The OAC then, and now (toward a renewed, rowdy anthropological democracy)

UPDATE: For those of you who don't want to wade through all of the verbiage to get to my questions, here they are up front: What are we going to do with the OAC now? What can we do with it that contributes to building and supporting the biodiversity of anthropological media and ideas?  How can we connect it with other projects, efforts, platforms, organizations, and institutions?  More than anything, what does it meant to keep pushing for a more open, democratic anthropology?

***

I first heard about the OAC not long after it first appeared in 2009.  I was already heavily vested in the idea of exploring anthropology online.  I joined the OAC immediately, and took part in some of the early big debates, fights, and discussions.  Back then I wasn't sure what to expect, and I wasn't completely clear on what this OAC thing was supposed to be.  In fact, I spent a lot of time wondering what it was--what was the goal, the mission, etc.  Along the way I think I ended up missing the point of the whole project in some important senses.  I came to the OAC straight from the world of academic anthropology--a world that I had some pretty mixed feelings about.  I always felt very strongly about the power and potential of anthropology, but in practice I felt it often fell far, far too short.

I joined the OAC while I was in my first year of a PhD program in anthropology.  I had already completed a MA before that.  When I joined this network, I brought a lot of my concerns and frustrations with me.  I was looking for an alternative to US academic anthropology.  I loved the field of anthropology, but I felt that much of what passed for "anthropology" in the academy was too focused on what might best be called "navigating the internal political economy of academia itself."  Something was lost in the endless drive to present, publish, go to conferences, get grants, and move up the ranks.  I went to my first AAA conference in 2008 and found it a pretty depressing experience.  I paid about $250 for a tiny room, plus all the conference registration fees, and gave a presentation to about half a dozen people on a Sunday morning.  My general feeling about the conference was that it was all about getting jobs and trying to "make it" in anthropology.  It wasn't exactly inspirational, and I haven't gone back since.

For me, anthropology is something other than "professionalization" and all of the other buzzwords you'll hear at conferences and in graduate school.  It's something more than monographs from Big Presses, elite journal articles, and peer review.  It's more than the idea-of-the-year that's passed down at national conferences.  It has to be something more.  Beyond the AAA and the US, and all of those Big Ideas that seem to dominate what anthropology "means" to so many. So when I came to the OAC I was looking for that something more--and I think I found it in many senses.  Here was I able to connect, debate, argue, and chat with people from all around the world about this broad idea of anthropology. Looking back, it was quite unique and amazing to be able to interact with such a broad array of professors, students, aspiring anthropologists, and so many others.  At the time I was so concerned with some of the politics of US anthropology (economics of the discipline, hierarchies, issues like Open Access) that I didn't always look around and appreciate what OAC was and, more importantly, what could be done with it.

These days the OAC isn't quite as rowdy and active as it once was.  I'm not sure how to explain what happened.  So many people joined and showed up, and some great things were accomplished (like the OAC Press and the seminars, not to mention some fantastic debates on the forums and blogs). But somehow the project stalled and the sheer mass of possibilities and openness actually led to a strange stagnation.  So many members, conversations, ideas, and groups--but where did it all lead? Back then I argued that the OAC needed a purpose, if not some sort of mission statement.  Maybe that was true.  However, I later realized that certain components that I felt were most successful (like the Press), closely mirrored the very academia that I (and others) wanted to move away from.  Keith pointed this out to me years ago, and it has stayed with me.  

Still, the OAC is here.  The potential is still there--and the growing number of anthros doing great work online only adds to this (Allegra, Somatosphere, Living Anthropologically, Neuroanthropology, Savage Minds, etc). I often think about some sort of OAC revival, and, this time around, I'm more interested in creating and supporting the kind of open, rowdy democracy that Eileen Joy recently wrote about (hat tip to Jeremy Trombley for sending that one to me). Joy also argues for a "'biodiversity' of practices and modes of thought within and outside of the Academy," which is, I think exactly the sort of thing that the OAC can and should contribute via anthropology.  It also makes me think of a comment that Lee Drummond left a while back on the Cultural Anthropology site.

