Some of you will have been following the Forum discussion ‘What is open anthropology?’. This has recently been concerned with a controversy over the name of this network, Open Anthropology Cooperative (OAC), in response to blog posts by Max Forte - here and here. We acknowledge his complaint and wish to address it in ways that reflect our own commitment to this site and its members.

Max Forte was one of the founding members and administrators of this network. Issues between us concerning governance arose in a context of spontaneous excitement and haste as each of us brought our different ideas and expectations to a process that took off in a few days. You can read more about this network’s beginnings here.

Early conversations via Twitter, email, blogs and The Memory Bank Forum, before and after the establishment of the Ning network, included the administrators as well as other contributors and observers (Max Forte among them). In the early stages, we floated ad hoc lists of the attributes that might make up a useful site for anthropologists (a place to share ideas, to collaborate, to raise questions, to publish and discuss, etc) and several possible names. No-one then raised the possibility of a conflict of interest or a significant threat to other sites or projects on the web.

This creative process of formulating a dedicated philosophy and purpose for the OAC seemed to reach a provisional consensus. The agreed title ‘Open Anthropology Cooperative’, which came out of pure brainstorming, was chosen for its friendly and encompassing tone which for us encouraged limitless cooperation in the field of anthropology. Max agreed to act as administrator with this title in place and did not contest its usage. Then, following his advice, we tried out Ning as a possible site for developing our idea. Several of us expressed our admiration for his pioneering work as we laid the groundwork for the OAC Ning homepage. At this stage, Max sent the following private message to the rest of the admin team as part of a discussion in which he was an active participant:

“Some of you have been referring, I think, to this page on my site, It is rather long, and a lot of it will be very contentious for many people in this network. I am not sure which parts of that page attracted people the most, but you can feel free to cut and paste and reword as you like, if it helps to move things along quickly. Michael MD Fischer has already taken me to task on the blog for the ways I use ‘open’ there will be some debate about “what does open mean” (I think some understand it to mean *wide open*).” [emphasis added]

We are not aware when this offer was rescinded or other conditions put on it. Having said that, the admin team acknowledges Max’s current wish to distance himself from this project and would welcome discussion from all members regarding a possible name change for the OAC, in order to avoid confusion with his Open Anthropology project.

The admin team does not claim to own this network any more or less than the other 1500+ members. Our role is to provide assistance and guidance, where necessary, while seeking to maintain a comfortable atmosphere for sharing and discussion within the framework of our own published statement of purpose. We wish now to move forward with the consent of current members.
We therefore ask you to consider the problem and make suggestions on how to proceed.

Should the OAC change its name in light of Max Forte’s complaint? Alternatives suggested so far include:

Open Anthropology Cooperative [no change]
open anthro co-op
Online Anthropology Cooperative
(The) Anthropology Cooperative
Worldwide Anthropology Cooperative

Feel free to suggest others.

The best way to improve the OAC is for all interested members to make their voices heard. We strongly request that all sides refrain from attacking and defaming the character of others. This is a serious and unwarranted offence. Let us rather try to maintain a collaborative spirit in our exchanges. A debate on the Open Anthropology Co-operative’s future should hardly be otherwise! We look forward to hearing from you.

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Harold Wilson call the British Labour Party "a broad church," that is, an institution that could accommodate a wide variety of people and views. At the moment, that is what OAC is, whatever was originally intended by the various founders.

If "Anthropology" is at the centre of what we do, then this site is likely to remain "a broad church." The more we modify it, the more we put the stress on a particular qualifier, the less likely we shall remain so. There may be some who would be pleased by "Open Access Anthropology," or "Open Queer Anthropology," or "Open Revolutionary Anthropology." But would this not end up by narrowing this "broad church," rather than "opening" it?
Max Forte makes a strong case for his earlier use of the term "Open Anthropology." I think we should accept that and change the name. As regards this Ning community, I don't really think that the word "open" adds a great deal to describing us anyway. The important term for us is "cooperative." So, I would be in favor of shortening our name to simply "Anthropology Cooperative." This new name would still describe what is of value to me in this site.
I back up what Bill Guinee has just written.
I'd cast my vote for "(The) Anthropology Cooperative".

