More from the Digital Anthropology Group

When the Digital Anthropology Group convened for the first time at the 2012 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association we had a full agenda of topics to discuss. In a previous post I covered the professionalization of blogging and the study of online culture. This time out I will be sharing our conversations regarding Open Access. Full notes from the meeting are available here.

It was my observation that at the AAA’s folks seemed generally optimistic about OA in anthropology. Or maybe optimistic isn’t the right word? People seemed to view it as more or less inevitable. To hear the talk late nights in the bars around the conference center you’d think that we’d already won.

I shared a cup of coffee with Gregory Gordon of the SSRN and we discussed the AAA’s latest efforts in creating the Anthropology & Archaeology Research Network (currently directed by Louise Lamphere) and I chatted up Joslyn Osten, the marketing and communications manager at the AAA. Both agreed that the AAA would be doing more OA in the future but it would be a rather time consuming venture, big ships change course slowly and all that. We’re going to get there, just not any time soon.

Meanwhile at the Society for the Anthropology of North America, my homebase in the AAA, President Julian Brash keyed the membership in on what he had learned at the section congress about the AAA’s publishing issues. The association leadership knows that the current subscription model is unsustainable, he reported, and the Committee for the Future of Publishing is rethinking the association’s portfolio in a major way. One likely outcome in the near term is that at least one journal is going to be allowed to go OA as an experiment of sorts.

The overall narrative at the conference seemed to be that we academics are small-c conservative, we’re reluctant to accept radical and rapid change in the professional sphere. Maybe this is symptomatic of our overall precarity? Nevertheless, the writing is on the wall and its just a matter of time before the OA revolution gets here. Thus, the AAA renewed its publishing contract with Wiley not because they’re giving up on the issue, but in order to buy some time during which smart people on important committees will figure something out.

I’m not saying that everything is peachy at headquarters, I’m just reporting my experience of talking to people about this issue at the AAA’s. Similarly at the DANG business meeting, OA was not the major issue that people rallied around.

When I put the question to the group “What is the biggest challenge to bringing a higher profile to OA in anthropology?” the recurring theme was money. Cultural anthropology is not a rich discipline and for many of us our research is not funded by awesome grants with deep pockets. The DANG membership was most concerned about who will pay for OA.

Second I asked the membership “What can we do to educate the AAA membership about OA?” and people came up with a number of reasons why OA is great. To make our most persuasive case we should highlight:

  • The faster pace of digital publication time frames
  • The Ethico-political case for greater access
  • Superior author rights when publishing OA

 
Ultimately, as has been pointed out by Ryan, this will come down to direct action. Meaning that to redirect prestige and show the high quality of Open Access publications we need to promote, publish in, and cite them. When asked specifically what DANG could do about the issue no one offered any concrete suggestions.

It is my perception is that OA is still a fringe issue within the AAA rank-and-file. We’ve bitched about the AAA leadership and staff on this blog (not that they didn’t deserve it on occasion) but as anyone who has studied political anthropology or social movements knows, the group is not just its leadership. DANG cares about this issue, but I don’t think the majority of anthropologists in the AAA care.

The association itself is made up of some 10,000 individuals who are not famous nor do they teach at elite institutions. These regular folks are probably mostly interested in their research, their personal commitments, and doing enough to keep their jobs. If you want to change the AAA’s publication regime, or anything else in the association for that matter, we will need a means to reach this group. And don’t say we should blog about OA to raise awareness! I want to know how we’re going to reach the people who don’t read blogs, because there’s a lot of them.

Ironically the very issue which sparked the genesis of DANG really didn’t have much energy when we met in person. It could be that the problem simply seems intractable and no one present felt they had the expertise to speak out on the issue. Or maybe we really do have reasons to be cautiously optimistic.

In conclusion, I suggest that in order to keep DANG alive and thriving we need to seek out some low hanging fruit that will bring us small successes that we can build upon. If there is more energy in doing the anthropology of digital worlds and highlighting our efforts as bloggers then we should do that instead.

Otherwise, maybe we could keep blogging about it? There’s something to be said for the broken record approach!

Matt Thompson is adjunct assistant professor of anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Old Dominion University and a student in the School of Information Science at the University of Tennessee. He was once cast as a soldier in Andrew Jackson's army in a theatrical production on an Indian reservation.

20 thoughts on “More from the Digital Anthropology Group

  1. Is there a forum where all of us around the globe can discuss this and coordinate action? These blogs are great in updating readers on what’s going on, but don’t really help us all work together. If we had a forum, the blogs could be used to update readers on what different people are doing and people to join in.

