Please sign the Open Access Anthropology Letter

(here is the official invitation to the OAA event at the AAA. If you agree with this letter, please “sign it”: by clicking “edit” on the link and adding your true name in alphabetical order)

Scholarly societies are in crisis, and the AAA is among them. Dwindling revenues from sales of AAA Journals are among the causes, and if we don’t staunch the bleeding now, we are warned, there will be nothing left to give.

How has the AAA gotten to a point where its solvency seems to be based solely on the sales of our scholarly work? Work that has already been paid for by public and private granting agencies which we pay registration fees to present at conferences organized by the scholarly society we pay memebrship fees to join? Why must we also charge our readers?

Recently, the AAA publicly voiced its opposition to Federal Legislation that would require federally funded research to be freely available to the people who paid for it: citizens. This public opposition is clearly not in the interest of AAA members — and the AnthroSource Steering Committee has publicly said as much, proposing a range of initiatives to make our collective work more accessible. For this criticism, the ASSC was dissolved.

Clearly, something needs to change.

1) we need a solid open access policy to make anthropological research widely available;

2) we need a more transparent financial arrangement between the association and its members;

3) we need a form of financial sustainability that does not compromise our ability to disseminate our research.

We invite the sections and their members to start thinking creatively about the solution to these problems. Digital publishing gives us the technology to make our work widely available, so let’s use it! Our colleagues in the sciences and social sciences have already begun the experiment, and we should critically examine their successes and failures.

We also need to think hard and think together about how to move the AAA away from the current ‘weapons of mass destruction’ business plan, which seeks profits by exploiting copyrighted scholarly work. If the model worked, would the publishing program be losing money?

What is Open Access?

Open Access is online, freely available, peer-reviewed research. It is licensed in such a way that it protects the rights of the author, but allows the work to circulate as freely as possible. It is fully compatible with peer-review and publication in scholarly journals, and there are increasingly a large number of fields whose most prestigious journals have adopted open access policies.

Although OA literature is less expensive to produce than conventionally published literature, no one seriously believes that it is costless. The goal of Open Access is not to pursue some utopian vision where the bottom line doen’t matter. Quite the opposite — we believe that there are better ways to pay the bills.

The stakes here are not just financial. Open Access Anthropology speaks to the core ethical concerns of anthropology: a conviction that researchers have a right to know and be known and, above all, that people everywhere have a story that deserves to be told. How can anthropologists work collaboratively with people who are unlikely to have free access to the same body of knowledge that we do? How can scholars in related (and distant) fields discover our work if it is restricted only to a paying membership?

Would you like to learn more?

There will be an informal meeting to discuss Open Access on Saturday the 18th at noon at Gordon Biersch, 33 E. Santa Clara Street (between First and Second).

In the mean time, there are various ways you can be involved. Learn about the issue by visiting


There is also an Open Access email list that you can join if you want to talk about these issues, or if you simply want to hear what other people are saying. Just go to


And press the “join this group” link on the right hand side of the page.

We look forward to hearing from you.


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

3 thoughts on “Please sign the Open Access Anthropology Letter

  1. I was doing some other stuff when I came across this:

    Taylor & Francis are today delighted to announce the introduction of an “iOpenAccess” option for authors publishing in 175 journals from T&F’s Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics portfolios, one behavioural science journal from Psychology Press, and medical and bioscience journals from Informa Healthcare.

    From October 2006, all authors whose manuscripts are accepted for publication in one of the iOpenAccess journals will have the option to make their articles freely available to all via the Journal’s website for a one-off fee of $3100.

    None of the journals caught my fancy, but your mileage may vary.

  2. …and there are similar options appearing from many different publishers these days (though not, significantly, UC Press/AAA, which offers only a “self-archiving” clause in their standard agreement). The main problem is the economic reality that most humanities/social science scholars have neither the individual nor institutional wealth to pay for open access. There are solutions–writing OA fees into your grants for instance, and lobbying chairs and deans to create OA funds for publication–but it’s a much different world than that of the natural sciences and engineering.

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