Anthropology on demand

I just discovered (thanks Elise!) that Daniel Miller, a man who has published 23 of his own books, has started an on-demand publishing company with Sean Kingston Press with a rich and luminific editorial board. They’ve published 6 books, including at least one I’m sure Rex is all over. Miller has also published an article with some sharp words for US publishers. w00t for independent on-demand superfantastic british anthropologyness! Now if they could just provide openly licensed downloads of the pdfs I could post something arch and british about the scholarship….


Christopher M. Kelty is a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. He has a joint appointment in the Institute for Society and Genetics, the department of Information Studies and the Department of Anthropology. His research focuses on the cultural significance of information technology, especially in science and engineering. He is the author most recently of Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software (Duke University Press, 2008), as well as numerous articles on open source and free software, including its impact on education, nanotechnology, the life sciences, and issues of peer review and research process in the sciences and in the humanities.

6 thoughts on “Anthropology on demand

  1. I’m grateful for Kelty’s link to Daniel Miller’s essay. I must say, however, that I find many of Miller’s assertions questionable. Miller somehow assumes that peer reviews are invariably fairer than an editor’s judgment, yet anyone who has received irresponsible reviews from anonymous reviewers knows this to be rubbish. Many journals would increase their dwindling subscribership (think: the _American Anthropologist_) if editors were free to exercise discretion and aggressively solicit submissions from scholars whose work is of interest to the greatest number of readers. Of course, it would still have to be vetted, and unsolicited manuscripts would have to be assessed thoroughly and fairly. But editors must be free to *edit*, not just to act as paper-pushing bureaucrats in the interests of narrow, procedural notions of “fairness.” Compare the trajectory of _Current Anthropology_, a journal hospitable to strong editorial leadership, and the _AA_, and you’ll see what I mean.

    Unfortunately, academic publishing is now so intertwined with issues of tenure and academic rank that journals have become proxies for judgments of quality that departments are no longer willing or able to make for themselves.

    As for books, Miller’s bleak assessment is mostly on target, and I welcome his pursuit of new venues for publishing. But as a discipline we do ourselves no favor by fetishizing obscurantism. When I read some of the manuscripts sent to me by academic publishers today, I’m shocked that no one has alerted the authors (especially ones right out of grad school) that the kind of intentionally Delphic language they purvey may be OK in Paris or Berkeley but produces little more than eye-rolling disdain in the provinces. Anthropology must take the blame for that, not the publishing industry.

  2. well there’s obscuratanism and then there’s obscurantism. I think there’s plenty of solid work across anthropology that will never find a wide readership, and I think that’s fine–and I think it deserves to live in public, not just a university library or a hard drive. I’m all for teaching students to reach a wider audience, provincial or not, but not at the expense of allowing people to pursue the obscure, the detailed, the monographic, the arcane. It’s a problem if they can’t figure out why it’s interesting, but I see no point in punishing people who are Delphic.

    That being said I completely agree that there is a huge problem in the way peer review works.

    I’m a proponent of post-publication peer review. I think that editors should have considerably more power to select the manuscripts they think deserve to be published, and let the evaluation by peers happen later. There is no sense, to my mind, in letting a book that has been reviewed in secret by two people (who probably either love or hate the author, but in any case know them personally) somehow qualify as a marker of its quality. Besides, as Sean Kingston demonstrates, it’s pretty easy to become an editor these days, and even easier to print books (!), maybe even to make small margins on such an endeavor. Why not separate the editorial function from the peer review function entirely?

    thanks for the comment Michael!

  3. Thanks for mentioning Sean Kingston Publishing guys, but I should correct a couple of misconceptions. Danny hasn’t started a publishing company, he has however begun a series with my publishing imprint. SKP also publishes books not in the Anthropology Matters series. I’m not sure where the idea we specialize in ‘great unread classics of Melanesian social theory’ comes from. Melanesian anthropology is my own background, but many of our books have no connection with Melanesia at all…

    It’s not quite as easy as one might imagine to set such an enterprise, the actual printing of the books is the most trivial part of it.. International distribution and marketing are more of a trick…

    Btw, I would love to publish with a CC license, but margins are tight enough as it is… All our books are reasonably priced though, and we do even sell chapters as pdfs for the very poor…

  4. Sean, I was referring to titles like “Mining and Indigenous Lifeworlds” which originally came out of Crawford house and was never widely distributed before (iirc) Crawford house melted. The “Rationales of Ownership” volume originally came out of a press in India and was very difficult to find, and “Partial Connections” was out of print for a long time despite people’s interest in it — didn’t you also republish that? That was what I was thinking off, anyway, when I talked about “unread classics of Melanesian literature” — helping reprint books that never got much original circulation.

  5. sean, thanks for the clarifications, I guess I didn’t realize there were other books… are they available online? And I completely appreciate the difficulty of doing this kind of thing, I hope i didn’t imply that it was a trivial endeavor… only that I hope more people do it and that more people make the editorial aspect something that distinguishes their efforts, and hopefully distinguishes their profits as a result…

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