  2. Concrete steps:

    1. Submit manuscripts to OA journals
    2. Solicit the submission of manuscripts to OA journals from your colleagues
    3. Donate
    4. Run a fundraising campaign for OA journals
    5. Repeat and share.

  3. @Gio – I think a fundraiser sounds like an outstanding idea!

    @Erin – What would you propose as a forum? I have email addresses and twitter handles for a bunch of digital anthropologists, but I write here at SM because it seems that this is the place to reach the widest audience. Kerim and I have had some chats via Branch, which could be good for this. I’m open to suggestions.

  4. Many anthropologists posted their paywalled pdfs on http://pdftribute.net/ to commemorate Aaron Swartz’s death, celebrate his Guerilla OA Manifesto (http://archive.org/stream/GuerillaOpenAccessManifesto/Goamjuly2008_djvu.txt) and support OA. That was a first, concrete step.

    A second step would be to convince those senior or mid-career-surging scholars claiming to support OA to commit to submit their next best article to an OA journal.There are 96 anthropological choices out there: http://www.doaj.org/doaj?cpid=124&func=subject.

    The third step would be to donate and make OA possible, the same way Kickstarter makes new inventions possible.

  5. This is good stuff. Matt, you raise a really good point when you say that “the group is not just its leadership.” That’s a really important point to think about when trying to promote the value of OA. It’s pretty easy to get caught in the trap of always addressing the leadership (like the AAA) while forgetting the rest of the audience.

    @Erin: A forum would be good, I agree. What do you have in mind? Something on the OAC? Google group? FB? Maybe we finally jumpstart the OAA site? Maybe we could do a sort of OA project that has a central site but moves from blog to blog??? Or have a day of the week that’s OA update/highlight day? I am just rattling off ideas now.

    @Giovanni: Exactly. That’s the way to go OA–submit, and encourage others to submit. I’d also add this: Make more OA journals (so many people are already giving up their time and labor and putting it into non-OA, so why not band together and create more venues instead of doing the same old thing?).

    Also, what kind of fundraising do you have in mind? For specific journals or projects?

    A couple of other ideas: We could all try to put together some sort of project in which we start reviewing and highlighting OA pubs, journals, and articles–maybe with interviews and such as well. One of the issues that I see is this: We need to really come up with a good list of the excellent OA pubs that are out there, to sort of weed thing out a bit. That would go a long way, I think. My guess is that a lot of people aren’t going OA, in part, because they don’t know where to look. Also, this would be important because one of the common anti-OA responses is that all OA journals are simply there to charge authors massive fees and produce low quality pubs. So it would go a long way to start building a list of solid, well-done, OA pubs that anthros can become a part of.

    Thanks, Matt, for pushing this matter forward.

  6. @Ryan. “Make more OA journals (so many people are already giving up their time and labor and putting it into non-OA, so why not band together and create more venues instead of doing the same old thing?).” Not sure what same old thing you are referring here. You probably have not played carefully in your mind what creating and editing a professional journal entails but by all means give it a go. Note that the amateurish management or presentation of some OA journals (incl. sub-par copy editing, proofreading, layout, IT) is one of the main factors dissuading many scholars genuinely interested in OA from submitting their manuscripts.

    A list of OA anthropology journals is already available online. http://www.doaj.org/doaj?cpid=124&func=subject.

    And scholars are smart enough to know where to find OA anthropology journals. They could just google “Open Access peer review anthropology”. They would, for example, find a webpage hosting the list above or another one (similar to the one you are suggesting) http://ds.hul.harvard.edu/ds/blog/2012/06/12/open-access-anthropology-journals

    Anyway, I should slowly bow out from this conversation since as editor I might incur in the risk of pushing my journal’s agenda. The issue is much larger. My suggestion for concrete steps remain, I doubt more SM discussions or forums will help much. (also don’t you have already a SM OA-related blog? http://openaccessanthropology.org/blog/) Are you familiar with the Open Access (Wiki) Directory? http://oad.simmons.edu/oadwiki/Main_Page

    Submit your own work. Knock on the doors of top scholars and best colleagues and talk them into OA. Raise funding and encourage donations since serious OA journals do costs (indeed the most successful financial model to support OA in other fields has been the author-fee model, i.e. Public Library of Scince is charging up US$2,900 per article). Involve wealthy departments and the Chairs/Heads committed to the cause. But lots is going on already behind the curtain and for a few of us, the future (at least next few years) looks quite exciting!

  7. @Giovanni:

    “Not sure what same old thing you are referring here.”

    I am referring to non-OA journals that are stuck behind paywalls. To me, that’s “the same old thing.”

    “You probably have not played carefully in your mind what creating and editing a professional journal entails but by all means give it a go.”