Needless to say, "Open Access Anthropology" does already exist (it wouldn't be wise to open another front!). For those who still don't know it, OAA is a well-established "organization of volunteers interested in creating open access alternatives to anthropological publications":

Indeed! I was writing my post before I read your last post in which you clarified your previous statements about OAA. Sorry! ;)
There has been much focus on "open," but none so far on "cooperative." Many of you know that there is a vast literature on cooperatives, some of which I am familiar with. Should we not consider whether the term "cooperative" is at all descriptive of what OAC has become?

One post, now apparently deleted, said that OAC was a "social club." I don't think that that is at all accurate. But we are not really a corporate entity either, as coops are. Perhaps it would be more precise to call ourselves "The Anthropology Network," or "The Online Anthropology Network," or "The Global Anthropology Network."
Either sounds good to me.

Philip Carl SALZMAN said:
There has been much focus on "open," but none so far on "cooperative." Many of you know that there is a vast literature on cooperatives, some of which I am familiar with. Should we not consider whether the term "cooperative" is at all descriptive of what OAC has become?

One post, now apparently deleted, said that OAC was a "social club." I don't think that that is at all accurate. But we are not really a corporate entity either, as coops are. Perhaps it would be more precise to call ourselves "The Anthropology Network," or "The Online Anthropology Network," or "The Global Anthropology Network."
I agree with the other comments. The OAC name gives the impression that it has an overt political agenda for "open anthropology". I think something cooperative anthropology or collaborative anthropology or something like that is fine. Worldwide and Online Anthropology Cooperative just seems silly and 90's. open anthro co-op seems to informal, which might be why you didn't capitalize like the others. I think so far the agreement seems to be to just drop the "open" if doing anything at all.
In the spirit of compromise, I would be happy to see a name change to Online Antrhopology Cooperative or maybe better Online Anthropology Network. The latter is more descriptive of what this is all about to me.. Dawn Chatty
It is unfortunate that what had been a very interesting discussion in how and in what ways an open anthropology could be open was closed by a claim of infringement of intellectual property. As the claim itself appears to have little or no merit, morally or otherwise, the OAC reaction really boils down to just a few considerations.

If, as summed up by Joshua Treadway in the previous post, there is no commitment in the group for exploring and expanding the mission of anthropology to be open, but rather it is just a group of anthropologists wanting to discuss the many factions and fractions of anthropology, then there is no bar to changing the name - it is after all then just a name, regardless of the merits or absence of merit of the proprietary appropriation of the fragment of the current label.

If there is a sense that the openness of open anthropology is an issue, then we should sit tight on the simple principle that we will get nowhere if we accommodate everyone who happened to designate their viewpoint by a common (and open) label and then wish to make it unavailable to others for broader use.

I have seen many many attempts to create online groups like OAC fail due to a lack of engagement and participation. Whatever its other faults, the Wikipedia coverage for anthropology is disgraceful in comparison to other disciplines because of lack of participation by anthropologists. I believe the sudden success of OAC was not entirely due to 'the time was right', but in large part to the excitement of participating in a project beyond a bunch of anthropologists getting together and jawing over issues.

What open anthropology might become is still a matter of discussion and development, but it would be hard to argue that the attributions we are applying are unrelated to the development of 'open' in the history of the internet going back to a brainstorming session in Palo Alto in 1998 leading to the formation of the Open Source Initiative. The energy that has characterised this movement (and the more morally based version that Richard Stallman introduced over a decade earlier with the 'Free Software' movement leading to the Free Software Foundation) was tremendous and changed all of our lives. The ethos was not rooted in a new way of developing software, but in engaging with the world as it was to make a new world we hoped would be better. At least a world that more people thought was better. It was an overt act in the politics of knowledge and who benefits from knowledge. It has been one of the few successful political movements over the past decade to counter the processes of power that working overtime to increase inequality. And it did this outside traditional politics ... the proponents, contributors and users of open source span the conventional political spectrum, and have successfully dragged much of the traditional corporate structure into line with its principles.

Now I could, of course, be idiosyncratic in this view, or just plain wrong. But I think Open Anthropology is beckoning to many of us to an anthropology that is not controlled by a few people in academia, government budgets and priorities, corporate sponsorship, quality assessment panels, and whose results are not hidden behind obfuscated prose, political repression from within or without the discipline and that can be confronted by anyone willing to invest the time to address the issues, and whose contributions will be taken seriously.

