Resisting Corporate Enclosure in Scholarly Communications

Members of the OAC concerned with questions and issues in scholarly communication may find an essay that I have recently written of interest. In it, I suggest 5 basic steps that scholars can choose to undertake to diminish the corrosive influence of for-profit scholarly publishing relative to not-for-profit publishing of several kinds. One need not be an advocate for open access publishing to see value in the proposition that we are harming ourselves by freely giving our time, labor, and intellectual property to powerful multinational corporations whose interests do not align well with those of the communities we serve and belong to. The essay can be found on my blog/website here:

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Comment by Jason Baird Jackson on November 9, 2009 at 4:26am
Dear Keith, I just reread your thoughtful comments and read your remarkable "The Hit man's Dilemma (lite)" essay. I am do not feel that I can improve upon what you have said in these venues. The anthropologist me is sympathetic to your representation of Engel's position, while my folklorist roots are with Morris. The macro view is so often discouraging, but matters, for me at least, are often quite inspiring and encouraging at smaller scales. I was reviewing use statistics for Museum Anthropology Review last week and was quite inspired by the reach this modest effort is enjoying. Yesterday I was able to participate in negotiations that will result in the entire back run (and future output) of two more journals becoming fully open access. Each time we get to a journal before a corporation does, it feels great and I know that a bit of the intellectual commons has been preserved for someone to use. Thank you for your wonderful reflections on these issues and for your work with OAC. Warm wishes, Jason
Comment by Jason Baird Jackson on November 9, 2009 at 3:52am
Dear Kathleen, your thoughts on access and "paying attention" vis-a-vis such dynamics as citation (and citation metrics) are very much in the mix in OA discussions. One one front, there is a growing body of research that shows that increased accessibility generates increased citation/use of published works. On another front, there is the movement of gold OA journals (mainly in big science at this stage) into the standard (if questionable to many critics) tools for gauging impact (particularly the impact factor rankings generated by Thompson).

In a simple way, I can point to noticeably different use statistics for Museum Anthropology and Museum Anthropology Review. MAR is too new/too small, I think, to find citation effects (yet), but in terms of access by generic readers, gold OA makes a big difference. Green OA surely makes a difference too, but this is harder to track, as it is a distributed phenomena. An anecdotal bit of evidence for green OA is the paper "Anthropology of/in Circulation" for which I was a contributing author. Google that phrase and compare the ranking of various versions that paper you can find. The toll access version in AnthroSource is deep down the list, while the various green OA versions are at the top. A Google Scholar search reveals this dynamic more clearly. The AnthroSource version does not even show up there (probably for a mixture of technical, business, and organizational reasons).

Thank you so much for your interest in this stuff.

Warm wishes,

Comment by Kathleen Lowrey on November 5, 2009 at 7:05pm
JBJ -- thanks for your further thoughts. Here is a place where peer review can really help, in the sense of people paying attention to -- and citing -- work published in journals outside the pay-per-view & for-profit formula. I mean, great work anywhere is going to get attention but I wonder if over time OA journals are going to crawl up the citation indices because many people literally don't have access at all to journals that are only affordable via big institutional subscriptions. It seems that this could become a way of using the system to change the system: if for-profit means fewer readers & thus fewer citers, over time the mostly costly journals are also going to be the least prestigious. I don't know, I'm thinking out loud, I haven't given this stuff too much thought before. Thanks for the prompt to do so.
Comment by Jason Baird Jackson on November 5, 2009 at 2:47am
Dear Kathleen, Thank you for your kind comment. Here are a few thoughts.

There is no doubt that junior folks have more at stake in all of these questions. There are surely fields in which taking the approach that I do, particularly if working in a conservative environment, could cause problems. While the longstanding journals in anthropology are more enclosed now than ever, it is still possible to publish in (and thereby directly support) a host of journals that are not (yet) part of the corporate side of the equation. Current Anthropology is published by Wenner-Gren and University of Chicago Press, Ethnology is published by the department at Pittsburgh. Journal of Anthropological Research is published by the department at New Mexico, Anthropological Linguistics is published by the department at Indiana with the University of Nebraska Press, Ethnohistory is published by the American Society for Ethnohistory with Duke University Press, the Journal of American Folklore is published by the American Folklore Society and the University of Illinois Press, Ethnomusicology is published by the Society for Ethnomusicology with the University of Illinois Press, etc. (To be clear, this paragraph is again about supporting not-for-profit publishers, not about green or gold OA.)

(To be clear, this paragraph is about green OA.) I have not tonight checked the SHERPA/RoMEO status of the journals just mentioned, but even when a journal's author agreement is not default green, one can use the Science Commons/SPARC author addendum and other tools to try to secure rights to deposit the pre-print or other version of one's work. I advocate doing this.

