December 20, 2010
Dear URPE members,
At the recent Steering Committee meeting on November 20 and 21, we had a lengthy in-depth discussion about what URPE is doing and what URPE should be doing today. We started off by acknowledging the success involved in still existing and still fighting the good fight more than 40 years after our founding, when quite a number of other groups founded in that period have faded away.
We have the same mission today that we started with, namely the development and dissemination of radical political economics, but the world today is different from 40 years ago. The Steering Committee therefore undertook a comprehensive review of the activities of our organization in order to see what we were doing well, and what needed to be changed. As a result of this review, it agreed to start up several new projects which will require the redirection of the energies of Steering Committee members, and which, it is hoped, will draw on the energies of other URPE members. It also agreed not to hold an URPE Summer Conference in 2011, and to review, at its Fall 2011 meeting, the overall activities of the year in order to decide whether or not to hold future Summer Conferences. URPE members are encouraged to read below the results of the SC’s review and its decisions, and, of course, to share their reactions to them.
The Steering Committee began its review with a recognition of the significance of the Review of Radical Political Economics (RRPE) for the organization as a whole. RRPE is the primary URPE vehicle for the publication of new work in the field of radical political economy, work which both challenges the dominant orthodoxy and provides alternative approaches to the challenge of understanding the political economy of the world today. It has achieved national and international recognition within the academic community, and is respected even by many who disagree with its content. It provides radical political economists within academia with a place for the respectful consideration of their work and the articles that are accepted contribute to the progress of their careers. It is perhaps the biggest URPE project as measured by time that URPE members put into it as members of its Editorial Board and by the work of its Managing Editor, Hazel Dayton Gunn.
The Steering Committee focused its attention then on its own activities and projects:
i. An URPE project closely connected to the RRPE is the organization of URPE sessions at the annual meetings of the American Social Sciences Association (ASSA.) The ASSA organizers are appointed by the Steering Committee, while the RRPE publishes the Proceedings in one of its four annual issues.
ii. Growing in importance is URPE participation in the Eastern Economic Association (EEA) with 21 sessions in the 2011 meetings. This also is a Steering Committee initiative. It is noteworthy for the substantial involvement of graduate students in not only the presentations but also the planning. The Steering Committee hopes to organize participation in other academic conferences in the future.
iii. Job listings. We have begun to list on our web site job openings, mainly but not exclusively in universities.
iv. Course syllabi. This newly revived SC project aims to assist people who are teaching courses with radical political economic content. Many reading lists are already posted on the website, including some in Spanish, and more will be put up over the next year.
v. Bibliographies. The Steering Committee has begun to solicit and ask for volunteers to provide bibliographies (with abstracts) on various topics for posting on the Website. Individual URPE members engaged in research in particular areas will share their selection of useful articles and books, and update their lists annually. The first such bibliography, on International Economics, is now available: http://www.urpe.org/res/standardecon/intleconomics.html
vi. The URPE Website. This is itself, of course, an ongoing project, and one on which both the Steering Committee and the RRPE Editorial Board have devoted considerable energy. But there is clearly a lot more work to be done to make radical political economics available to those who rely on the internet for information. Here we continue to look for suggestions from the membership on what sort of information on the Website could help our work.
URPE’s presence outside of academia is still very limited, although several of the projects involved, and in particular the Website have considerable potential to reach beyond this. Nonetheless, the Steering Committee noted as a weakness in our organization its limited outreach to those outside of academia, while noting the following projects that do contribute specifically to this part of our mission:
vii. Speakers Bureau – Economy Connection. Economy Connection, under the leadership of Ruthie Indeck, brings URPE speakers together with organizations both in and out of universities, while also providing people with information on other resources.
viii. The URPE listserve, which began four years ago, is increasingly successful. It has added a degree of connectedness to URPE members, largely scattered throughout academic departments or activist organizations across the country. The goal has been to make a low volume list, yet get out information on relevant meetings, books, etc, that would be of interest to our members. Recently a number of people have started to use it to get information from other members concerning work and projects they are engaged in – the sort of thing you’d ask a colleague in your department if one had a department of radical political economists.
ix. URPE Facebook and blog. We have begun to develop these two channels for communication, through which people can engage in extended conversations. We are working on determining exactly how URPE members might like to use these.
x. Left Forum. URPE continues to be one of the many organizations that organize panels at this annual event, and it will continue to do so.
xi. Brooklyn Conference. URPE organized a one-day conference in October 2009 in Brooklyn which was designed to bring together people involved in theoretical and practical work on several of the issues confronting us today. A second conference is planned for October 2011.
xii. URPE Newsletter. The Newsletter goes out in paper form to all members, as well as to libraries, but is also available on the URPE website. It carries information on URPE events, and occasional short articles. We will continue to consider the pros and cons of publishing it electronically, given that some of us just like to get things and read things in paper form. The cost of publishing it and mailing it is not large and not a significant consideration. Our main question right now is what else it could do that would be useful for our membership.
