Matt Thompson over at Savage Minds has been working hard to initiate a renewed Open Access effort in anthropology.  His initial idea is to create a "Digital Anthropology" interest group in the AAA to start conversations and discussions within that particular organization.  The main goals at this point are to open up a conversation about publishing, communication, and fostering connections between anthropologists.  Check out his latest post here:

http://savageminds.org/2012/02/21/alright-how-about-a-digital-anthr...

In the comments section, many people have expressed an interest in this project, but want to see something that extends beyond the limits of the AAA and US anthropology in general.  I agree.  The AAA interest group can, of course, be one step as part of a larger effort.  Anyway, I wanted to bring this discussion over here to the OAC to see what people think here, and if there is an interest in working to foster more connections between anthropologists (and others) who are interested in making anthropology more available, more open, and more accessible.  As I see it, the OAC is already a key part of this overall effort.  There are a lot of people with similar ideas working on and highlighting their ideas in various parts of the world (and the internet), so what might need to happen is a more concentrated and concerted effort to link up and create more relationships between these various efforts.  Interested?  Ideas?  Comments?  Suggestions?  What say you, members of the OAC???

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Thanks, Ryan. I am surprised that this has not gotten more traction here, given how closely the proposed interest group relates to our own purposes. Let's give it the attention it deserves and get the conversation rolling.

Back in 2009, the creation of the OAC was in fact inspired by a very similar discussion about Open Access and the AAA initially sparked by Kerim over at Savage Minds. We're engaged in the same overall movement towards greater openness for anthropology, so if you joined the OAC, then you share similar hopes and expectations for progress.

Just take a look at some of their brainstorming:

The purpose of a Digital Anthropology interest group

Officially we are for “networking and/or the informal exchange of information.” So far, four important trends have developed:

(a) Be a common meeting place for anthros to brainstorm about new platforms.
(b) Compile and communicate important information relevant to our purpose
(c) Be savvy about our place within the AAA
(d) Build coalitions with other groups outside the AAA

(a) A common meeting place

- Organize events at the annual meeting of the AAA like roundtables, panels, and receptions
- Make any AAA event we’re in accessible to others via teh interwebs

(b) Compile and communicate important information

- Have an active online presence through multiple formats
- Create a one stop shop for OA issues: inventory OA publications, announce calls for papers or reviewers, publicize OA events, write strong statements on why and how we should support OA
- Make use of server space from AAA &/or utilize Kerim’s old Open Access Anthropology blog

(c)Be savvy about our place within the AAA

- Highlight anthropology blogs so that more members are aware that anthropology is happening online
- Raise awareness of digital anthropology issues within the AAA so that more members know why OA matters
- Make recommendations to the AAA Executive Board regarding OA, such as having an “official” OA venue alongside the AAA’s conventional publications
- Learn the history of the old “Scholarly Communications” interest group, especially why they disbanded
- Be proactive about talking to subject area librarians for anthropology and the folks involved in planning AnthroSource
- Don’t break the AAA’s precious rules and try to change the system from the inside

(d)Build alliances with groups outside the AAA

- Here the idea is to maintain open lines of communication with like minded folks and not form another alternative organization. This group, by definition, is a part of the AAA
- Comrades in arms to include: Open Anthropology Cooperative; World Council of Anthro Assoc; specific anthropology departments (but who?)

Sound familiar? Now they've moved on to naming and structure, again similar to our own intentions from way back in 2009:

Currently we are envisioning a group that, like a human brain, is divided into two hemispheres — one inside the AAA and one on the outside. The group will be dues free and without a budget or elected officers. This organizational structure is not set in stone and may change in the near or distant future as the needs of the group dictate. - Matt Thompson

The OAC is closing in on its 4th year after having been founded upon almost identical principles and yet, judging by the activity at SM, there is much work to be done for Anthropology with a big A. Of course, we opted for total independence from the AAA and have had some success to those ends. It's a big reason why I, and many others, joined the OAC. A good proportion of our members do not pay dues to the dominant professional organizations.

But can a Digital Anthropology interest group under the AAA itself make real change from within? It can't hurt to try.