Those at the rank (in the U.S. university system) of Associate Professor (or working in non university research settings) are, realistically likely to be the most crucial change agents, as they increasingly understand the issues but do not have the same pressures placed upon them that more junior people do. People doing great work at institutions with few or only modest resources will also play a crucial role given that they see the accessibility questions as researchers and teachers more clearly in their own teaching and scholarship.

Those scholarly societies that have made clear statements related to new modes of scholarly communication and their importance in review, tenure, and promotion processes have done a lot to help change the evaluation dynamics. So have very prominent people who have lent their name and social capital to prominent open access projects and other related (but not the same) efforts at change.

Academic labor issues are surely part of this mix, but I do not understand all of the ways that they intertwine. It seems that the anthropology of change in higher education is better developed in Europe, but I do not control this literature. I am interested in learning more.

Thanks Katheen. I hope to find a chance to come back to Kieth's rich comments. Speaking of labor issues, I seem to have little time away from my own university bureaucracy!
Comment by Kathleen Lowrey on November 4, 2009 at 8:10pm
Well, it looks as though this has more or less gone cold but as I did finally read the piece I wanted to respond with my thoughts. I think everything you say is right on, and -- as you point out -- doesn't so much conflict with what Stevan Harnad has to say as run in parallel with it. I wonder, though, if there might just be a time-lag on what you are suggesting. The demographic of people interested in OA skews junior; that is, exactly the people least well-positioned to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. People with tenure could easily take the steps you suggest; however, I'm guessing very few of them are even aware of this issue. Meanwhile, I'm untenured and I am 90% certain that if I were to tell my department I'm refusing to send my work to big journals on ethical grounds I'd simply be suspected of trying to pull a fast one. So it seems to me that this might just take a bit of time -- for enough junior people to achieve tenure and then to vote with their feet (a gradual Great Migration is different than a boycott, which probably won't work for all the reasons Harnad gives). Over time, that shift would be good for everybody, because the problem of access is a very big one for people who don't have institutional subscriptions to the really expensive big journals (this includes much of the whole world, and within the rich world includes the growing numbers of "flexible" academic labourers).

I wonder if anyone has written something connecting these publishing issues to the the kinds of academic labour issues addressed by someone like Marc Bousquet -- do you know?
Comment by Jason Baird Jackson on November 1, 2009 at 5:35pm
Thanks again to Keith and Kathleen. For anyone who would like to dip into the various discussions of my essay that have unfolded around the web, I have updated the original post with a kind of index (with links) of the various exchanges that have happened. Many are the result of Stevan Harnad's efforts to widely distribute a counter argument that emphasizes the pointlessness and distracting quality of my position on enclosure relative the realizable goal of rapid, mandate-driven, repository-centered green OA deposit of preprints. As I have tried to convey in word and deed everywhere I can, I understand, support, and have been working for green OA but it is not my only concern relative to scholarly communications. Thanks again to all who have taken an interest in these questions.
Comment by Jason Baird Jackson on October 21, 2009 at 4:24am
Thanks Kathleen and Keith! I'll have to hold off on chatting about these issues for a bit, as I am at the folklore meetings and have a full plate. To illustrate the point that the binary commercial::not-for-profit is not quite adequate, I can just point to a standalone (publishing) scholarly society--the American Chemical Society that stands shoulder to shoulder with the giant SMT firms in opposing open access (see the PRISM fiasco) and digging very deeply into university library budgets.
Comment by Kathleen Lowrey on October 20, 2009 at 2:12am
HI Jason & Keith,

Jason I would love to read this essay and comment informedly -- I read Lindsay Waters' book and recall that I began liking it but ended up not entirely a fan, for reasons I cannot now bring to mind. Anyway, Keith, I know you've expressed exasperation over at Econ Anthro at how conversation sometimes fails to flow, and I've been puzzled by the same thing at Feminist Anthro. But I know that right now I am in the field in Paraguay -- on the way out, thus urban wifi -- but anyway, just unable to read and keep up in a timely way, that may be true for many lurkers. I do think the whole OAC everything is an exercise in patience, and I hope lots of other people comment here in the interim, but just for what it's worth I have made a note in my agenda to read this and get back! And who knows who else might have done so, as well. Anyway, I do hope lots of people jump on this but just in case they don't, Jason, don't suppose no one is pricking up their ears! I can't wait to read this essay as soon as I can, thanks for sending out the alert.
Comment by Keith Hart on October 19, 2009 at 10:01am
I was sure we are on the same side here, Jason, and was merely prodding you for more specificity than you could put in that short call to action. This you have now provided and I will be pleased to follow up some of your suggestions. I endorse the concrete ways you suggest for how academics might make a difference, but feel that we should also ask why academics have been so passive in the face of the corporate takeover of the universities. In other words, why would more than a handful of us start behaving differently now? I like your idea of singling out initiatives that are genuinely progressive and asking others to emulate them. But, as an ex-Marxist, I still like to ask why we might think we have history on our side. probably that's my hang-up and your pragmatic approach has a much better chance of success than my more grandiose aspirations. I would like to share with you a passage from the essay I referred to in my last post.