Drummond first pointed out that the traditional peer review process has its problems (he called it "deeply flawed," actually).  And yet, it is a foundational part of academia and anthropology.  It keeps going, he argues, from sheer inertia.  Open access anthropology, he says, can change all of this.  But "gold open access" doesn't go far enough--it opens a tiny crack in a door that needs to be completely broken down.  Drummond's solution:

Electrons and Internet access are fairly cheap. Build a “platinum open access anthropology” site in which the door is wide open: anyone with a vaguely anthropological idea can post it on the site, anyone else is free to check it out, perhaps comment on it. What networks, what interactions might be created through the operation of such a site? Would the cream rise to the top? Or, like the world’s dying coral reefs, would a layer of algal muck soon cover any bright ideas that might appear on the site? Who knows? But don’t you think it might be worth a try?

This resonates with another post I read recently, written by Tal Yarkoni, which makes a similar call to challenge the bastion of knowledge production that is peer review.  Yarkoni doesn't argue that we need to do away with peer review, but instead find new ways to make it BETTER:

The right perspective, I would argue, is to embrace the benefits of technology and seek out new evaluation models that emphasize open, collaborative review by the community as a whole instead of closed pro forma review by two or three semi-randomly selected experts. We now live in an era where new scientific results can be instantly shared at essentially no cost, and where sophisticated collaborative filtering algorithms and carefully constructed reputation systems can potentially support truly community-driven, quantitatively-grounded open peer review on a massive scale. In such an environment, there are few legitimate excuses for sticking with archaic publication and evaluation models—only the familiar, comforting pull of the status quo.

So here's my long-winded way of asking a few simple questions: What are we going to do with the OAC now? What can we do with it that contributes to building and supporting the biodiversity of anthropological media and ideas?  How can we connect it with other projects, efforts, platforms, organizations, and institutions?  More than anything, what does it meant to keep pushing for a more open, democratic anthropology?

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Thank you for sharing this. As someone in the middle of a PhD in anthropology and potentially the early stages of an academic career, the sense of having to constantly jump through hoops almost makes me want to turn away from this discipline. Rather than spending my energy focused on the issues that I had hoped to study, I spend more time worrying about evaluation criteria, networking and the looming specter of publishing and conference participation. It would be sad to think that these structural problems of academia, which already limit and shape the kinds of knowledge produced, could also turn away people entirely from participating in such knowledge creation. I don't have an answer to Ryan's questions, but I also believe in the importance of "building and supporting the biodiversity" of ideas and I hope that the OAC can help to make anthropology more inclusive and therefore also more productive.

I cross-posted this on the OAC FB page as well:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/161765339613/permalink/101531865605...

Hey Ryan!

Thanks for your comment.  You wrote: "Rather than spending my energy focused on the issues that I had hoped to study, I spend more time worrying about evaluation criteria, networking and the looming specter of publishing and conference participation."

That's exactly the sort of issue I had in mind when I wrote this.  I do think that we often end up spending so much time on satisfying evaluation criteria (and other forms of "professionalization") that anthropology sort of gets lost in the mix.  I think we have to find creative ways to push back against some of this, because anthropology should be about more than just moving up the ranks or satisfying bureaucratic requirements.


Ryan Alison Foley said:

Thank you for sharing this. As someone in the middle of a PhD in anthropology and potentially the early stages of an academic career, the sense of having to constantly jump through hoops almost makes me want to turn away from this discipline. Rather than spending my energy focused on the issues that I had hoped to study, I spend more time worrying about evaluation criteria, networking and the looming specter of publishing and conference participation. It would be sad to think that these structural problems of academia, which already limit and shape the kinds of knowledge produced, could also turn away people entirely from participating in such knowledge creation. I don't have an answer to Ryan's questions, but I also believe in the importance of "building and supporting the biodiversity" of ideas and I hope that the OAC can help to make anthropology more inclusive and therefore also more productive.