    Hmm. In my mind I imagine it will entail a ton of work and dedication. But then, so does anything that’s worthwhile. Not sure what point you’re trying to make here. Of course all of this takes work. My point is this: if we don’t see the kinds of venues we want, then we have to create them. Sounds simple, and it is on one level, albeit a ton of work.

    “Note that the amateurish management or presentation of some OA journals (incl. sub-par copy editing, proofreading, layout, IT) is one of the main factors dissuading many scholars genuinely interested in OA from submitting their manuscripts.”

    Noted. That and author-pays models seem to be the biggest complaints.

    “A list of OA anthropology journals is already available online…”

    Yes, of course there is the DOAJ list. What I am talking about is taking the time to look through the journals, see what they’re all about, etc. There’s a lot on there and sometimes it seems like a bit of a grab bag. Hard to tell. Might be a good thing for some OA-minded folks to get in there, see what’s going on, and write about it (here and elsewhere). Just an idea.

    “And scholars are smart enough to know where to find OA anthropology journals.”

    Sure, of course people are smart enough to do google searches and find this list or that list of OA journals. What I am talking about is going beyond lists and finding ways to highlight what’s going on in these journals–what they offer, what style they are all about, etc. Lists only tell you so much.

    “Submit your own work.”

    Yup. I still agree with you on your concrete suggestions. Basically, folks need to start putting their work in the OA ring. That, ultimately, is what needs to happen here.

  8. I agree whole heartedly with Giovani that this is a case where less discussion is needed. The reason I like the fundraising idea is that this is something DANG can pursue as a collective. Publishing in and citing OA journals is something we can do as individuals. Now if you want to proselytize OA and get more people excited about participating in the movement I do think that “knocking on doors” is going to be more effective than blogging.

    What I was interested in addressing at the business meeting was how do you educate the AAA rank-and-file about OA and convince them that this is an important issue? Because it is my perception that this isn’t a top priority for most folks outside of our clique of Internet denizens. This is the problem for which we have no concrete steps planned.

  9. @Matt. Lots of senior anthropologists and many imaginative and open-minded mid-career ones are already educated. That’s why HAU gets brilliant manuscripts and is endorsed by many top-notch scholars in the field. Junior scholars are the ones that need to be educated. They need to be educated on what makes a publication prestigious and scholarly solid, reliable, professional, strict in the peer-review process. They might want to realise that some OA journals do use professional copy editors, proofreaders, typesetters, have a staff and are as efficient as many paywalled journals (and definitely quicker). They should be educated that an OA publication indexed on Google Scholar gets *a lot* of downloads, hence readers. No more log ins on Athens or Shibboleth. Just click, download automatically and open. Everyone should be educated – for example – on the fact that Thomson Reuter Impact Factor is not the only ranking system which matters, there are other indexes which are more accessible and equally valid, such as the H-index (cf. wiki), which may be calculated by anyone through Google Scholar. All OA journals based on the OJS platform (the most popular one) are automatically indexed by Google Scholar.

    About fundraising with DANG, that would be brilliant. And yes, knocking on the door of your favorite scholars or colleagues and convince them to support the cause by submitting their next manuscript to an OA journal does help more than blogging.

    If you had 100 SM readers or DANGs supporters convincing 100 brilliant anthropologists to do that, it would make a difference.

  10. You know, I bet Anthropology News is probably the most widely read AAA publication. I wonder if we could get them to do a theme issue on Open Access?

  11. It would help a bit but I am not sure how a special issue in AN would bring some real changes in the short term. We’ve tried all ways and the real breakthrough comes by approaching individual institutions and top scholars and have them to endorse a project or help concretely with either manuscripts or funding. Anyway, this is my two cents after almost two years of hard work to make a dream come true. You may find other ways to make a concrete difference.

  12. That’s the issue of my own conflict of interest. The fundraisers should decide which journal or OA project has more potential, impact, professional set up and especially chances of being sustainable in the long term. As an editor of a top-tier journal told me when we start, “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon”. I’d gloss that it’s a mountain ultramarathon, sometimes it goes uphill and the heart rate skyrockets.

  13. PS But really, fundraising is less important than manuscript-raising. Instead of raising 10K gather 100 brilliant articles.

  14. @Matt:

    “Publishing in and citing OA journals is something we can do as individuals. Now if you want to proselytize OA and get more people excited about participating in the movement I do think that “knocking on doors” is going to be more effective than blogging.”

