Critical projects that seek to sustain themselves over a long stretch of time have to change if they are to avoid becoming part of an establishment. And if they are prepared to change, they have to change more than once. Radical Philosophy emerged out of the long 1960s, framed politically by the student movement and the New Left, and intellectually by a rebellion against what the first issue of the journal termed ‘the poverty of so much that now passes for philosophy’. In the 1980s and 1990s, this was refashioned by a more profound engagement with feminism, ecology and the new social movements, as well as by an attempt to get to grips with both the changing forms of what was then called ‘continental philosophy’ and the consequences of the Thatcherite and Reaganite counter-revolutions. From the early 2000s, when the first version of the radicalphilosophy.com website went live, the journal sought consistently to expand its geopolitical horizons, with contributions from Latin America, Africa and East Asia – albeit never enough – while publishing important articles that brought philosophical perspectives to a range of new disciplinary and cross-disciplinary areas from media theory, geography and film studies to architecture, literary and art theory. Throughout this history, we have tried to remain true to our founding ambition to ‘free ourselves from the restricting institutions and orthodoxies of the academic world, and thereby to encourage important philosophical work to develop’.
One of many self-published left-wing journals that were founded in Britain in the early 1970s, Radical Philosophy is today, however, more or less alone in its continuing independence from corporate publishing and in its political commitment to a collective editorial project. The reasons for this are not hard to see. The material, intellectual and political contexts within which a publication such as ours operates have clearly changed beyond all recognition. We began as a magazine produced on typewriters and photocopiers, with images literally cut and pasted into the text, mailed out by the collective to our readers. The changing shapes and fortunes of independent spaces of the left, and the general penetration of the computer and the internet into everyday practices of writing and reading, have since then dramatically transformed what it means to autonomously produce and distribute a publication like RP. In particular, it became apparent that, for a radical journal committed to the construction of as wide a community of readers and contributors as possible – including those outside the West European and North American academy – it was getting harder and harder to justify the access restrictions under which the magazine had come to operate. Given the new possibilities made available via the internet and ‘print-on-demand’, making a commitment to an equally radical form of openness – in a context where, too often, ‘open access’ has simply meant the revivification of the zombie forms of commercial academic publishing – became an increasingly pressing priority. By the end of 2016, as we approached both our forty-fifth birthday and our 200th issue, it thus became evident that we required a renewed confrontation with the altered demands of the philosophical and political present. As such, when five members of the previous editorial group stepped down in early 2017, we took the opportunity not only to open up and diversify membership of the collective, but also to commit ourselves to rethinking our own means and relations of production – editorial as well as technical – in order to bring new life to the project.
The means of producing Radical Philosophy evolved from its original DIY ethic to proprietary publishing software that required not simply costly licences and machines for its operation but also an outsourcing of labour and a paywall system to finance itself. To shake this and the greater problem of centralising the collective’s power around those with the relevant skills and licences, we reconceived our means of production around Free and Open Source Software that inherently accommodates a distribution of labour, and created a new in-house engineering collective to work alongside our editors to develop the journal’s tools and distribution channels. Taking our cue mostly from science publications, we have now turned to the markup language LaTeX to produce our print edition and to interface with our newly designed website. Where we formerly relied on software developed according to a logic of capital accumulation, we now operate more autonomously thanks to that developed by our own engineering collective.
In this new form, Radical Philosophy remains, as it has always been, a collectively edited, independently published and self-produced journal – but one with what is, we hope, a renewed editorial energy and collaborative ethos (if with no less philosophical rigour or critical bite). The longer and newly designed print journal, which will generally appear three times a year, is accompanied by a new website through which we will now be publishing all of our content in freely available form. At the same time, the archive of the last forty-five years of Radical Philosophy, all the way from issue 1 to 200, is being made fully open with downloadable pdfs of everything that we have published since 1972.
In the Founding Statement of the Collective published in our first issue, the journal’s aim was articulated as one of challenging a situation in which philosophy had been made ‘into a narrow and specialised academic subject of little relevance or interest to anyone outside the small circle of Professional Philosophers’. Yet such a challenge was never about just a simple widening of the discipline. Instead, Radical Philosophy has always been about a breaking down of those fundamental institutional divisions that have so impoverished philosophy itself by separating it off both from other knowledges and from a wider political and intellectual culture of the left. The need to elaborate what Adorno once called a philosophising beyond philosophy, whether or not it originates in actual departments of academic philosophy, remains as relevant a task today as it did in 1972.
There are many reasons for this. In an editorial published on the occasion of our 100th issue, it was remarked that for all the changes it has seen, institutionally, ‘philosophy remains the most traditional and least reformed discipline in the humanities; not least with regard to race and gender’. Sadly, little has changed in this respect over the subsequent years. Amidst the current groundswell of demand for the decolonisation of knowledge, philosophy remains a central battleground, stubbornly resistant to the change that those storming its bastions wish to see. The analysis of how philosophical texts are entangled in the sordidness of the world and the evaluation of what, if anything, might be salvaged from their disentanglement, can be destabilising for a whiteness and a patriarchy that regard such texts as foundational to their very self-conception. We hope that, among other things, the pages of Radical Philosophy will become a venue for reflection upon the question of what it might mean to decolonise philosophy today. Alongside the translation and introduction of new authors, such an enterprise entails a profound questioning of the very notion of canonicity and the essence of the method of reason that calls itself philosophical. It is in keeping forever open the question of what it might mean to do philosophy that the project of a radical philosophy can remain truly radical.