Simplify, simplify, simplify. OAC began as an experiment with "Let a thousand flowers bloom." Predictably the result is a garden overrun by weeds. The crabgrass is devouring the pansies in one corner, the marigolds wilting in another. It's long past time to do some weeding.
Less metaphorically speaking, someone (or a select committee if there is sufficient interest) needs to identify what worked when OAC was rowdy, eliminate everything else, and develop ways to help the stuff that works grow.

All previous attempts to inject more life into the OAC have emphasized the need to reorganize the site's infrastructure. In the end, people did not find that kind of routine task an incentive to commit their energies. This time a handful of us have decided to go in for the piecemeal creative approach which at least offers some measure of personal satisfaction and may stimulate increased participation on a small scale. If this initiative succeeds, we could then contemplate reform of the infrastructure with more hands to do the weeding than we have at present.

Our current strategy is to concentrate on the forum which everyone can see on the main page and make sure that new threads are advertised on OAC Facebook. This is in fact a simplification. It just requires participants not to notice the rest.

Ryan, when Fran Barone and I wrote a book chapter on the OAC (which is taking an age to come out), we observed that responses to its various problems never made any use of anthropology as a discipline. We spent some time asking why anthropology itself might be responsible for some of the OAC's flaws. Reading your tremendous post, I found myself wondering if an anthropological sensibility might be found there.

In the early days of rowdy democracy, a lot of members stayed away from discussions because they found them to be too rough. The demography of participation heavily favoured white male anglophones. The admins let it run for a while, but eventually decided that, despite our left libertarian bias, some rules ought to be imposed. It took us a long time to moderate admissions to get rid of the spammers. Around this time, there were groups operating in ten languages, including Georgian and two varieties of Portuguese. All of that has now gone and participation in discussions at one stage was reduced to a handful of old white men. This is when I decided a hiatus was necessary.

OAC Facebook was launched a couple of years ago and will soon overtake the OAC main site in membership. We don't know what proportion of OAC members are still active, not many I would imagine. But the Facebook branch more closely mirrors the distribution of English-speakers in the world. My guess is that maybe 40% comes from South Asia. It is equally true that this constituency has different internet habits from Americans. For example, I get a lot of unsolicited private chat inquiries which I find irritating, but appears to be normal. There is an acceptance of English language, but the global spread of participants is much wider. That intrigues me

It will always be the case that Americans and Brits will post more frequently and I am not proposing that we should limit our efforts to chasing an illusory global audience. But it remains the case that we could investigate cultural practice here and on Facebook, if our preferred versions of anthropology allowed it. The fact is that we are the most global anthropology network around and we know how narrow some of the others are. I believe that OAC Facebook has a freedom, energy and global balance that is quite rare, even if it is only an expression of early growth. I intend to spend more time exploring that phenomenon and I am more than willing to take a piggy back ride on yours.

 

Rowdy Anthropology:  Stand Up for Bastards!

 

Ryan,

    First, many thanks for calling attention to Eileen A. Joy’s rousing call for a new and engaged “digital humanities” – which we’ll read as “anthropology.”  It’s best left in her words: 

 

   "And indeed, cadging from Edmund in King Lear, might now be the time (again) to stand up for bastards, and for bastard thought — . . . the thoughts, and the work . . . that the Academy does not (initially) want to claim as its supposedly “rightful” progeny?  I definitively answer: yes. There is no way to move knowledge forward without this “standing up.” The more difficult question is how to refashion the academic press such that it actually “stands up” in this way so as to provide safe harbor and nourishment for such refugee bastards". 

 

   "What we need now are illegitimate publishers willing to build shelters for illegitimate publics, which is to say, public-ations, ones that would be hellbent on pressing a rowdy and unruly crowd of ideas into the ventilating system of this place we call the University-at-large, an Academy of Thought (and also, thought-practices) that would not be bound by the specific geographic co-ordinates of specific schools and colleges, but which insists, nevertheless, on playing the shadow-demon-parasite-prod-supplement to the University-proper (its para-mour/more). What we need now is an excess of counter-thought, an excess of modes and forms of counter-public-ation. There is no epistemic rigor worth guarding here; there is no good reason to put a limit to thought within the setting of the Academy of Thought: one must allow in the mad, the chimeric, the deviant, the teratological, the wayward, the crooked, the lost, the invalid, and so on. Here be monsters in the Academy of Thought."

