HAU and the Malinowski Monographs: An Interview with Giovanni da Col

I recently sat down (virtually) with Giovanni da Col, the founder and editor-in-chief of HAU, to talk about the latest developments surrounding open access and HAU’s new monograph series, the “Malinowski Monographs”. Here’s what went down. (transparency: I’m on the editorial board of the journal HAU)

AG: Recently HAU unveiled a new partnership with the University of Chicago Press. It sounds like there are two parts to this: first, HAU’s existing open access books will be available for purchase in paper. Second, you will be publishing “The Malinowski Monographs,” which is a new line of books. Is that right?

GdC: Over the past three years, HAU has grown far beyond its initial ambition (and successful achievement) of being a world-class, open access journal in anthropology. In 2013, we become formally a Learned Society: The Society for Ethnographic Theory, which publishes HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, and now HAU Books (founded in 2014). With support from our sponsors (such as ISRF) and partners in the HAU Network of Ethnographic Theory (HAU-N.E.T.), HAU has become the first full-fledged open access press in anthropology, with current and future initiatives in both publishing and digital anthropology expanding on an ongoing basis. 

In 2014, HAU Books is making a shift from an annual release of 1–2 Masterclasses and Classic Monographs to a standard production schedule of 7–8 titles annually. Starting in January 2015, each book will be released in both open access and print versions via a deal we have secured with the University of Chicago Press, who will distribute and market our series for sale in hardcopy. HAU remains the publisher (with production spearheaded by our Managing Editor, Sean Dowdy), Chicago prints and pushes the product. Our initiative to make the entirety of the HAU Book Series available in both open access formats online and in special hardcopy volumes is a business strategy for income generation that will showcase the (increasingly evident) fact: open access is not antithetical to profitability or quality, and can be self-sustaining for the long term. Based on our predictions and analysis of scholarly niche, competing markets, and a scheduled release of at least twenty titles between 2015 and 2016, we project financial self-sustainability of the book series by 2017.

The Malinowski Monographs is one of the newest initiatives for HAU Books: a new Open Access monograph series in anthropology. We are trying to fill a major OA market gap: the one for new monographs. We plan to publish senior, mid-career, and junior authors whose manuscripts will be selected through an annual competition, similar to the one we launched for our Special Issues (which will be available soon both online and in paperback). It is our hope that The Malinowski Monographs will offer as good a deal for authors who want their more lengthy intellectual engagements distributed in both traditional and OA formats.

We are also proud that HAU is now offering the best deal for special issues out there: open access, paperback, with the journal version published within a year from submission. No other publisher or top-tier journal can match that

AG: It sounds like there’s going to be two kinds of Malinowski Monographs — regular full-length monographs and a much shorter series. What sort of topics or approaches do you hope to see covered in the longer monographs? Are these ethnographies, or…?

GdC: Put simply, we are searching for prime examples of what we call “ethnographic theory,” a term which Malinowski employed in Coral Gardens and their Magic (1935). There’s no need to repeat here our definition and extension of the term (David Graeber and I’s inaugural foreword to HAU remains the best guide). Suffices to say that we are seeking out sharp ethnographies capable of producing original conceptual repertoires. With all due respect to philosophers, we are not seeking Deleuzian-inspired monographs of religious concepts, or ethnographies of the political inspired by Ranciere or Badiou. As David and I wrote in 2011, the current malady of name-dropping reduced the discipline to the embarrassing situation of considering themselves hip for recycling French theorists from a period (1968 to 1983), analogous to what we now call “Classic Rock.” In other words, the problem is not that we are still listening to Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin, it’s rather as if the discipline never really got around to discovering punk or hip-hop. We are more interested in ethnographers capable of developing grounded, bottom-up concepts, which should be of value to thinkers within and beyond anthropology (e.g., in the same guise of Bateson’s “plateaus”).

AG: Why did you want to go with this shorter format? In many ways, HAU is committed to old-school anthropology, including the old-fashioned ethnographic monograph. Does moving to a smaller format indicate a change of direction for you?

GdC: The shorter monographs are inspired partly by the French tradition of the essai (from Montaigne to Mauss). Indeed, something like The Gift is a great model for what we are envisioning. But back to Montaigne—it’s that sense of “test,” “trial,” “attempt” that is at the heart of the essai. So, in the end, length really has nothing to do with the intellectual approach we seek in the two formats. We want both kinds of “trials” — short books and long books. A short book, however, is more pragmatic for mid-career or senior scholars. Consider a 40,000 word reflection on something like “inheritance” — it need not be thoroughly historical, thoroughly philosophical, or richly ethnographic in detail, but a brilliant mix of the three that attempts to make sense of the concept experimentally without sacrificing sincerity and erudition.

AG: It seems like a lot of presses are experimenting with shorter books — there is the Oxford Very Short Introduction series, and I know Toronto is developing an “anthropological insights” series of a similar length. Are there other presses out there doing what HAU is doing?

GdC: There is Prickly Paradigm Press, which established its own niche for “pamphlets”—a rather specific genre. But we are not in competition with them; they have their own scholarly niche, market, and format. In the short book section of The Malinowski Monographs, we are hoping to publish essays that attempt to provide conceptual clarity on classic anthropological concepts (like a kind of introductory text on theories of taboo, translation, sacrifice, etc.) or that unpack and clarify muddled catchwords in today’s disciplinary landscape, such as imagination, worldview/cosmology, affect, love, luck, happiness, etc.

AG: How did you settle on the name Malinowski Monographs?