So how can we contribute? Maybe we can share what we have learned over the past three years as a global and independently hosted network making use of social media. The OAC collectively has many, many voices and consensus has eluded us on numerous memorable occasions. Bureaucratically speaking, an AAA interest group will need to speak with one strong, clear voice. But we're all part of the same conversation.

Well, I'll drink to that! Thanks, Ryan and Fran. Who knows, it might galvanise some of the energies that launched the OAC and make them visible again. I always say it takes just three people acting in concert to move the world, so if you need a third, I'm in. As I have mentioned elsewhere, the timing coincides with a review Fran and I are compiling on the OAC as a way of doing public anthropology.

If I were to hazard a guess why the OAC has been mostly silent about Matt Thompson's initiative, it would be that the members who got the place going lost interest and newcomers are literally lost in the maze we have created. Moreover this maze feels more like an archaeological site than a living community. We are mostly reduced to sporadic discussion on the main page and the aim of becoming a Cooperative is further away than ever.

I would argue that some of this has to do with our having adopted an uncritical attitude to open access from the beginning. For example, we allowed new members to open up their own Group almost as a calling card, regardless of overlap with others and often abandoned by the initiator soon after. We insisted on members using their real names, but refused to moderate applications in the name of openness: only when the spammers and trolls became unbearable did we move to moderation. Open is a weasel word. It's like freedom. You can only be open or free to the extent that you accept closure or necessity in some other respects. So we should be able to offer three years of reflection on that topic.

Academic anthropology is another problem. Savage Minds has always been hooked into, a part of official American anthropology. When I founded the amateur anthropology association (small-triple-a, motto: amateurs do it for love) in the 90s, it was as the antithesis of the AAA bureaucracy. The OAC has been extraordinarily successful in attracting members from all over the world and sometimes from outside the academy. There was a time when we had active groups in a dozen languages. No longer. Wherever our readers come from, people who actually post content here tend to be drawn from a much narrower circle, but still a much wider one than SM's contributors. So language policy is important. If open means English, that's pretty closed to start with.

One useful first step would be to excavate some of the early discussions that launched the OAC. We need to make navigation of the site easier and distinguish more clearly between active and archived material, as John McCreery has argued persuasively for the Groups. New members should be able to see in outline what they are joining, including some of the history that made it what it is.

The tension of course is between oligarchy (or sometimes it has felt like monarchy) and democracy. The OAC's great achievement is that there are few restrictions on what may be posted here. We have accumulated a remarkably diverse archive as a result. But leadership is still a dirty word in OA circles and I believe that the coordinated energies of a few people are indispensable to keeping the OAC alive. Who will do what needs to be done otherwise?

This is as good a place as any to acknowledge the hard, mostly invisible work that the Admins group has put in over the years, especially Fran's. We are not closed and welcome new members, such as Nathan and more recently Abraham. But we can't do all the planning and organizing in full public view online. That is another way that the open/closed, public/private dialectic manifests itself. Ideas are cheap. Building a new social form that is viable takes more sustained effort.

"Just chiming in to say that I support this effort and do appreciate the work that the admin team has put into OAC."

Sounds pretty feeble, doesn't it. The electronic ease with which we can now express support, sympathy, apologies makes it so easy to feel part of something to which we contribute very little. I am looking for a few people — not members of the current admin team, who already have too much to do — who will join a Club of Three, a group whose members agree to contribute just three hours a week to doing whatever they can to energize and improve OAC.

Why not you?

John is correct that is easy to express support and hard to make things happen. I have not visited OAC in quite a while. I was worried that the AAA-centric conversation on Savage Minds had not yet reached OAC and was pleased to see Ryan's note and even more pleased to see Fran and Kieth's engaged replies. I turned away for a few moments and then returned to see John's comment, which appropriately took the wind out of the reply that I had intended to offer, which was a simple expression of thanks and appreciation for all the work that Keith and Frank (and now I would add John and others) have invested in OAC. I do not have anything substantive to add to the rich comments that are here already.

