AAA, Will you be my Valentine?

Dear Savage Minds,

Rex’s recent post about the recent set of articles in Anthropology News raises a question I’ve started to take more seriously: switch or fight? By which I mean: the more I deal with the AAA, especially the component dealing with publications, promotion and public policy, the more I am disheartened by the state of affairs. I agreed to write a piece for this month’s Anthropology News because Stacy Lathrop, who has done yeoman’s (yeowoman’s?) work trying to change things at AN, and Jason Cross urged me to express in AN some of the things that have been a constant topic here on Savage Minds. I think this is a worthy goal, because AN serves a different audience than the blogosphere, and despite the remarkable reach this blog has managed to attain, there are still lots and lots of working anthropologists who have no effing clue about these issues, and the only way it might penetrate is to go through the official organ (sorry, valentines day brings out the worst in me).

The relationship started really well. The idea was to release the pieces under a Creative Commons license, along with the launch of the new AAA site. Jason and I urged the AAA publications staff to release the articles with fanfare and openly so as to instigate a discussion. We thought it would be great to use something like the Institute for the Future of the Book’s Comment Press software to allow people to do what Rex did… respond in detail to the arguments of the authors. I offered to set it up, I offered to host it, I offered to maintain it, I offered to eat any costs. In the end, we got neither the license nor the discussion. To be fair, the “negotiations” did result in a promise to keep the articles openly available after March 1, and there is a link at the bottom that says: “What are your thoughts? Share your comments here.” February 14th, and there are three comments, one of them from Jason Cross and one a trackback, two if you count this one.

So this is not only a failure of Open Access, its a profound failure of leadership and a failure to create dialogue. I still believe that publishing in AN reached a larger audience. And I still believe that we need to rescue the AAA from itself, and I’ve agreed to try to do that by serving on committees and even running for a position in the Spring (w00t. vote for me.). But more and more I’m hearing people say something like: do we really need the AAA? Can’t we start something ourselves? Can’t we secede from the AAA? Granted, no one is saying this in public, but I’m hearing it. A lot. So if this special focus on OA was a safety valve, someone turned it the wrong direction in my case.

So I’m not sure where to go in this relationship. The AAA does a lot for me. It puts a roof over my head once a year, and it gives me a line on my cv. Sometimes I even think it loves me… but I really can’t be sure anymore… what should I do?

Confused in Cambridge…


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 “AAA, Will you be my Valentine?

  1. Chris–Thank you for all of your efforts on this front. I value your thoughts and your contributions on this issue very much.

    I also value the role that Savage Minds (and everyone who makes it go) has played to this point and will surely continue to play. The Associate Dean of the Libraries in charge of the IU repository program and with related efforts here told me yesterday that she checks Savage Minds regularly for the state of the conversation in anthropology. This has real world effects outside AAA that will, one way or another, eventually reach to the heart of the AAA itself.

    Many more people read posts than comment upon them. Many of these readers are opinion leaders and change agents. The same will hold true for the AN pieces.


  2. Chris,
    That’s a pretty depressing story. Can you divulge what the push back was in terms of hosting the pieces through the Institute for the Future of Books site and with the cool comments software? I’m trying to imagine why the “leaders” would say, “no” to free publicity? and to encouraging a dialogue outside of the hotels at AAA meetings once a year.

    You are correct this is a failure of leadership. Which means we need a change in leadership…Hey maybe we can do make a cool video for your campaign. I’ll sign on. YES WE CAN: KELTY 08 🙂

  3. Thank you for your support [kisses baby, shakes hand]

    If elected, I promise to deliver free software for EVERYONE!

    There wasn’t much in the way of “push back”—I think the reality of the situation is that it’s too costly to change the way they do things, even when members offer to do the work for free. I wish I understood better—perhaps the AAA needs to spend more on staff in the publications division, perhaps their needs to be a reorganization of the decision chain on such things… really, it’s a mystery to me why they didn’t jump on this, and as I say, that makes it somewhat disheartening. I should also say that I do not think the people who I dealt with directly here, who I will not name, though both their names are cool, are at fault: they seemed very enthusiastic, if overworked. But I suspect our request was just beyond what they could accomplish, and if that’s true, it represents a problem of governance.

  4. The Chronicle of Higher Ed picked up on this. Fast.

    They quote this post and the AN exchange. A response from the AAA :

    A spokesman for the association said on Thursday that it is experimenting with new ways of encouraging dialogue among its members. “A lot of hard work has gone into trying to make this process as transparent as possible,” said Damon Dozier, the association’s director of public affairs. Mr. Dozier noted that the association has introduced three new blogs in recent months, and he emphasized that readers can comment online on the Anthropology News symposium, even if the commenting system isn’t as sophisticated as Mr. Kelty and Mr. Cross might have liked.

Comments are closed.