Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

A Brief History of Anarchist Studies (So Far)

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

A Brief History of Anarchist Studies (So Far)

Article excerpt

For the past fifteen years, AS has been many things: innovative, insightful, provocative, occasionally outrageous - but never boring! AK Press has called Anarchist Studies 'the premier scholarly journal on anarchism ... erudite, and informed.'1 AS provokes strong feelings, pro and con - surely a sign of success for any anarchist publication. Reviewing the AS archive, one is struck by the remarkable consistency of what we may perhaps call the Anarchist Studies project. Since its inception, the journal has consistently attempted to broaden the scope of anarchist discourse by introducing themes, topics, perspectives and methodologies which have not traditionally been considered relevant to anarchism. This essay will examine that ambitious attempt, paying particular attention to the ways in which AS has tried to make anarchism more theoretically sophisticated, more green, more international, and more applicable to the political conditions which obtain in the era of fully globalised capital.

Anarchist Studies arrived with a bang in the spring of 1993. The first issue featured a lead article on anarcho-syndicalism by Murray Bookchin, who was by then one of the international anarchist community's best known intellectuals. From the very beginning, however, it was apparent that AS would do much more than simply publish and discuss the pronouncements of anarchism's 'great men' (though the journal would always continue to offer intriguing interpretations and re-assessments of Godwin, Kropotkin, Bakunin, Stirner, Chomsky, Bookchin, etc.). Thus the first issue also featured a piece on Wilhelm Reich and sexuality in the Spanish Revolution by Richard Cleminson, and a look at the anarchist art of John Cage, by Richard Kostelanetz. In his editorial introduction to the second issue, Tom Cahill made the desire for innovation explicit: 'We might be bold about it and claim to be part of an effort to re-define what is central and what is marginal.' The underlying objective was perhaps a bit hazy at first, but it would gradually become clearer as the journal grew and matured: the idea was to build new forms of anarchist thinking, criticism and politics which would update the received traditions of 'classical' anarchism, in order to make anarchism more meaningful and relevant in the postmodern period.

When Tom was forced to step down as editor due to a kidney transplant in 1995, Sharif Gemie took the editor's chair ('an attractive piece of furniture' with 'a few distinctive bumps and scratches,' he joked in AS 3:1). Sharif made it clear that he would continue to nurture the creative, experimental spirit which had already become such an important part of AS: 'One of the most encouraging signs is that a distinct "AS style" seems to be emerging: one that is at once sympathetic to but also critical of the anarchist tradition,' he wrote in his first editorial (AS 3:1).

Sharif set an ambitious agenda: more articles about sexual politics, more on anarchism and post-modernity, more 'green' articles, more on the Third World. The journal's diverse collection of contributors would deliver. AS 4:1 brought an important account of 'free love' in Imperial Germany by Hubert van den Berg. AS 4:2 featured a groundbreaking piece on 'Anarchy on the Internet' by Chris Atton. When this article appeared in October 1996, the Internet had been around for about thirteen years (and had been well-known for much less time), and the World Wide Web was still a relatively recent invention. But as Atton made clear, anarchists already understood how this technology could dramatically expand the opportunities for alternative electronic publishing.

By 1996, the anarchist community had begun to view AS as a major site of intellectual discussion and (in the best sense of the word) argument. The Debate section was introduced in AS 4:2; it featured a lively, energetic encounter between L. Susan Brown and Janet Biehl, based upon Bookchin's critique of Brown's work in Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism. …

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