It is a time of tremendous experimentation and I am excited by all that we (collectively) are learning from what isn't working as well as from it is. I wish that I had more time to invest in OAC and I hope that some of the open access experiments that I have been involved in can be seen as contributing to a common project.

@Fran: thanks for throwing some kerosene on this discussion and getting things going.  That's exactly what was needed.

 

I agree with you 100 percent that the latest discussions at SM echo what was happening here when the OAC was formed.  In many ways, the SAME conversations are taking place.  That's why I really think it's important to link these conversations.

Of course, we opted for total independence from the AAA and have had some success to those ends. It's a big reason why I, and many others, joined the OAC. A good proportion of our members do not pay dues to the dominant professional organizations.

Ya, and that's what I like about the OAC. Lots of people have expressed their interests in something that is NOT limited by the current structure and bureaucracy of the AAA, and I agree. There are others who are interested in creating the AAA interest group in an effort to try to push change from the inside. I don't think these are mutually exclusive goals--if there is a broader effort, the AAA group can be a specific, focused part of that effort. Personally, I am much more interested in the non-AAA aspects of all this though.

@Keith:

Who knows, it might galvanise some of the energies that launched the OAC and make them visible again.

Ya, that's kind of what I was thinking. A lot has happened here, and you guys have really set up something that has HUGE potential. Especially with the online seminars, with the working papers and publishing, and the open structure. I think there is a lot going on here, and a lot of value with what you guys have created. Basically, I think we need to really start building bridges and conversations between these kinds of efforts (the OAC, Savage Minds, OA Anthropology, all of Jason Baird Jackson's work, etc etc).

Wherever our readers come from, people who actually post content here tend to be drawn from a much narrower circle, but still a much wider one than SM's contributors. So language policy is important. If open means English, that's pretty closed to start with.

Yep. That's a big point. This is where the SM effort can learn from the OAC.

One useful first step would be to excavate some of the early discussions that launched the OAC. We need to make navigation of the site easier and distinguish more clearly between active and archived material, as John McCreery has argued persuasively for the Groups. New members should be able to see in outline what they are joining, including some of the history that made it what it is.

Exactly. The ACTIVE or NEW content has to really jump out--and there has to be a way to really highlight certain key discussions...or at least make them easy to find.

But we can't do all the planning and organizing in full public view online. That is another way that the open/closed, public/private dialectic manifests itself. Ideas are cheap. Building a new social form that is viable takes more sustained effort.

Keith, this is a really interesting point, and I never really thought about it in relation to the OAC. There IS a lot of planning that takes place on the main page here. What about taking some cues from other open access projects, such as Wikipedia? What I am thinking about here is the difference between the "content" page [ie the main entry] and the "talk" page, which is where all of the debates, planning, and organizing take place. Both are freely accessible and open, but one is placed in the foreground. For planning and organizing the OAC, this might be something to think about. I really like this point though.

@John: You bring up another good point. The goal is to get people to take part in a way that moves beyond just chiming in (or at least to get more people to take part). In my opinion, one way to do this is to really focus on the content here, and make it so people want to join the debates, post their own material, etc.

One of the things going on here at the OAC that I really, really like is the OAC Press. I loved taking part in the working papers series--I think that is a really cool effort that should be highlighted even more. Also the online seminars. Additionally, a lot of people are talking about creating some sort of open access anthropology repository (similar to the Social Science Research Network) where people can publish pre-press articles or working papers. I wonder if anyone here at the OAC has interest in something like that? Publishers try to claim control of articles because of the editorial work, design, editing etc they put into the material. Fine. So why not place a pre-press, free version somewhere so people can access the IDEAS? Just some brainstorming going on here.

One more.  Here's a post on the OA Anthro site where I am trying to link some things together:

http://blog.openaccessanthropology.org/2012/03/04/digital-anthropol...

Ryan, you are doing heroic work trying to link up the different compartments of this discussion about open access and anthropology. Clearly, given that you are starting your doctoral fieldwork, have launched a progressive publishing operation in Anthropologies, blog on Savage Minds and contribute regularly to our discussions here already, it was presumptuous of me to enrol you as a founder member of a new gang of three for the OAC. I am very glad for what you give us already and would not ask for more. The same goes for Jason whose efforts are an inspiration to us all. His endorsement and occasional participation is worth a lot.

