Decolonising publications: Reflecting on the meaning of peer in ‘peer review’

This article was first published by Laura Phillips on the ICOM website.

I was thrilled to have my proposal for the Decolonisation issue of Museum International accepted – until my first draft came back with comments and suggestions for edits that, in my opinion, demonstrated a significant misalignment in ways of thinking and approaching the work of decolonising institutions, archives and scholarship.

I have faced this issue with other editors and peer reviewers, and present this article as a series of recommendations to consider – especially if you are in one of these positions of authority – to encourage reflection on the peer review process and the different meanings of ‘peer’. I write from my position as a white critical settler scholar of European ancestry (and UK/Canadian citizenry). This personal opinion piece is meant to help publications avoid (inadvertently) re-inflicting colonial violence and a limited worldview in spaces that are meant to be otherwise.

As observed by my close Kanien’kehá:ka/Euro colleague Heather George, Director of Woodland Cultural Centre, the issue with the comments and edits I received (in this and other instances) was that my work was not being reviewed by my peers. This gave me pause – who do I consider to be my peers? What is the difference between people in a ‘peer review’ role or acting with editorial authority in an academic context, versus the peers in my immediate professional and personal context?