UVic professor leading international geography journal’s special COVID-19 issue

Culture

Reuben Rose-Redwood says the 42 commentaries from geographers in 16 different countries will highlight pandemic’s varying impact

Reuben Rose-Redwood geography journal COVID-19 impacts
Graphic by Darian Lee

When Reuben Rose-Redwood received a commentary submission from a group of Chinese authors in January about COVID-19 for his international geography journal, he wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. 

The journal, Dialogues in Human Geography, wasn’t originally planning on dedicating an issue to COVID-19. 

Over the phone, Rose-Redwood, a UVic geography professor and managing editor of Dialogues in Human Geography, admits the journal initially rejected the Chinese authors’ submission on COVID-19 — not because of its quality, but because it didn’t quite fit the journal’s structure. 

As they write on their website, the journal strives to spark debate on issues in the world. Usually, they publish only two articles per issue, and have around four to six commentaries that respond to the original articles — called article forums. The author can also respond to the commentators. 

“[We thought the] commentary had some good ideas and maybe we should take this seriously and actually do an article forum on this, and then we eventually decided to do an entire special issue,” said Rose-Redwood.

Rose-Redwood, who has been with the journal for the past three years and its managing editor since 2019, then sent out a call on social media for submissions. He was blown away by the response. 

“We got over 60 submissions and then we realized we’re not going to be able to pick only 10,” he said.

With so much interest in the pandemic, the editors decided to dedicate their entire July issue to the matter. They switched their focus from providing a platform for debates on global issues to examining the varying impacts of COVID-19 in countries across the globe. 

“If you just wait until after a crisis has passed then it’s too late for your interventions to make a difference in the crisis itself,” said Rose-Redwood.

Rose-Redwood also reached back out to the Chinese group and encouraged them to resubmit, and included their piece as one of the 42 articles in the journal’s pandemic issue.

“It’s not a debate forum, it’s rather a special issue that has 42 commentaries on the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Rose-Redwood.

Tyler Blackman, a UVic MA student, is the journal’s editorial assistant. Normally, editorial assistants process manuscripts or create databases, but Blackman offered his own feedback to the articles themselves. 

“In this particular case, he went above and beyond the typical role of an editorial assistant, and helped quite a bit with providing comments on the manuscripts themselves,” Rose-Redwood said. “Tyler put in a lot of work helping us provide feedback to authors, copy-editing the commentaries, and editing the introduction, so it seemed only fair that he should be a co-editor of the issue and co-author of the introductory essay.” 

The special issue includes commentaries from academics in 16 different commentaries. Over half of the commentaries are written by at least one female author.

Rose-Redwood noted that during the pandemic — because of gender imbalances in care provision and looking after family members — the manuscripts sent to journals have been predominantly written by male authors. 

“So we wanted to counteract that trend, by ensuring that we had over half of the commentaries in the special issue written by female authors,” he said.

Specifically, one of the pieces he’s excited to publish is by Ayona Datta — a professor of urban geography in London. Datta’s research focuses on surveillance, and how the Indian government is using digital technology to track people who are supposed to be self-isolating. In her commentary, she outlined how some cities in India are surveilling their citizens by using facial recognition through a selfie app — where people have to post a picture of themselves throughout the day to prove they’re at home. 

Among the themes that have arisen from the issue, Rose-Redwood says one of the major throughlines is how the pandemic is unevenly impacting people around the world. One of the articles by an Indigenous geographer touches on how Indigenous peoples are protecting themselves from wealthy elites who are fleeing the city for their second homes that are on Indigenous land. 

Some asked whether Dialogues in Human Geography should publish a journal in the middle of the pandemic, when so much is still up in the air. However, Rose-Redwood says the editorial team thought there should be critical analyses of the present, too.

“If you just wait until after a crisis has passed then it’s too late for your interventions to make a difference in the crisis itself,” said Rose-Redwood. “Reflective analysis after the fact might help for addressing future crises, but we felt it was important to provide critical analyses in the present moment as well.” 

Ultimately, he acknowledges we are still in the pandemic’s early stages, but hopes this special issue provides an agenda on future scholarship for geographers and others in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“What we’ve tried to do is to take stock of what we do know at this stage, and to try and critically reflect on that as a means of contributing to public dialogue as well as academic inquiry into this ongoing crisis.”  

Dialogues in Human Geography’s Special COVID-19 issue is available online here.