John has given as much as anyone to the OAC and his opinion requires our attention. Ryan has pointed to the relative success of the OAC Press and related activities. We started out by inviting any member with an active interest to join a large editorial board. We also took our discussions off the main page into a semi-private forum. The result was a lot of talk and not much action. As a result, Justin, Huon and I more or less declared ourselves the editorial team and we have run the show privately ever since. Stacy volunteered to be reviews editor and Heesun helped us organize an e-book presence.

I wonder how much of Wikipedia's formative history would be found online in the two-tiered process Ryan refers to. Maybe I am an unreconstructed dinosaur (which is why I hang out with young anthropologists and geeks), but I seriously doubt that all meaningful discussion can be conducted in public. When I was a Yale professor in the 70s, the graduate students demanded access to letters of recommendation affecting them. The consequence was that instead of these letters being subject to closed scrutiny at faculty meetings, referees phoned clandestine supplements to their recipients and the real process went further underground than before. Power can't be suppressed by "open" methods and power is necessary to get things done. Read Sir Henry Maine on oligarchy as a universal rule. The United States' founders made a bicameral and presidential constitution with this in mind and, for my money, the US is still the most democratic society on the planet, which isn't saying much, but there you are.

Who are the main proponents of open anthropology? Graduate students or former graduate students who have moved on to unemployment, exploitation as piece-rate workers or precarity as untenured professors. Abraham has flashed across our sky as an undergraduate activist. John and I post a lot here because we are retired and have lost a sense of shame. So how could we do some of the things for the site that I suggested and Ryan endorsed? John's idea of asking individuals to commit a small number of hours a week should be considered seriously. But I doubt if the real work can be parcelled out that easily and it brings high administrative costs, as anyone who has had to cope with volunteer assistance will know. The Admins team is not all that active right now, but when a crisis occurs, it takes a lot of pooled effort that can't be measured in small regular doses.

I am prepared to admit that I bring unhelpful historical baggage to these discussions. I want to invite others to join this chance to develop the OAC in a broader context of renewed agitation over open access. I could take a back seat and become the Colonel Saunders of this operation. But the OAC is something unique with huge potential as Ryan says and it will only flourish when a small group of individuals commit in a way that is comparable to Savage Minds. They do it by choosing who writes there, while keeping a close eye on their bread and butter which is American academic anthropology. It is highly successul, but open it isn't and never will be. If we want to take what has begun here forward, it will take much more than occasional outbursts in a discussion forum. The sociology of this kind of enterprise struggles to emerge from a fog of misleading rhetoric and incoherent activity propagated by people who know they have a lot more pressing things to do.

Is that kerosene enough?

Hey Keith!

...it was presumptuous of me to enrol you as a founder member of a new gang of three for the OAC"

I don't think it's presumptuous at all. I'm in.

Who are the main proponents of open anthropology? Graduate students or former graduate students who have moved on to unemployment, exploitation as piece-rate workers or precarity as untenured professors.

Exactly--it's the people who are outside of the system. And those are the ones to draw from to keep building this thing--along with sympathetic people on the "inside" of the system.

I could take a back seat and become the Colonel Saunders of this operation. But the OAC is something unique with huge potential as Ryan says and it will only flourish when a small group of individuals commit in a way that is comparable to Savage Minds.

Ha! That Colonel Saunders reference was hilarious. I can just picture the Keith Hart cartoon logo/mascot on the banner of the OAC page! Funny. But I think you're right Keith--what's actually needed is a small group of people who are willing to work to push this thing forward. And your voice vital around here.

If we want to take what has begun here forward, it will take much more than occasional outbursts in a discussion forum.

Ya, I really think that working to get more regular content (even monthly) would be good. I also think that the working papers series and the seminars can really, really be emphasized and built upon. Lastly, a crew of regular writers who post on particular issues/topics might be a good way to keep content moving. Just some ideas. More soon...

