Opening Anthropology: part 1 of an interview at Savage Minds

Ryan Anderson: And where does the creation of the Open Anthropology Cooperative fit within all of this (the question of Open Access)?  How and why did that come about?

Keith Hart: In the 90s, after launching Prickly Pear Pamphlets (the predecessor of Marshall’s Prickly Paradigm), I founded a mailing list called the amateur anthropological association or the small-triple-a (motto: amateurs do it for love). It was supposed to be the anti-AAA, giving a place for outsiders as well as professionals and students. It lasted a few years. Then in May 2009, Kerim Friedman expressed his disappointment over the AAA’s foot-dragging in a blog post. (The same issue was brought up again in 2012 by you, Matt and others at SM).  Kerim’s post led to a heated denigration of the AAA’s impenetrable bureaucracy. Chris Kelty said it had become a mini-welfare state for its employees; a “neurotic institution” run by non-university staff. Casual griping quickly spread to Twitter, where a loose network of anthropologists had already formed. Before long, quasi-revolutionary suggestions were made to start a new, open, less bureaucratic and more inclusive worldwide community of anthropologists. Twitter was ideal for spreading the news and gaining momentum, but more space and organization were needed when the discussion actually became a movement to build a new network for anthropologists. Justin Shaffner and I set up a forum on The Memory Bank website with that in mind.

See the full interview here (the first of three parts).

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There's not much commentary on SM. Can we muster some here?

The question of how to bring the different open access anthro sites together often comes up. The only answer people have is to add another level of administration.

One model that comes up on the web is endorsements - music sites that share the wealth of having visitors don't just point you to their site by having the link displayed but when you click on something on the site it takes you to one of the other sites that they endorse. Perhaps if you clicked on something on the OAC and instead of going to the OAC page it went to Savage Minds or PopAnth or any of the others we might want to endorse and back again?

Thanks, Nathan!

So the French model is to have a state-funded research centre which hosts a platform where all the open access publications and documents co-exist. They then form alliances with similar hierarchical organizations in Southern European languages. Presumably this is what you mean by another level of administration.

So I am of course eager to find out how this endorsement strategy works. It is obviously decentralized and conforms to the current Web 2.0 "following" pattern (which I find attractive). Sorry to be slow, but how does it work that, when I click on something here, I get somehwere else instead?

First, I like the interview format; it's really engaging and perhaps a model we could think about for an OAC series.

Only an American would ask why language isn’t an issue for Americans. Just think “Empire”. The rest of us know that Americans expect us to come to them, not the other way round.

Keith, you make some important points about anthropology and OA as global concerns. Now that I think about how the site has grown since 2009, I wonder how many current members of the OAC are aware that it came about in reaction to the AAA. I never fully understood the "European" label we got (it's possible that most of our original team was North American).

The question you pose is, are there effective models for OA in other places, would they be applicable to Europe and the US, and, if so, why are they not being implemented? Government funding for open access would seem the most logical and I can see that working in, say, Europe or Brazil. For the US, I doubt we could pull it off.

Rex offers some potential solutions on another post on SM which center on adjusting our commitments to academic labor. He concludes that: "Overall, we need to return to the pre-80s era, when there were numerous smaller anthropology societies". Maybe this is the way things will naturally turn if we can't get organized on a larger scale, hence the OAC. But if it is the case that approaches to OA will fragment disciplines into smaller groups, there is little hope for a truly international effort.

To me the paragraph that pops out in this interview is

But here I think we are talking about a much narrower issue of how to make research publications freely available without undermining their role as cultural capital in academic career advancement. This reflects the interests of a mass of unemployed young researchers who can’t afford to pay for information and yet still hope to find academic employment some day.

I find myself wondering if the apparatus of the audit culture might actually be a help here. If there were a central repository for open access publications, wouldn't it be fairly straightforward to do for articles something similar to what people involved with online advertising do for online ads—track hits, time on site, downloads, citations as measures of how broadly influential particular items have been? Couldn't it be argued, then, that high scores on these measures should count toward hiring, tenure and promotion decisions.

Not saying that moving in this direction will be easy. It is sure to be resisted by those with vested interests in current arrangements. But it might add some weight to the push in what we consider the right direction.

Fran: Of the ten individuals listed as OAC founders in the interview, half were Americans (including one living in Asia and two based in Britain), half from Europe (including one African living there). Returning to the academic culture of the 70s isn't on imho. Nor is government funding an option for an international venture, since it is always national. There are funding bodies, many of them American, who might take an interest in an organization like ours. I am not sure how scale works. We have lots of members, but rather low participation. The prime deficit is the energy of the leadership and ours ran out long ago. We just need a couple of volunteers who believe in the OAC's potential to give us a boost.

