Muslim immigrants from a number of countries; the ongoing global refugee crisis; the detention of undocumented immigrants from Latin America; the separation of migrants parents from their children, hundreds of whom continue to languish in detention centers across the country; and a general attack on the civil liberties of nonwhite populations. In March 2020, less than half-way through my editorship, the COVID-19 pandemic took over our lives, followed by a summer of worldwide protests over George Floyd’s murder by a police officer in Minneapolis, MN. It came as no surprise that submissions to the journal during this time were and are engaging the moment as well as addressing broader critical issues in qualitative work.
As an immigrant from the Global South, albeit one who has now lived more of her life in the United States than in India, and given the anti-immigration sentiment that has overtaken the United States, I felt compelled to start my editorship with a double inaugural issue on “Migrations, Borders, and Margins” (DCQR 8.1–8.2). The two issues showcased an intersectional, international, and transnational cast of authors who wrote thoughtful, experimental, and innovative essays on topics such South Asian diasporic identity, Arab-American identity, migrant caravans, native American Alaskan lives, end of life care, and even a daily commute in Detroit, MI. Over the course of three years, we published other special issues that met the moment and more. In summer 2019, a controversy over merit and race unfolded in the field of communication studies, which is my disciplinary home. We went to work putting together special issue on “Merit, Whiteness, and Privilege,” which was graciously guest edited by Amardo Rodriguez, Mohan J. Dutta, and Elizabeth F. Desnoyers-Colas (DCQR 8.4). We featured other brilliant special issues such as “Creative-Relational Inquiry” (DCQR 9.2, guest edited by Marisa de Andrade, Rosie Stenhouse, and Jonathan Wyatt), “Composing Climate Change” (DCQR 9.4, guest edited by Joshua Trey Barnett), and “Working the Circuit: Cultural Studies of Florida” (DCQR 10.2, guest edited by Aisha S. Durham, Wesley Johnson, and Sasha J. Sanders).
As a part of my editorial vision for the journal I launched a twice-yearly Critical Interventions (CI) forum dedicated to conversations about social justice and creative innovations in critical qualitative research. Jillian Ann Tullis, as CI Editor, oversaw outstanding forums on topics such as ordinary objects (DCQR 8.3), sanctuary cities (DCQR 9.1), felt sex/critical erotica (DCQR 9.3), and the materiality of art (DCQR 10.1). Jillian also curated her own wonderful CI forum, “Who Is a Good Death for?” (DCQR 10.3). In alternating issues, our Book Reviews Editor, Rebecca Mercado Jones, brought us excellent reviews of new books in critical qualitative research.
The book reviews and CI forums enhanced the issues in which they were featured. I continue to hear from colleagues that the CI forums in particular are serving an important pedagogical function in their classes by introducing students to different forms and genres of writing anchored in issues of political and social justice. I thank Jillian and Rebecca for sharing their talents and working to make the publication of the CI forums and book reviews smooth and seamless. Our copyeditor, Margaret Moore, has been instrumental in ensuring that final manuscripts were ready for production. A heartfelt thank you to colleagues and fellow editors Mohan J. Dutta, Charles E. Morris III, Craig Gingrich-Philbrook, and Bernadette Marie Calafell, who were essential sounding boards during moments when I needed advice. We are deeply indebted to the labor of members of the editorial board and numerous ad hoc reviewers who have shown and taught me that peer reviewing can and should be done in the spirit of “peer-strengthening.”
Half of my term with DCQR occurred amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the new work pressures felt by us all (in academia and other work spaces), reviewers kept conscientiously reviewing and authors kept diligently writing, teaching us that we who aspire to the life of the mind continue to find solace in our fields, with our participants, in ideas, and in words. I would have flailed and failed as an editor had our Managing Editor, Sohinee Roy, not been present at the helm beside me, navigating the day-to-day running of the journal alongside providing valuable advice. Sohinee’s experience as a managing editor was also one of the ways I learned how to be an editor. Her insights are keenly present and felt in each issue you have read. They are also present in this final issue we present to you.
