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!