John: Many national and regional (eg European) bodies routinely rank academic journals. The French OA online journal I mentioned was ranked A by the government agency, whereas a print anthropology journal with a prestigious scientific committee (including me!) and sponsored by the largest official association was ranked C. I have not seen OA journals ranked separately from others nor is it necessary for governments to fund them, Fran. The conservative element, however, lies in the desire to rank grant applications speedily, for example, by counting only articles published in the top twenty international journals in a discipline. This inevitably favours long-established journals.

Keith, the difference in what I am proposing is that the journals are ranked separately and then faculty are ranked by the number of articles they publish in journals of a given rank. The game is fixed from the start in favor of existing "highly ranked" journals.The system I am proposing would be much more open than that. To an algorithm like the one's that Google or Amazon use, a hit's a hit, a page view is a page view, a download is a download, a citation is a citation, regardless of where it comes from. An article by a physicist can be cited by an anthropologist. An anthropologist can be cited by a political scientist, economist or journalist. The question is no longer "How does an article get through the gatekeepers at journal X or Y before it gets a chance to be read and counted?"

Sorry, I've no idea how the mechanics of it works. I just know you have a list of say 6 sites that are all together. When you're in one of the sites and you click a link it takes you to one of the other sites the first time. But if you go back and click on the same place a second time it takes you to where you want to go. Like a nod to another site. Or a small payment to another site (as in you give them a page hit). It's devious I know but if you like the site you're taken to, then you don't grumble.

I should add that it's random as to which of the 6 sites you go to.



Keith Hart said:

So I am of course eager to find out how this endorsement strategy works. It is obviously decentralized and conforms to the current Web 2.0 "following" pattern (which I find attractive). Sorry to be slow, but how does it work that, when I click on something here, I get somehwere else instead?

Just reed what I wrote this morning at 5:00 a.m. On the way to the airport. Let's try that again. In the current audit culture, the algorithms only go to work after journal gatekeepers have made their decisions. In my proposal there are no gatekeepers and no journal rankings until the algorithms generate them.

Thanks, Nathan. I get it now. An interesting idea.

John, I got your proposal the first time. Sorry, if my answer didn't address it directly. I was focusing on how to get from the actual to the possible and what you proposed didn't seem likely, even if it is a stimulating idea. I appreciate the feedback.

Re practicalities: a name to conjure with is Loet Leyesdorff (http://www.leydesdorff.net/) whose group at the university of Amsterdam is a heavy player in the citation analysis world. It might be interesting to approach him as one senior European academic to another.

P.S. I don't know him personally but he pops up announcing new stuff on Socnet all the time.

First of all, I am a little surprised at the lack of comments on SM.  Not sure what that's all about.  But I am glad to see a conversation growing here.  Glad you posted here Keith.

@Fran: Rex argues that we need to go back to the 80s and move toward smaller anthro societies.  You point out that this could lead to even more fragmentation, and would not bode well for international efforts, networks, etc.  But maybe there is potential in going smaller or going local.  Maybe there could be a return to more regional anthro societies (which would help students reduce travel costs, and also maybe encourage more local collaboration and community participation), and then links between these regional organizations.  The international networks could be built specifically through the places where people in each department/organization work around the world.  Just an idea.  And then maybe a site like the OAC could be used to supplement and/or facilitate these kinds of networks (meaning that there would be a push to establish OAC and OA networks in specific regions, at specific universities, community colleges, etc).  Just brainstorming here.

@John: "If there were a central repository for open access publications, wouldn't it be fairly straightforward to do for articles something similar to what people involved with online advertising do for online ads—track hits, time on site, downloads, citations as measures of how broadly influential particular items have been?"

That's something I have been wondering as well.  How would things look if we ditched the journals and shifted everything to an open repository?  Of course, lots of people are not going to like that idea.  It sounds good to me, mostly because I don't read "journals" per se.  I download articles.  I look for specific things.  I haven't sat down and read an entire issue of AA, well, ever.  It's just not how I read anthropology.

The argument is that journals add value to scholars.  So publishing in X and Y journal adds prestige and a little more value.  I guess it means there is something more to assessing value than JUST READING AND EVALUATING IDEAS.  So the whole journal-based prestige thing is about something else beside good anthropology.  It's about keeping certain gatekeepers in place.  I was wondering what would happen to academia if value was not based upon WHERE something is published, but instead the actual CONTENT of what a scholar puts forth.  A repository could push things in that direction--but I suppose another problem is that hiring committees would actually have to read everything someone wrote rather than valuing them in part based upon successful publication in particular journals.

John also writes: "The game is fixed from the start in favor of existing "highly ranked" journals."

EXACTLY.  And this is a shortcut to determining scholarly value and ranking people.  It's a rigged game too.



Keith Hart said:

There's not much commentary on SM. Can we muster some here?

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