-- Eileen A. Joy, “Let Us Now Stand Up for Bastards”

http://punctumbooks.com/blog/let-us-now-stand-up-for-bastards/

 

    The Academy of Thought – glorious image.  And, as both Joy and you recognize, that Academy must be built on a free and open (access) Web platform.  I share your sense that the OAC is an excellent site for such an Academy.  The question then becomes how best to realize that possibility. 

    At the root of that project (again, as both you and Joy argue) is finding the means to overthrow traditional peer-reviewed academic publishing by creating what I called a “platinum open access anthropology” in my comment to your Cultural Anthropology piece to which you referred.  Here, probably because I’m too un-techy to grasp the operational procedure involved, I think our primary engagement needs to be substantive, that is, to take a long, hard, close look at how peer review works in practice and the institution (call it the Academy of Bias) that supports it.  As anthropologists we are ideally situated to do this, since our stock in trade is ethnography.  I propose we devote an OAC Forum to an ethnographic inquiry into peer review as it operates in the real world of anthropological journals, directing our inquiry at the institution of Anthropology that sustains the practice.  Of course, in undertaking such a project we would be behaving like a bunch of rowdy bastards, for budding young anthros are carefully socialized not to bitch and moan when the “reject” or “revise and resubmit” letters from editors arrive – as a community of gentlemen and gentlewomen scholars, such rude behavior is frowned upon.  We are schooled to respect our elders.  The aspiring author is made to bear such “professional” rejection as a private cross, not to be talked about in the polite company of fellow scholars.  But what, the rowdy bastard asks, if much that is in those letters is bullshit?  How might we tell the difference between mere grousing that our brilliant ideas won’t see print and a dispassionate interrogation of the content of those letters?  How, indeed, since typically we morosely file them away – hide the shame! – never to be shared with colleagues (who have their own inventory of shame tucked away).  The “how” I propose is for Forum participants to post copies of essays and the attendant revision or rejection letters they’ve received – thus compiling a set of ethnographic documents for all OAC members to see and discuss. 

    I did just this years ago with an essay I still like very much: “Culture, Mind, and Physical Reality: An Anthropological Essay,” which went through three years of “revise and resubmit” at the American Anthropologist before I got a final rejection letter.  My little (well, okay, not so little) ethnography of that sad experience is to be found in
“Rejected by the American Anthropologist: Pee-You! Review of ‘Culture, Mind, and Physical Reality’.”  Both documents are on my website, Center for Peripheral Studies: 

www.peripheralstudies.org

In brief, my criticisms of the review process were two.  First, the reviewers were in such strong disagreement (a couple very pro, a couple very anti) that it was clear there was no objective standard of anthropological thought or practice by which to evaluate the essay.  The vaunted goal of “consensus” was an illusion.  Second, the institution or “canon” of anthropological knowledge has been shot through with such calamitous error over its brief history that we can hardly pretend to build on a tradition of intellectual authority.  Remember, ours is the discipline that installed Piltdown Man as scientific fact for over forty years.  And ours is the discipline that accepted as gospel Kroeber’s outrageous underestimate of indigenous American populations – a mistake that blighted decades of anthropological work on native America.  Not an impressive record; we need to find an entirely new way to do anthropology.  Perhaps one place to begin is a Forum on Peer Review.  Any rowdy bastards want to have a go? 

 

Ya, it's important to think about why the conversation was often dominated by a select few, and what can be done to open things up.  Since anthropology has been dominated by the white male demographic, it's probably no surprise that was replicated in the OAC.  I think *some* of the hierarchies were challenged a bit, but obviously not enough.  