This may be a dream, and has been a dream of mine for three decades since I started the first online anthropology exchange in 1977. Around the same time as the open source movement was taking off in 1998 these principles started to look achievable, with contributions along these lines by John Gledhill and others to the Experience Rich Anthropology project in 1997, open ethnography by Stephen Lyon in 1999, and a host of others since. The sudden success of the Open Anthropology Co-operative appeared to be the dawn of a new approach to anthropology and a vehicle from which anthropology might have a means to impact the development of our mutual futures.

In my view if OAC loses altogether the principle of Open Anthropology this will dissipate the energy that has thus been brought to the OAC and it will join the scrap heap of other failed organisations. Maintaining this ethos may be achievable whilst changing the name. But in my view capitulation to the alter of proprietary ownership of basic ideas simply demonstrates that 'the time is NOT right'. But it will be. Someday.
I agree that a spirit of compromise is needed, there is no ideal solution here. In my view mistakes were made on both sides, but there are also different interpretations of the story so far that don’t appear to be reconcilable. Though this may sound counterintuitive to many, we don’t have to agree about who is wrong and who right in order to settle the issue and move on. I think the history of humanity is strewn with cases that show how, when you focus on casting blame rather than finding the solution, you get nowhere. We cannot change the past, but we can change the future.

In my view, Forte is not claiming ownership of an idea. I believe the key issue is that two online entities exist, run by different people, and these can and do get confused. This is wrong because it confuses the identity of, and relationship between, people, but it is not the same as saying there can’t be multiple interpretations of open anthropology. Indeed, the discussion within OAC thus far has taken place in a forum which aims – in theory – to discuss just that idea. Maybe, if and when the name of this platform is changed, we can get on in that forum precisely with discussing the idea of open anthropology. Hopefully Forte will join as a member and contribute his view.

I suggest we do change the name of this entity, and adopt ‘The Anthropology Cooperative’. This isn’t perfect, but it’s a start. Life means evolving. Even though we are not a corporate entity like a coop, I think for the moment this is of secondary importance. I also suggest not using ‘world’ because this will easily become problematic if some geographical areas, for whatever reason, end up being under- or not represented, which is likely (we are, after all, using only one language, the most imperialist...). Finally, creating a new name with ‘online’ attached to it just seems unnecessarily redundant.

I strongly agree with those who have expressed feelings about the need not to be just a social club or a bunch of scholars and students dwelling on the fractions of anthropology, so I would avoid trying to be too neutral by choosing names such as ‘network’. I think ‘cooperative’ leaves the space for building something inspired by positive, socially transformative values that reach beyond the academia into the wider world, where so many problems await solution. Though I am sceptical we could ever reach agreement on a statement of purpose. At present I have no solution for this impasse.
My question to the admins is : on what ground will you make the decision to change the name or not ? When all members will have responded to this thread ? When you are sure all of them have been sufficiently informed about the story ?
Or it will be a decision "par défaut", that is : this discussion will last for some time, then die, and then you'll forget about it ?
You (admins) seems to fear (correct me if I am wrong) to change the name, because it might be unpleasant to some members here. But what ? You do not fear to let the problem last, and create a new thread which is in fact a simple displacement and re-run of the previous one. You do not fear this while it is obviously unpleasant to some members. I think you should take your responsibilities. (And if you want to say that this is not democratic, well, doing nothing is also an act, and so you are already acting non-democratically.) And you have not proposed a democratic way to solve the problem. You propose a discussion, but then what ? Do you wish to build consensus here ?

Really, I do not understand what you have in mind(S).
There is an ongoing discomfort resulting from the contradiction between specific agendas--intellectual, social, political--and a fully open, inclusive community, or network. Even "openness" as an agenda can be restrictive, as it does not open the community to those who do not hold or agree with that agenda. There is nothing new about such contradictions; they are a commonplace of political debate and conflict. But the irony stands out when the agenda is openness.

Like Giovanni, I do not think that this is resolvable. We have to negotiate and find a compromise that most of us can live with.

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