Mauro Caraccioli looked around the crowded hotel conference room. He smiled to himself as he convened what he thought would be a roast for his friend and colleague, François Debrix, director of Virginia Tech’s Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought (ASPECT). Instead, the roundtable about the 20th anniversary of Debrix’s book, “Re-Envisioning Peacekeeping: The United Nations and the Mobilization of Ideology,” inspired a special issue of SPECTRA.

Celebrating its own 10th anniversary, SPECTRA is an acronym for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Theory Archives. It is a graduate student-run, peer-reviewed scholarly journal produced by ASPECT and published by Virginia Tech Publishing. The journal features interdisciplinary work and provides an academic forum to explore controversial topics and to take intellectual risks. This year, the journal will publish two issues. 

“SPECTRA occupies an important space,” said Caraccioli, an assistant professor of political science and a core faculty in ASPECT, “not just in its legacy of the past 10 years, but in its collaborative model, which encourages and champions the work of students.”

Environmental portrait of François Debrix surrounded  by greenery.
François Debrix, director of ASPECT and SPECTRA advisor. Photo by Leslie King for Virginia Tech.

Caraccioli, who is a guest editor of SPECTRA Issue 8.1, helped cement Debrix’s book theme during the roundtable at the 2019 International Studies Association’s northeast region conference. 

“It’s an influential book for several generations of colleagues,” he said, “not just at the time of its publishing but for subsequent students, myself included, and now into this current generation of scholars of global politics. The roundtable led to fascinating conversations and discussions that prompted turning the momentum into a special issue.”

ASPECT graduate students and editors Sarah Plummer and Shaun Respess worked with Caraccioli and two other doctoral candidate guest editors, Linea Cutter and Şengül Yıldız-Alanbay, to publish the recently released 8.1 special issue, “Re-Envisioning Ideology: Disciplinary (Neo)Liberalism and the Production of World Order.”

Group photo of the three guest editors standing in a gazebo surrounded by greenery
SPECTRA 8.1 guest editors include, from left, Linea Cutter, Mauro Caraccioli, and Şengül Yıldız-Alanbay. Photo by Leslie King for Virginia Tech.

“This issue is a mix of contributions from current students, ASPECT alumni, and faculty from outside of Virginia Tech,” Cutter said. “And we have a mix of articles and two book reviews.”

Traditionally the journal features a variety of subjects, but this issue is unique in its dedication to one theme. Yıldız-Alanbay said seven of the offerings are about how Debrix’s book contributes to recent literature on diverse fields. Among its topics are neoliberalism, international relations, micropolitics, history, political theory, human geography, peacekeeping, virtual security, and race studies.

The recently released second issue of 2021 is SPECTRA 8.2: “Unraveling Health, Risk, and Violence Across Social Difference.” Plummer and Respess are at the helm, along with editors-elect and ASPECT students Jordan Fallon and Madison Tepper. Topics included in this issue include biopolitics, vaccinations, pandemic pedagogy, and social justice.

“It’s an interesting time for the academic publishing world because of COVID-19,” Plummer said. “We could see that it would be imperative for us to think about the pandemic and the vaccine rollout, issues of humanitarianism, and national borders that are not visible to disease. For us it was essential to have two issues this year to help situate some of these large global questions.”

A central goal for both the editors and editors-elect is that SPECTRA be understandable and readable for many, and 8.2 is no different.

“Some topics we’re focusing on are deep, disturbing conversations, such as what to do about Confederate monuments,” Respess said. “But these articles are written in ways that anyone’s family members or friends could think about and embrace the issues. It’s a credit to the authors that their work is so accessible and rich.”

Plummer recalls the interview with History Is Illuminating, a Richmond-based group of historians, about Confederate monuments. The group creates interpretive signage mimicking signs installed on Monument Avenue in Richmond.

“This highlights Black history,” she said. “And we thought stories like this were interesting and untraditional additions. It discusses academic issues of public history and collective memory in a way that captures emergent conversations during the time of upheaval.” 

Environmental portrait of the two editors surrounded by greenery
SPECTRA editors Shaun Respess and Sarah Plummer. Photo by Leslie King for Virginia Tech.

One facet that makes the editors’ work so fulfilling, Plummer said, is the journal’s ability to be a publishing source for scholars in underrepresented populations. She noted that research indicates that these groups, particularly women and people of color, are not submitting to journals at the same rate as their peers because of conditions surrounding the pandemic, such as lack of workspace or caregiving, which takes time away from academic pursuits. 

In addition, the editors noted that the journal’s covers provide a forum for artists to present their social and political visions along with artist statements. SPECTRA 8.2’s cover, for example, will feature Robby Moore. Plummer described him as a contemporary Black Appalachian artist who infuses the history of the folk arts into his own work through quilt-making techniques.

Debrix, who is also an advisor to SPECTRA, said a challenge that this year’s editors faced was not being able to highlight the journal in person during the annual ASPECT conference, the traditional launch for its call for papers. The conference provides a proving ground for presenters, especially graduate students who may present for the first time. Unfortunately, the conference was canceled in 2020 and made virtual in 2021. Debrix hopes that when Fallon and Tepper take the editorial reins in the fall of 2021, they will have the opportunity during the next conference to showcase their issue and inspire new scholars to participate.

“Over the years, the drive for SPECTRA was not in making sure it published only work from people from certain universities with certain kinds of pedigrees,” he said. “It continues to allow some really smart, younger scholars — including doctoral students at Virginia Tech and other universities — to get their work blind-peer reviewed. It provides a place for them regardless of the status of their home universities. I would say SPECTRA is a flying-under-the radar-kind-of-journal sometimes, although it has a global reach these days. And we’re excited to think about what its accessibility might look like for future issues.”

Written by Leslie King

Environmental portrait of the two editors-elect surrounded by greenery.
SPECTRA editors-elect, who will serve as 2021–22 editors, are Madison Tepper and Jordan Fallon. Photo by Leslie King for Virginia Tech.