The openness of the OAC FB page provides some insight--it's definitely worth looking into how and why it works.  Interestingly, there page itself is pretty simple, and really not too different from the main OAC page.  I'd say one strength is that it's open for any member to post, and all of the content is right there on one page.  Movement and activity help.  As John points out, one of the longstanding issues with the OAC is that many of the ideas, and much of the activity, is hidden in little corners.  This is why I like the idea of using just the forum, maybe the blogs, and trying to connect with the FB page at the same time.  Perhaps it might even be a good idea to make all new material from the main site automatically post on the FB page?

Looking into cultural practices is also a good idea.  Why do people feel comfortable posting comments etc?  Why do some avoid it?  How many people actively read, but don't post anything--and why?  I think some direct work connecting the FB side of OAC with the original site would go a long way.  I also like the idea of starting small, with conversations, ideas, questions, links to good material, even quotes.

Lastly, speaking of the flaws of anthropology, if I could point out one blatant flaw, it would be the chasm between stated ideals/values of anthropology and the actual practices of groups of anthropologists, whether in the university, at conferences, or elsewhere.  The short version is this: we often don't practice what we preach, and this shows up in our online associations and interactions as well.  This is why there's a continued need to think about what a truly "open" anthropology might look like.


Keith Hart said:

Ryan, when Fran Barone and I wrote a book chapter on the OAC (which is taking an age to come out), we observed that responses to its various problems never made any use of anthropology as a discipline. We spent some time asking why anthropology itself might be responsible for some of the OAC's flaws. Reading your tremendous post, I found myself wondering if an anthropological sensibility might be found there.

In the early days of rowdy democracy, a lot of members stayed away from discussions because they found them to be too rough. The demography of participation heavily favoured white male anglophones. The admins let it run for a while, but eventually decided that, despite our left libertarian bias, some rules ought to be imposed. It took us a long time to moderate admissions to get rid of the spammers. Around this time, there were groups operating in ten languages, including Georgian and two varieties of Portuguese. All of that has now gone and participation in discussions at one stage was reduced to a handful of old white men. This is when I decided a hiatus was necessary.

OAC Facebook was launched a couple of years ago and will soon overtake the OAC main site in membership. We don't know what proportion of OAC members are still active, not many I would imagine. But the Facebook branch more closely mirrors the distribution of English-speakers in the world. My guess is that maybe 40% comes from South Asia. It is equally true that this constituency has different internet habits from Americans. For example, I get a lot of unsolicited private chat inquiries which I find irritating, but appears to be normal. There is an acceptance of English language, but the global spread of participants is much wider. That intrigues me

It will always be the case that Americans and Brits will post more frequently and I am not proposing that we should limit our efforts to chasing an illusory global audience. But it remains the case that we could investigate cultural practice here and on Facebook, if our preferred versions of anthropology allowed it. The fact is that we are the most global anthropology network around and we know how narrow some of the others are. I believe that OAC Facebook has a freedom, energy and global balance that is quite rare, even if it is only an expression of early growth. I intend to spend more time exploring that phenomenon and I am more than willing to take a piggy back ride on yours.

Lee, I love the idea of marshaling ethnography to scrutinize the practice of peer review.  Thanks for your comment.  This is good stuff.  I just read through the first part of your paper about the AAA peer review process, and it reminds me of many of the issues I encountered when I was going through the grant writing process.  I had some reviewers say my proposal (including theory, questions, and methods) was excellent, and others who literally said "this is not science." As you point out in your paper, the problem is that there was actually no consensus--reviewers were coming at the proposal from such different theoretical/philosophical (perhaps political) perspectives that the review process took on a nearly random quality. It felt like I was just rolling the dice.

So again, I like the idea of doing a sort of ethnography of peer review. I love that idea.  More soon.


Lee Drummond said:

 

Rowdy Anthropology:  Stand Up for Bastards!

 

Ryan,

    First, many thanks for calling attention to Eileen A. Joy’s rousing call for a new and engaged “digital humanities” – which we’ll read as “anthropology.”  It’s best left in her words: 

 

   "And indeed, cadging from Edmund in King Lear, might now be the time (again) to stand up for bastards, and for bastard thought — . . . the thoughts, and the work . . . that the Academy does not (initially) want to claim as its supposedly “rightful” progeny?  I definitively answer: yes. There is no way to move knowledge forward without this “standing up.” The more difficult question is how to refashion the academic press such that it actually “stands up” in this way so as to provide safe harbor and nourishment for such refugee bastards". 