    Ya, that kind of thing will probably help with getting more people from inside anthropology to get on the OA train. But then, the other part of the equation–at least to me–is extending the conversation outside of anthropology/academia as well. This includes audiences outside of the US. After all, many of the folks inside anthropology *already* have access to the closed journals, so OA is kind of a moot point to many of them. Part of the problem here is bringing anthropology to the folks who can’t access all the material that is being produced (for whatever reason). At least, that’s how I see it.

    “What I was interested in addressing at the business meeting was how do you educate the AAA rank-and-file…”

    Again, a lot of these folks aren’t really having access problems. If they belong to the AAA, then they have access to all that material. If they belong to a university, then they have a certain amount of access as well. So maybe that’s why many of the rank and file aren’t all that worried about OA. Just a guess.

    @Giovanni:

    “Junior scholars are the ones that need to be educated. They need to be educated on what makes a publication prestigious and scholarly solid, reliable, professional, strict in the peer-review process. They might want to realise that some OA journals do use professional copy editors, proofreaders, typesetters, have a staff and are as efficient as many paywalled journals…”

    Ya, I think I basically agree. There needs to be a push to get folks to see that there are viable, valuable alternatives to the paywalled journals.

    “And yes, knocking on the door of your favorite scholars or colleagues and convince them to support the cause by submitting their next manuscript to an OA journal does help more than blogging…”

    In terms of getting people from *within* to participate, yes. In terms of getting people who are not insiders in academia, not so much. Blogging, or writing reviews for NPR–or anything outside of the standard circles in which we all communicate–will be necessary to make anthropology more accessible to other audiences, readers, etc. It’s about extending the networks in more ways than one. Not just getting folks in the AAA to wake up.

    Matt wrote: “how should we decide which OA projects to support with a proposed fundraising campaign? ”

    Ya, that was my question too. “Fundraising” sounds good and all–but for what? For who? What publication or project?

  15. @Ryan

    That’s a shrewd observation about those who attend AAA meetings and mostly have access to university libraries. Speaking up for my own constituency, we independent scholars generally lack that access. We may also be pursuing research via the Web, where searches lead us to all sorts of journals besides those blessed as important when counting coup for academic promotion. Subscribing to them all is definitely not going to happen. Having to pay $30+ each for articles is a real disincentive. For us the ideal form of OA is something along the lines of the JSTOR access that my wife gets through Yale as a Yale grad school alum. It doesn’t open up all of JSTOR but does give her access to most things related to her specialties, Japan and Japanese literature.

    Also, looking at the same issue from another angle. Given the current overproduction of people with advanced degrees, there is a growing pool of people outside of academia who may still retain or return to (as I did) their academic interests. These are by far the most plausible target for outreach outside the academy. How to reach them? We all get hit on regularly by our alumni associations….

  16. @John:

    “That’s a shrewd observation about those who attend AAA meetings…”

    Well, it’s something that others have pointed out. And it’s a good point. People already on the inside generally don’t have as many access problems. It’s when you get outside that the real issues crop up. That’s why I don’t think that pushing for conversations in the same (insular) circles is the solution to wider problems with access.

    “Speaking up for my own constituency, we independent scholars generally lack that access…”

    Yep, and promotion or advocacy via the usual academic channels of communication aren’t going to reach the independent folks, let alone others who find themselves outside of the system (whether outside of the US or whatever).

    “Subscribing to them all is definitely not going to happen. Having to pay $30+ each for articles is a real disincentive…”

    Ya, subscription won’t work. For me, I don’t even really read “journals” as much as I track down articles via citations and other links. That’s how a lot of people work, and why databases are so important (combined with open access publications). And paying 30 bucks for a single article is insane if you ask me. That’s the cost of a BOOK!!!

    Again, it’s about network building–and part of that means looking outside of the box that we have created.

  17. I don’t even really read “journals” as much as I track down articles via citations and other links.

    @Ryan

    You aren’t alone here, and this may be the strongest argument there is for OA. The original idea of the academic journal is a magazine that (1) is tailored to the needs of researchers pursuing specific topics within a well-defined disciplinary framework and (2) serves as a gateway for accreditation as a member of that specific group. The model was a good one when disciplines were broadly conceived and it was possible to “keep up with the field” by subscribing to only a handful of journals.Now that, thanks to the Internet, serious research can and does sprawl across disciplinary and disciplinary clique boundaries keeping up in this way is no longer viable.

    We have just had a nice illustration of the issue right here on SM. Kerim starts thinking about toilets and posts some links to sources that he has discovered. I mention Allen Chun’s work. Kerim discovers that Allen’s paper is published in a special issue of The Journal of Post Colonial Studies. Haidy then points to another body of work. None of the sources mentioned are in the big name “anthropology” journals.

Comments are closed.