Who are the main proponents of open anthropology? Graduate students or former graduate students who have moved on to unemployment, exploitation as piece-rate workers or precarity as untenured professors.

Exactly--it's the people who are outside of the system. And those are the ones to draw from to keep building this thing--along with sympathetic people on the "inside" of the system.

Of course it is true that the young and relatively dispossessed are a vital source of change. The world they know is newer than that of their elders. They are not yet entrenched in the system. They are more open to exploring different possibilities. But I was pointing to another side of the dialectic also. Graduate students and wannabe lecturers are apprentices of the existing academic system and have a huge stake in its being there more or less as is by the time they make it through. So they are also in many ways very conservative. Older and more established professionals have more freedom to experiment. This is related to a perverse trend of late for the second group to feel free to take leave of absence on fellowships elsewhere to write their books, while replacing their teaching and administrative responsibilities with overworked and underpaid peice-rate workers who never have the time to write at all. In my clumsy and even offensive way, I was asking that we bring a degree of sociological sophistication to these questions rather than stick with glib stereoypes. That's also why, for all my admiration of what Savage Minds has achieved, I suggested that it too has a strong conservative streak to go with its progressive contribution and this is built into its social form as well as its preoccupation with the fortunes of American academic anthropology. The OAC has to struggle against this tendency if we are going to open up the field; and a first step is to recognize the problem.

I agree that it would help to have regular contributors, even if it's on a rotating basis. Steady content gives people something to follow along with. In addition to the working papers, some of my favorite interactions are personal stories shared in blogs, like reports from the field. And as yet I feel like not enough students and teachers are making public use of the site for education.

If we're going run with this renewed OA push and really want to make things happen, perhaps having a stronger collective voice would help. This would probably mean streamlining our public face. I'm going back to Ryan's comparison to Wikipedia's "content" vs. "talk" pages. There's so much content on site and we shouldn't lose any of it, but so far we're 6,000 people having thousands of great discussions here and there amongst ourselves. We also have an extended audience, otherwise we wouldn't feature in that SM blog post. What message are we communicating beyond our own forums, and is there more that we'd like to say/do as an anthro cooperative?

Back in 2009, we were sure that social media was going to be our bread and butter. Ning certainly is, but we haven't incorporated Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc like I think we once expected because Ning is kind of an all-in-one. It might be an advantage to have volunteers promote the site via, say, a FB page or livening up our Twitter feed, etc. Sure the OAC is "open" to all, but it couldn't hurt to delegate a team of social media subeditors if anyone were interested.

FYI, there's a another post about the proposed Digital Anthro group at Neuroanthropology. The comments are especially worth reading, too.


ryan anderson said:


Ya, I really think that working to get more regular content (even monthly) would be good. I also think that the working papers series and the seminars can really, really be emphasized and built upon. Lastly, a crew of regular writers who post on particular issues/topics might be a good way to keep content moving. Just some ideas. More soon...

Hey Fran and Keith,

 

Sorry for taking a while to get back to this one--I lost my internet connection for a good week and a half there, so I have been out of the loop.  Here's my attempt to keep the cinders burning with this discussion.

Keith wrote:

So they are also in many ways very conservative.

That's a really, really good point. And I think you are definitely right about this. There is a TON of pressure for grad students and new PhDs to conform to the current regime (publishing in hopes of not perishing, going to all sorts of conferences here and there, etc). Many people feel that they have to participate fully in this system otherwise there is no chance for them to move ahead. So alot of people dive right in, and many of the persistent problems and issues are never addressed. I have experienced this and have been told more than once that I need to start publishing ASAP in order to start wedging my way into this system. So you make a really good point, Keith, about how these younger scholars can actually be a very conservative part of this whole dynamic.

That's also why, for all my admiration of what Savage Minds has achieved, I suggested that it too has a strong conservative streak...

