Shortly after Bill Davis’s letter to the White House provoked debate here at Savage Minds and other anthropology blogs I joined a conversation in the comments section of one post about what actions advocates of OA ought to take. In this post I’d like to continue that discussion: what should we do next? I will suggest that one option is the formation of an “interest group” and I’d like some feedback from readers on the topic.
One reader suggested that “section groups” within the AAA might organize in order to jointly fund a new OA venue. Unfortunately the section groups have an uneven track record when it comes to cooperation, especially when money is involved. If you’ve witnessed factionalism play out in your home department then you’re no doubt aware that academics are all too willing to collectively poke themselves in the eye instead of cooperating.
But what really nixes the deal is that section groups do not have direct control of their finances. Of course they may set dues for their membership and their executive boards oversee the allocation of those funds for various objectives such as awards, publications, and section conferences. However, the sections do not keep their own bank accounts separate from the AAA. The parent organization holds the section group’s money for them. If funds are needed they must request that the AAA write checks on their behalf.
This passage, 4(h), from the AAA bylaws on the permissible actions of sections is also illuminating. A section, “May engage in publishing and program activities appropriate to its purposes; it may appoint editors and other agents of the Section and set publication and program policies for the Section, so long as the policies are not inimical to the interests of the Association” (my emphasis). Are we so sure that the Executive Board does not perceive OA as inimical to the interests of the Association?
Interest groups offer another way for AAA members to organize themselves and may prove helpful to our cause, at least in the near term. Interest groups differ from sections in terms of their size (minimum membership for a section is 225, for an interest group 25). Interest groups may not set dues, so any AAA member may join one at no cost – although the interest group can charge fees for services provided if the AAA Executive Board okays it. Whereas sections are required to have elected offices and a President, there are no hierarchical political structures imposed on the interest groups. Sections must compose a charter that defines their governance, but interest groups do not.
The major difference in terms of the two is that sections have more political clout within the Association because each of the sections send a representative, usually the President, to a council of sections. Although it is an uneven playing field (the larger, more prestigious sections have more clout) this committee does send a representative that reports directly to the Executive Board. Interest groups do not participate in this.
Sections also have the ability to sponsor conference panels, another way in which they can steer intellectual debate and communicate new knowledge. Interest groups cannot do this on their own, although I see no reason why an interest group could not collaborate with or otherwise persuade a section group to sponsor a panel or roundtable on their behalf. For example, after 9-11 there was a Justice Action Network of Anthropologists that (I think) overlapped with the leadership of the Society for the Anthropology of North America.
Are there 25 people out there interested in forming an OA interest group within the AAA?
The purpose of such a group, at least according to its description in the bylaws, is “networking and/or informal exchanges of information.” So we could hang out together, basically. It could be a way to meet others who are into OA too. We could submit an abstract for a roundtable at an annual meeting of the AAA. Certainly the fact that its free and without an organized leadership is in sympathy with the principles of OA.
Who knows, maybe if we really rocked this interest group thing it could be a stepping stone to a section group somewhere down the line?
And really, what’s the worst that could happen? A flash in the pan that is unable to sustain itself as a lasting organization? If its the case that we can’t effectively organize ourselves in meatspace, then we just go back online and blog. No worries.
I bring up the idea of forming an interest group because at this point I’m still searching for an answer to the underlying question of what to do next. Are we better off pushing for OA within the AAA, or should we seek to promote OA independent of our professional association? We could, for example, seek to build alliances with someone else, the SFAA or CASCA perhaps, and continue to support existing OA venues or start new ones.
But if we visualize a day when American Anthropologist and Cultural Anthropology are free and open to everyone we’re going to need a way to get our foot in the door at the AAA and try to turn, however slowly, that big ship around.
You can read the AAA bylaws here.