 

   "What we need now are illegitimate publishers willing to build shelters for illegitimate publics, which is to say, public-ations, ones that would be hellbent on pressing a rowdy and unruly crowd of ideas into the ventilating system of this place we call the University-at-large, an Academy of Thought (and also, thought-practices) that would not be bound by the specific geographic co-ordinates of specific schools and colleges, but which insists, nevertheless, on playing the shadow-demon-parasite-prod-supplement to the University-proper (its para-mour/more). What we need now is an excess of counter-thought, an excess of modes and forms of counter-public-ation. There is no epistemic rigor worth guarding here; there is no good reason to put a limit to thought within the setting of the Academy of Thought: one must allow in the mad, the chimeric, the deviant, the teratological, the wayward, the crooked, the lost, the invalid, and so on. Here be monsters in the Academy of Thought."

-- Eileen A. Joy, “Let Us Now Stand Up for Bastards”

http://punctumbooks.com/blog/let-us-now-stand-up-for-bastards/

 

    The Academy of Thought – glorious image.  And, as both Joy and you recognize, that Academy must be built on a free and open (access) Web platform.  I share your sense that the OAC is an excellent site for such an Academy.  The question then becomes how best to realize that possibility. 

    At the root of that project (again, as both you and Joy argue) is finding the means to overthrow traditional peer-reviewed academic publishing by creating what I called a “platinum open access anthropology” in my comment to your Cultural Anthropology piece to which you referred.  Here, probably because I’m too un-techy to grasp the operational procedure involved, I think our primary engagement needs to be substantive, that is, to take a long, hard, close look at how peer review works in practice and the institution (call it the Academy of Bias) that supports it.  As anthropologists we are ideally situated to do this, since our stock in trade is ethnography.  I propose we devote an OAC Forum to an ethnographic inquiry into peer review as it operates in the real world of anthropological journals, directing our inquiry at the institution of Anthropology that sustains the practice.  Of course, in undertaking such a project we would be behaving like a bunch of rowdy bastards, for budding young anthros are carefully socialized not to bitch and moan when the “reject” or “revise and resubmit” letters from editors arrive – as a community of gentlemen and gentlewomen scholars, such rude behavior is frowned upon.  We are schooled to respect our elders.  The aspiring author is made to bear such “professional” rejection as a private cross, not to be talked about in the polite company of fellow scholars.  But what, the rowdy bastard asks, if much that is in those letters is bullshit?  How might we tell the difference between mere grousing that our brilliant ideas won’t see print and a dispassionate interrogation of the content of those letters?  How, indeed, since typically we morosely file them away – hide the shame! – never to be shared with colleagues (who have their own inventory of shame tucked away).  The “how” I propose is for Forum participants to post copies of essays and the attendant revision or rejection letters they’ve received – thus compiling a set of ethnographic documents for all OAC members to see and discuss. 

    I did just this years ago with an essay I still like very much: “Culture, Mind, and Physical Reality: An Anthropological Essay,” which went through three years of “revise and resubmit” at the American Anthropologist before I got a final rejection letter.  My little (well, okay, not so little) ethnography of that sad experience is to be found in
“Rejected by the American Anthropologist: Pee-You! Review of ‘Culture, Mind, and Physical Reality’.”  Both documents are on my website, Center for Peripheral Studies: 

www.peripheralstudies.org

In brief, my criticisms of the review process were two.  First, the reviewers were in such strong disagreement (a couple very pro, a couple very anti) that it was clear there was no objective standard of anthropological thought or practice by which to evaluate the essay.  The vaunted goal of “consensus” was an illusion.  Second, the institution or “canon” of anthropological knowledge has been shot through with such calamitous error over its brief history that we can hardly pretend to build on a tradition of intellectual authority.  Remember, ours is the discipline that installed Piltdown Man as scientific fact for over forty years.  And ours is the discipline that accepted as gospel Kroeber’s outrageous underestimate of indigenous American populations – a mistake that blighted decades of anthropological work on native America.  Not an impressive record; we need to find an entirely new way to do anthropology.  Perhaps one place to begin is a Forum on Peer Review.  Any rowdy bastards want to have a go? 