The academic tradition has always been one of open access to published information with full citation of sources, allowing readers to follow the scholar’s tracks for their own purposes. The Open Source software movement is based on similar principles. Individual competition for the glory of discovery has usually been moderated in academia by a culture of informal sharing that takes in teacher-student interaction, seminars, conferences and collegial relations. The recent expansion of academic bureaucracy has accentuated the objectification of thought as a marker of status and reward. Ideas have become commodities to be possessed individually, traded and stolen. The current panic over plagiarism, especially by students, is one result of the contradiction between exclusive private property and a human conversation now reproduced digitally. An intensified focus on the formal abstraction of performance has led to the academic labor market being driven by the empty measures of print production that Lindsay Waters rightly denigrates. Subjective contributions, such as the qualities that mark a good teacher, inevitably carry much less weight.

And so the academic intellectuals, who might have offered a critique of the corporate takeover of the universities, find themselves instead drawn into a vicious variant of the privatization of ideas. In the process, much that was valuable in academic life has been lost. The university is already looking like an endangered species of institution as a result. Perhaps it was too closely yoked to that alliance between governments and corporations that drove national capitalism in its heyday. Universities may survive the social forces transforming the contemporary world in name and material form, but the content of what goes on within them will soon be unrecognizable as that medieval guild tradition that the twentieth century made its own.

I endorse Lindsay Waters’ call for a humanist revival. Something must be done to reinstate human personality in our common understanding of how the world works. But this should be through the medium of money, markets and machines, not despite them. Friedrich Engels once wrote a polemic against the likes of William Morris called Socialism, Utopian and Scientific. Socialists were “utopian” when their slogan was “stop the world, I want to get off,” when they dreamed of escaping from industrial capitalism into an earlier, simpler age. They were “scientific” when, like the Marxists, they aspired to understand contemporary economic history and take it in a more democratic direction. Then, as now, society was becoming coordinated more rapidly and effectively at the top than the bottom.
Comment by Jason Baird Jackson on October 18, 2009 at 8:29pm
Thanks Keith for this very useful feedback. I was knowingly offering simple solutions to complex problems. I tried to evoke, for those who are aware of these complexities, that I am concerned with them too, without making the small essay that I had in mind to quickly write impossible. University presses and scholarly societies (and companies) are, as you suggest, hardly uniform. My residual willingness to help university presses (rapidly evaporating with some) stems from the belief that they can turn into something new and that the wheel need not be completely reinvented. I am a big fan of Rice University Press and University of Michigan Press because they are leaders in getting us to a new place, with an emphasis on open access approaches.. I am less of a fan of those university presses that insist on emulating the commercial publishers. I understand why they long felt the need to do this, but circumstances have changed and it is not sensible now. I have been speaking and writing in other venues about the wider issues that you have raised. My own work right now centers on building up Museum Anthropology Review as an Gold Open Access Journal published using Open Journal Systems by the Indiana University Libraries, on leading the Communications in Folklore Working Group of the American Folklore Society, a body charged with assessing these questions and making recommendations to the AFS's board of directors, and chairing the Libraries Committee of the Faculty Senate here at Indiana. In this later venue, we are addressing many of the relevant issues for our campus.

While an interesting thing to think about, I am absolutely not articulating an anti-capitalist cause. That essay was written on a beloved Apple laptop sitting in a comfortable, well-designed chair. At issue is recognizing when our interests and those of corporate actors are completely at odds. Sometimes there is little we can do about this, but in this instance scholars have the power to invest in building something better. Editing an open access journal or book series or organizing campus workshops or entering society leadership so as to influence organizational publishing policy, these are bigger things that will be beyond what some people can commit, hence my focus in this essay on smaller steps that can be considered. We will need larger efforts too, OAC Press is one such move. Thanks to everyone who is getting behind it.

By way of experience, I strongly urge the OAC Press team to check out the tools that Connexions (on the one hand) and the Public Knowledge Project (on the other) have built for these purposes. Studying what Open Humanities Press has been doing might also be informative.


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