I agree that SM tends to stay quite focused on American anthropology--the movement with the Digital Anthropology Group reflects this a bit. But the comments and participation also show that many of the readers of the site are definitely very interested in a broader engagement with anthropology (this was a comment theme that came up in many of the posts--should this group be focused on the AAA, or should it extend beyond). I am more in the "extend beyond" camp. But I do think that some good could come from trying to work for some change within the AAA. Well, maybe. We'll see how it goes--but it's worth a shot. Still, I am really interested in participating in building anthropology networks that are not AAA- or US-focused. And that's why I think the OAC is a key place to bring these discussions. That's also why I think it might be a good idea to try to connect SM readers with some of the other initiatives and sites that are already out there.

Fran wrote:

I agree that it would help to have regular contributors, even if it's on a rotating basis. Steady content gives people something to follow along with...

Ya, that's a good point about SHARING and MAKING PUBLIC USE of the content on this site. Maybe that would be a good thing to look into--not just creating content but also finding ways of passing it around more. What I would like to see happen is a lot more direct conversation between members of the OAC and some of the other anthro sites and blogs out there. There are TONS of good sites out there, and in some ways we are all creating these patchy little ecosystems where there isn't always a lot of interaction. I'm not saying that everything needs to join into one big connected network--but I do think some more cross-dialog and linking could be a good way to expand the public profile of the OAC (and other sites).

Back in 2009, we were sure that social media was going to be our bread and butter. Ning certainly is, but we haven't incorporated Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc...

I think that making a push via twitter and FB would be a really good idea. It might be really cool to promote certain components of the OAC, such as the e-seminars or the highlighted blog posts, on twitter, FB, and so on.

PS: here's the latest post by Matt Thompson about the digital anthro group that's starting to coalesce:

http://savageminds.org/2012/03/22/digital-anthropology-group-is-hap...

Chris Kelty has a new rant on Savage Minds against an unbelievably reactionary letter from the Archaeological Institute of America coming out against open access. It is a very strong post, but Matt Thompson's earlier initiative against the AAA has gone quiet and I can't see where this latest outburst is going. We really do need to inspect our own anthropology if it does not help us to change the world constrcutively. The OAC is by most measures a successful organization, but those of us close to its inner workings and probably many of you out there know that it needs an overhaul in order to fulfil its tremendous potential.

Here is my comment to Chris's post on SM:

The issue comes down to something much more fundamental than open access: Do you want your scholarly society to survive?

What is it that lies behind the drive for open access in this crisis for academic publishing and indeed for the universities? It is true that the loudest voices are American anthropologists fed up with their scholarly society. But these are temporary reactions to bureacracies being even mor totalitarian than usual. Proposed antidotes usually add up to no more than a software patch which leaves most of the problem unaddressed.

Reliance on a variety of expressions using “open” is part of the problem. It is a weasel word tied up with all the conflicts that come with seeking greater democracy in a historically specific unequal society. The pairs open/closed, free/necessary, public/private (linked to commons), equal/unequal are all entangled in ways that are conceptually confused. So open access means for some no payment. The big divide between free software and open source was over free speech not free beer (libre vs gratuit); and then when Linux went commercial some saw this as the end of the world, mostly Americans and Germans who operate with a gift/market opposition.

All of this is now tied up with Facebook. Then there is the threat to freedom of the i-cloud, of Apple’s, Google’s and Amazon’s monopolistic behaviour. The academics have sold the farm because they bought into the idea that commercial publishers decide who deserves promotion. But then someone who writes English as a second language needs good professional copyeditors to get their work into the English language sphere. It goes on and on, round and round. It needs Occam’s razor to cut through it all.

Three years ago the Open Anthropology Cooperative was formed in response to a similar cri de coeur to yours, Chris, and Matt’s, only that time from Kerim. We now have 6,000 members from around the world, but we are just now coming round to using our anthropology to understand what went wrong and how, if at all, to fix it. We thought we were a social movement at first, but became an inferior administration without the will to power. We are a lot more open than Savage Minds and there is enormous potential in the OAC.

So far, however, like most other reactions against the AAA and Wiley, we have been let down by our anthropological education which was meant to reflect the world, not to change it. We haven’t given up though and I for one still look to SM for inspiration, if not for the revolution we need.




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