 

Ryan and Lee, thanks for engaging. I note that this thread too is in danger of becoming a closed conversation, so I'll keep it short.

About 40 years ago, in the mid-70s, academic anthropology was much smaller and had a coherent object, theory and method. There was more or less one conversation and writers could connect with it. We had to reach out beyond our discipline since the internal audience was limited. Writing for one students was not an option. Reviewers for journals would ask if an author had achieved what s/he set out to do, not (as nowadays) whether they agree with the argument personally.

Soon afterwards, the numbers exploded, people started studying anything anywhere and from any perspective, the idea of one discipline was replaced by fragmented specialisms. PhD unemployment became an issue and neoliberal management took over the universities. Reviewing became more subjective and idiosyncratic, without any of the social glue that previously made anthropologists an intellectual community. Corrupt cliques predominated and winning became like the lottery. This is all a recipe for fear and mindless conformity. Even participants in the OAC worry about the traces of themselves they will leave online.

In my view, the ethnographic method provides an excuse for avoiding making ones purposes explicit. We report the native point of view, n'est-ce pas? The only question is What do I think? not What do I intend to do about this? In this context our purposes go underground and manifest themselves indirectly as undisciplined subjectivity. I could go on...

Thanks Keith. You know, something worth thinking about is how and why conversations become closed. I always wonder about this. If we can learn a bit more about that dynamic, maybe we can alter some of our practices in order to help open things up.

I agree with you that the history of the review process is a recipe for fear and conformity. I do think too many of us worry about the online traces we leave, and how that could affect us in the long run.  I suppose it's fine on some levels--it's good to think through what we say/post in public.  But we don't want to let things go too far so that few of us end up saying what we actually think.

Although I like the idea of doing an ethnography, you might be right that it could be better to just figure out what we really think about the issue and then act accordingly. One thing that I keep thinking about in relation to peer review, since I came from the art/photography world before anthro, is the value of the portfolio approach.  Sometimes I think peer review could be balanced out by an individual's person portfolio--a selection of what each person feels is their best/most creative etc work and writing. That would be a good addition in my opinion.

But I have also been thinking a lot about using the OAC to build an alternative form of open peer review.  It was actually the working paper series that made me think about this a while back. Just one more idea.

Ryan, the portfolio idea is a good one. Ditto for a working paper, a.k.a., work in progress, review. Over at PopAnth, we are trying something along this line. Submissions are vetted by an editorial board whose mandate is to help people improve their work before it appears in public on the site. My own language here, but what I imagine is what we might call "mentor review" instead of peer review.

Re the general question of how conversations become closed. The phenomenon is certainly not confined to anthropology and is certainly not confined to any one form of online forum. Listservs, blogs, forums, wikis, it pops up everywhere. A handful of loud voices, typically those with strong opinions who contribute frequently, come to dominate the discussions. Others stop contributing, and then, over time the bulls leave the China shop. How can this be prevented? At this point, I see Savage Minds as a useful model to contemplate.

First, it is a collective blog. Several of the founders are still active and will regularly post something new if conversation flags.
Second, while anyone can comment, only the founders or those invited by them can post.
Third, a strong and persistent effort is made to invite new authors to contribute.
In all of these respects, SM differs from the "Let a thousand flowers bloom" typical of open lists and forums, which tend to deteriorate over time as described above.

I offer one recommendation and will then shut up. Keith is right that we are falling into a too familiar pattern of a conversation restricted to a small hard core. I noted on the OAC Facebook Page that Ted Fischer chimed in supporting the notion of posting announcements of new contributions to OAC on Facebook. Ted is a good guy; I know him as a PopAnth contributor. I would bet dollars to donuts that if Keith were to extend a personal invitation to him to join this conversation, he would. The personal invitation is key.

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