We begin this issue of DCQR with “Akua Ananse Is a ‘She,’” in which Joëlle M. Cruz channels Kwewu Ananse, a trickster in West African folktales. Cruz “re-gender[s]” the trickster “as Akua Ananse” by writing spider stories to make sense of her life as both a West African and French woman in US academe. Cruz uses autoethnographic writing to present a conversation between Akua Ananse, her French-speaking grandmother, and her own professional self, showing how these spider stories function as an episteme via subversion. In “My Self-Decolonizing Story as a Colonize(d)(r) Canarian Scholar/Worm,” Carmen G. Hernández-Ojeda autoethnographically scrutinizes her identity, one that is caught within histories of oppression, connivance, and resistance of Canary Islanders. She shows how persons like herself, committed to fighting oppression, can “simultaneously reproduce oppressive and neo(colonizing) practices” in their daily lives in the United States. Hernández-Ojeda offers a poignant and thoughtful reflection that allows us to consider that decolonizing academe has to be nuanced, structural, and deeply personal.
In keeping with the theme of self-reflection and reflexivity, Robert J. Razzante engages his “(in)ability to use a standpoint of privilege in challenging everyday acts of oppression” in “Challenging the Hegemonic Police Within.” Razzante enters conceptual terrain by offering a “dominant group methodology that uses dominant group theory as a heuristic to practice critical self-reflexivity through autoethnography.” Using vignettes and moments wherein he “complicity reinforced or attempted to impede communicative behavior(s) that perpetuated prejudice and discrimination,” Razzante invites readers to “unlearn” dominant ways of being in the interest of a more fair and just world. We conclude the issue with “African American Female Pilot on the Flight Deck,” in which Michael L. Zirulnik and Mark P. Orbe utilize phenomenological creative nonfiction to tell the story of an African American female military pilot. By using a writing approach that presents the participant’s voice sans scholarly analysis, Zirulnik and Orbe show how such narrative forms enable otherwise subjugated voices to be heard and seen on their own terms.
All four essays featured in this final issue of my editorship demonstrate DCQR’s commitment to publishing innovative, experimental, and provocative works on the theories, practices, and possibilities of critical qualitative research. Together, Sohinee, Jillian, Rebecca, and I—with the unwavering support of the University of California Press (David Famiano, Rachel Lee, Krystal Farmer, and Holly Irish)—have tried to extend the postcolonial, transnational, and international/global contributor, editorial, and audience base for the journal. We have tried (and mostly succeeded) to actively invite and encourage participation from minoritized, international, women of color, and immigrant scholars who are accessing experimental, decolonial, anti-racist, and aesthetic modalities in their engagement with social worlds thereby reframing/decolonizing how we engage research, fieldwork, and writing. In order to see more stories and more worlds represented, I believe one must make space and place for persons writing those stories from those worlds. During my term, we did this by committing to, working closely with, and mentoring minoritized and junior scholars who might have needed more editorial guidance. The most poignant lesson I learned as an editor is that a good editor should be committed to publishing “important work,” and not just “publishable work.” We know that reviewing to make something publishable can be formulaic. However, reviewing to guide an author to say something important is a fundamentally different exercise. It is, in fact, a pedagogical exercise, one that involves more risk and more labor on the part of the editorial team. This is a vital pedagogical lesson I am taking from three years of doing this valuable work.
It has been my deep honor and privilege to be the caretaker of this essential journal. I am confident we will continue to be a venue where innovative qualitative work is given its best possible chance toward publication. We will also continue to be a space of resistance to traditional and conservative methodologies, even within qualitative research, because we know that new ways of knowing lead to new ways of being.
Of course, endings are also always beginnings. I extend a warm welcome to Kakali Bhattacharya (University of Florida), who will take over the mantle as Editor on 1 January 2022. Her unwavering commitment to critical, decolonial, transnational, and experimental qualitative work will only enhance the journal. I look forward to seeing her extend even further the capacity, commitment, and promise of Departures in Critical Qualitative Research.