The Steering Committee committed itself to two new projects aimed specifically at increasing URPE’s outreach to the non-academic sections of the population:
xiii. Participation in conferences of activists. URPE has had almost no organized presence at such major gatherings of activists as the US Social Forum. The Steering Committee will work to organize groups of URPE members to attend such events and contribute to the work that they are engaged in.
xiv. URPE Fact Sheets. URPE will develop a set of short (one-page) fact sheets on topics of interest to those engaged in economic, political, and social struggles. The Fact Sheets will consist of basic information together with analyses based on radical political economic theory, and will be available on the website as well as in hard copy. Members will be encouraged to discussion their content on the URPE blog, and an edited version of such discussions may, with the permission of authors, be added to the Fact Sheets and printed in the URPE Newsletter. The Fact Sheets will be solicited and reviewed by a newly constituted body of URPE members, to be called the URPE Fact Sheet Advisory Board. They will be signed by their authors, and will be published with a statement that views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of URPE as an organization. (Further information on this project will be distributed shortly.)
The URPE Summer Conference
In order to accomplish these goals, it was clear to the Steering Committee that it would be necessary to reallocate our resources, particularly our time resources. And the big issue there was the time spent on organizing the Summer Conference.
Most of the people on the SC have been to past Summer Conferences, some to many of them. This made even considering cancelling it very difficult. Put simply, most of us, like many of you reading this, love the URPE summer conference. We think it has provided a place particularly both younger and older members can present their work, including work that is in its early stages, in a supportive environment. Over the years it has played important roles in both developing and disseminating radical political economics. In addition, we have loved seeing old friends year after year, watching each other’s children grow up, sharing ideas between students, professors, and activists. We have loved the “working vacations” in beautiful settings. The summer conference has been both a social event and an academic/activist one. And we believe the feeling of intimacy and trust at URPE’s Summer Conferences is one important reason that URPE has stayed alive as a source of radical political economy for 42 years.
But here are the realities we considered. We estimate that over the last 4 or 5 years organization of the summer conference has taken up 40-50% of the time of the National Office Coordinator. In addition, a large part of both the Spring and Fall Steering Committee meetings have been taken up with picking a topic, deciding who to approach for plenaries, talking about workshops, as well as dealing with organizing the event. The actual organization of the conference then took a large amount of the time and energy, which could have been spent on other URPE projects.
The conference always drew a significant number of non-URPE members, which was a good thing, but the number of URPE members who have come recently has been fairly small. It became clear that a disproportionate amount of work was involved in a project which served only about 10% of the organization, and that this cut into our ability to serve URPE members as a whole and to build radical political economy beyond that.
There is also the issue of the Annual Business Meeting, which from the beginning was a central reason for the Sumer Conference. Summer Conference business meetings barely met the quorum needed for decision-making – 25 members or 7% of the membership, whichever is smaller (they are presently about the same.) This last summer, 2010, we had less than this.
There is another motif behind all of this. When the summer conference was born, and for many decades, it was one of very few places where the radical political economists could get together and both develop their work and socially interact. Now, there are quite a few. In addition to URPE sessions at the ASSA and the EEA, many URPE people attend the Western Economic Association meetings. In addition there are the meetings of Historical Materialism in New York, Toronto and London. Every three years there is Marx Actuel in Paris, and the Rethinking Marxism Conference in Amherst. The World Association for Political Ecoonomy (WAPE), a new organization with its own journal, has a yearly conference, and this coming May URPE is co-sponsoring its conference in Amherst. A European Political Economy group IIPPE has a yearly conference. And there are many more Heterodox conferences.
Taking all of this into account, the Steering Committee voted to cancel the 2011 Summer Conference. The 2011 Business (or Membership) Meeting will be held on Sunday October 2, following the Brooklyn Conference on Saturday October 1. The Steering Committee will then evaluate where we are at and how things have worked out at its Fall 2011 meeting. In the meantime we welcome ideas from all members on our decisions and our plans.
In summary, although the Steering Committee’s decision to cancel the 2011 Summer Conference was a difficult one, the Committee is looking forward to the coming year. We are excited by the projects in place and by the opportunity to use our energies to strengthen the organization so that it can continue to develop and disseminate radical political economics.
URPE Steering Committee
Patty Lee Parmalee