GdC: The name “Malinowski” might certainly raise the eyebrows of many American anthropologists (see: the diary fiasco, racism, womanizing, functional/utilitarian analysis, etc.), but the name “Boas” would do the same for many European anthropologists. Indeed, we could have just as easily named it the “Boas Monographs.” But we wanted the series to indexically iconize both the negative and positive value of ethnography; Boas was a full time anthropologist, part time ethnographer. It was Malinowski who made ethnographic anthropology a career (and coined the phrase “ethnographic theory”). So we should also point out that the title is neither a nod to a specific “national” tradition in anthropology nor to the spirit worship of ancestral “heroes.” It’s a call for ethnography that is anthropology.

In effect, we wish to reopen the possibilities of Malinowskian-style ethnography, without ignoring its contentious issues and problematic politics/analysis. The title offers a reminder of our origins and the necessity to be critically aware of those foundational tropes and their continued existence. You could cite the point in Argonauts where Malinowski is standing on the beach, setting the scene for all the hopes and pitfalls of the ethnographic imagination….no matter what direction anthropology takes its critical reasoning, every ethnographer finds herself in that same position at one point or another when doing fieldwork.

AG: Since I’m American, I hope you won’t mind if do something many Europeans consider rude and ask about the bottom line — how can this possibly work? Isn’t it popular opinion that no one will pay for open access monographs?

GdC: First of all, HAU is a charity, a Learned Society. Our network members and sponsors financially support the Society and its publications. It’s not that different from the SCA, which now supports Cultural Anthropology’s activities through their resources and membership fees. With the introduction of the HAU book series, however, any individual could do the same: “Buy a book from HAU and keep open access anthropology alive.” We are also confident that libraries will buy our books. Plus, no one at HAU is seeking to make profit. Our goal is to keep the production process highly professional (we have a fully functional team of top-notch copy editors, typesetters, IT people, graphic designers, editorial assistants, and managing editors) and get square with the costs. We also have evidence that books which are available online and for sale do not seem to effect sales that much at all (in some cases, it even seems to improve sales as a marketing strategy—if the price is right, of course). There are two other factors to keep in mind. First of all, our books will no longer be released in PDF format, but in HTML/XML formats only. Ease of reading on your computer (or in our upcoming mobile app – to be released by the end of October) will not be sacrificed, but there’s more incentive to buy a book alongside it. Second, you already have plenty of pirate repositories which now even hold the latest anthropology ebooks or pdfs released by the major presses. I’m not sure who would actually like to print the classics books that we aim to release and deal with printing and storing a few hundred sheets of paper, instead of buying a cheap paperback that you can read on the bus (without need for a Kindle). Our aim is to keep the sales price low, $14.99 – $24.99. If the author is popular enough and the book both useful and intellectually important, then people will still want to buy the hardcopies because of the kinaesthetic experience of reading them. Moreover, scholars are collectors, they like the sensuousness of books, the cover, the graphics, the collective objets de prestige on their shelf or desk. Like the new vinyl + mp3 rennaissance. People buy (and want) both.

AG: What does this mean for the future of open access anthropology? And university presses? What trends are beginning to take shape?

GdC: As I mentioned above, I could name several websites where you can acquire the latest Duke, California, or UChicago Press pirate PDFs. Certainly, all presses are encountering financial hardships but they are not out of business yet. There is definite space for open access anthropology presses, although I doubt they will ever become true commercial enterprises. Open access anthropology may become the domain of learned societies: the SCA, the SET (Society of Ethnographic Theory), the EASA (I’m part of a task force established to explore the possibility and costs of moving Social Anthropology to OA). I also think there is a return to reading books in hard copy alongside the digital versions. In the 1970s, Umberto Eco reflected on the role that photocopiers were beginning to assume in academia and warned about the dangers of what he termed “xeroxcivilization,” the intellectual alibi provided by photocopies, and the resulting “vertigo of accumulation.” Large amounts of accumulated photocopies, Eco argued, would eventually become unusable. Yet despite this, he continued, students had the strange feeling to somehow gain possession of the content of those books by copying them.

Most of Eco’s insights could be applied today to the large volume of available PDFs. In my opinion, we are facing an “Adobization of academic life” and accumulating thousands of PDFs that will never be read. Sure, they are useful when writing a book or an article on a beach in Thailand—where there’s a lack of access to a good library (or a stable proxy server). Yet Google Books or Amazon search engines already do a good job of filling in the gaps. Whatever the destiny of digital files, people still love buying books (paperback that is), and the kinesthetic experience of flipping pages and feel the paper with their fingers. That’s the point. There is no good reason why paperback book sales cannot be used toward maintaining the financial longevity of their open access counterparts. See again the vinyl+mp3 dual packaging in the world of music publishing.

Still and all, the future is uncertain and it depends on the way open access will be funded. HAU doesn’t charge author-fees or user fees; we offer free publications to all authors and free reading for users, and we are currently able to do so because we rely on the goodwill of a limited number of well-off or very enthusiastic institutions who are supportive of HAU’s mission. A few institutions thus pay for thousands of others to benefit from HAU’s work. As anthropologists, we know there are no really free beers or lunches. Someone has to pay for running a professional journal and press, even if it is a charity. Eventually, however, it’s the anthropological community who will decide whether open access should succeed or die. We’ll see then whether people will ultimately put their money where their mouth is.

Alex Golub is an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. His book Leviathans at The Gold Mine has been published by Duke University Press. You can contact him at rex@savageminds.org

One thought on “HAU and the Malinowski Monographs: An Interview with Giovanni da Col

  1. As a berserk enthusiast of PDF copies I fully agree with Giovanni da Col: the more pirate PDFs I collect, the more books I buy. Obviously, I only read the paper books.

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