(via media anthropology) What is the purpose of organisations like the American Anthropological Association? What is the point of publishing articles? The free software movement forces anthropologists to rethink these questions, Christopher Kelty says in a conversation about anthopology and open access to scholarship.
The discussion between seven anthropologists was published in the journal Cultural Anthropology. The article Anthropology of/in Circulation: The Future of Open Access and Scholarly Societies is of course available online.
They talk among other things about new divisions between scholary organisations like the AAA and anthropologists who want to engage with the wider world by making their research more accessible online. Now, the largest part of anthropological research is locked behind login forms that only members of subscribed institutions can pass through. The AAA has not taken side with the open access movement but with the commercial publishing industry.
“All anthropologists who want to be part of the revolution in scholarly communication must do so outside of the AAA", Alex Golub says. The AAA has “made exactly the wrong allies".
One common argument against free access to scholarship has to do with economics: Journal subscriptions are an important part of the budget of organisations like the AAA.
But Jason Baird Jackson explains:
(I)f we want to think seriously about “sustainability” we must realize that sustaining anthropology means more than sustaining the AAA budget—it means sustaining the viability of research libraries and of our not-for- proﬁt university press partners as well.
More and more research libraries today are responding by partnering directly with scholars to “publish” (…) research, and thus they are expanding the library’s role in new ways. They are trying to make scholarship more open and more sustainable by cutting out the middleman, the publishing companies. In doing so, they might make commercial publishing less proﬁtable and scholarly societies built around toll access publication proﬁts less sustainable.
So whose interests do you align with?
I’d like my efforts to help sustain the AAA, but the association’s interests are now more congruent with those of the publishing industry, not my library or the university presses. As a result the interests of my ethnographic consultants, my university library, my students, and my colleagues are increasingly in conﬂict with those of my professional society.
Alex Golub adds:
One of the key things about Free Software and Open Access (…) is that it allows things to get done extremely cheaply if you have the people who know how to work the technology. The AAA has failed to develop low-cost solutions using these methods, it has alienated much of a generation of younger scholars willing to devote their time to developing these solutions, and as a result it has thrown up its hands and outsourced this work to institutions like WB (Wiley-Blackwell).
WB then doubles the price of American Anthropologist, and makes money off of the AAA’s inability to manage its own publications program. We are all literally paying the price of the AAA’s inability to keep our house in order.
The AAA has developped AnthroSource where AAA members can browse through hundreds of journals. Jason Baird Jackson says we do not need AnthroSource anymore because of all the blogs, open access and other online initiatives that he calls the “Shadow AnthroSource":
(I)n a way what is happening now outside of the AAA is a “shadow AnthroSource” that fulﬁlls the ambitions of the original AnthroSource. In its visionary phase, AnthroSource was going to have a subject repository in which we could have put our ﬁeld notes, white papers, unpublished book manuscripts, etc. I saw this vision die during my ﬁrst year as an editor.
However, we do not actually need AnthroSource anymore because we have already built it up out of various bits and pieces outside the AAA framework. We have a subject repository (Mana’o), we have a constellation of weblogs and key metablogs (such as antropologi.info), we have people like Mike Wesch and Chris showing us how to mix and match readily/freely available tools to build powerful research collaboratories (like Digital Ethnography and Anthropology of the Contemporary Research Collaboratory / ARC
We have organizations like the EVIADA project (Ethnomusicological Video for Instruction and Analysis Digital Archive; ) and individual researchers like Kim building powerful, innovative database tools for use in our research and our collaborations with students and communities, there are people (like Rob Leopold at the National Anthropology Archives) in many archives and museums building great projects to make the archival database more accessible, we have folks like the team organized by the American Folklife Center and the American Folklore Society building metadata tools like the new ethnographic thesaurus, and as Chris noted recently in a SavageMinds blog post, we have more and more OA journals spanning the topical and international diversity of world anthropology.
Will all this stuff somehow function better if it is centralized and put under the control of the home ofﬁce?
Chris Kelty has recently published a book that is also available online. He compares the internet with a bookstore:
The Open Access argument is simply that making the book available on line was in my interest, because it will mean that it will be easy to ﬁnd, easy to cite, and easy to use in classes.
But it might also be in Duke’s interest; I made the argument that people are more likely to buy the paper book if they can get a look at the book in its entirety digitally (Harper Collins buys this argument, and has just begun a similar experiment)
I told Duke to think of the website as a bookstore with a huge number of potential visitors, and the on-line version as the browseable version of the book. If a million people download my book, but only 1 percent of them then go on to buy a copy, Duke will still be selling far more copies then they ever dreamed. And what if I sell 5 percent? I’ll be a superstar!
UPDATE See also Owen Wiltshire’s comments
Pamthropologist also has some enlightening things to say about the economic realities teachers face at not-so-well-off academic institutions. She writes,
“Our institution pays NO money to subscribe to any journal listing service. No JStor and very few books, most dating to the 1960’s.”
Looking back at how I’ve been doing research, I couldn’t imagine not having access to a decent library (online and off), but many academic institutions simply cannot afford them.
Her full post can be found here,
Yes we have no readings no readings at all
The metaphor of the internet as a bookstore is really good. I haven’t heard it before, not even in discussions of digital information as a public good.
I have experienced doing research both in contexts where i have access to academic work and in contexts where this access lacks (universities have no money for the subscription fees). The end result is just brain drain and a vicious circle of cultural imperialism (and academic colonization, if one can say so).
Yet, at the same time, I’ve worked for an academic journal and I do know how important it is to have the financial resources for people who do the editorial management part. I think there should be incentives for reviewers too, but then where to get the money from? It’s a really complex conundrum. But I don’t think the solution is relying on the good will of some individuals willing to share their work. Funding institutions (SSHRC in Canada does so) and universities should encourage public sharing of academic research and create funding for this.
@owen: thanks for the link. sounds like she’s writing from a poor african country, but it’s northern america…
@thinkingdifference: maybe “library” is an even better metaphor? you cannot take books with you from a book shop and read them at home for free.
i think the state shoud fund journals in the same way as they fund universities, it’s a public institution (seen from a European perspective), i wonder how when and why this was privatized…
yes indeed, library works even better.
don’t know if we had this discussion on this blog, but unfortunately the trend is the retreat of the welfare state. as the state adopts the free market stance, we can say goodbuy to our public funding… or maybe i’m just talking from a north-american context, where the mainstream uncritically embraces capitalism.
Hi Lorenz, sorry for invading your blog again.
If I could post one qualification about what SSHRC does in Canada, it is that it does not merit celebration or our endorsement.
SSHRC does not require that those funded by it must disseminate their research without cost or impediment to the taxpayer. It could and should do so, since its funding is public, but it does not. Moreover, SSHRC subsidizes the publications of print publishers, whose products needless to say are not open access or otherwise free to the taxpayer.
SSHRC does fund open access journals, but as I mentioned in one of my series of posts on SSHRC, the program is layered with so many conditions and limitations, that it makes it virtually useless to even think of applying for its support. As someone who edited an open access journal in anthropology and history for 10 years, I have never applied to SSHRC.
That post can be found here.