MMJF: Let me try one more time to return us to the question of transformations of scholarship. We keep coming back to the AAA and its incapacities—but is this not a bit myopic? What are the effects on scholarship in general that one can imagine because of Open Access? What are the effects that you, Chris, want to see as a result of your book being available in this form?
CK: The obvious transformations that might apply to Two Bits concern things like translations, abridgments, use in classrooms, transformation into other formats (as long as they are noncommercial and not in competition with the Duke version). Most scholarly books are not candidates for translation, for instance, simply because it is expensive to do it right—finding a good translator and brokering deals with other presses in other countries. Here, once again, the success of Free Software is interesting. One of the most common volunteer tasks in Free Software is translation of the software, its interface and its documentation. This doesn't necessarily produce the best versions, and can result in plenty of gaffes, but its certainly better than nothing. I'd be happy if my book were partially translated, even poorly, than that it remain totally inaccessible. One reason I'm not worried is that such transformations are always nonexclusive and provisional. If I find someone who can do a better job, or if someone volunteers, then we can improve it. It's an interesting question for anthropologists especially. What if you had the choice between professional translation into the major languages (French, Spanish, German, maybe Chinese or Japanese), and volunteer translation into tens, maybe hundreds of languages? What would you choose?
MMJF: So this goes beyond just questions of access to questions of potential collaboration and community amongst readers of our scholarship. Who is going to participate and why?
CK: I think this very much depends on the nature of the project, the scholars, and the nature of the objects and processes that people are analyzing. Speaking for myself, Two Bits could be an opportunity to constitute a community of scholars around the topics and arguments of the book (the history and meaning of Free Software, and the role of public domains and public spheres). I want people who find my book on-line to find not only a book, but a whole research agenda, a discussion, a networked set of arguments and counterarguments that might develop based on who is reading the book and what they might want to say. I think journals play this role, along with book reviews, conference proceedings, and other kinds of documents that come from scholarly interaction as we have known it. But they are no longer the only mechanism of scholarly interactivity: There is a whole ecology of flexible new distribution and interaction channels. These channels are also less stable, less permanent, and less coordinated, and so it will require work to produce that kind of stability, and I think university presses, scholarly societies and libraries can provide that stability and legitimacy. Adrian Johns book The Nature of the Book very nicely captured just how hard this work was the first time around.10
MMJF: Can you say a bit more about the digital ecologies here: the work done for stabilization and legitimacy as Internet experiments unfold? I'm thinking also of Lawrence Lessig and Yochai Benkler's experiments with their books. Another example would be the work done by the editors here at Cultural Anthropology itself to create a more dynamic website that displays and organizes the articles of CA in new ways. This could be useful for teaching, but also for new authors submitting to CA. One of the problems of free-standing journals is that submissions come as if no one had read what the journal had published before, rather than what I think of as the shared communities (Malinowski's seminar, Boas' seminar, and so on) where students were taught to do detailed reanalyses of published materials. That tradition of reanalysis of new and old material has atrophied. Are blogs the answer? How can we turn superficial and dispersed blogs into must read venues for scholarship?
CK: Benkler and Lessig's projects illustrate well the diversity of the possible new modes. This isn't just about putting books on-line, making them free, or “wikifying” them. There are open questions about the process, the distribution of credit, the ecology of possible uses, and the revenue structure of all of these things. Lessig's experiment was in some ways the kind of “reanalysis” you are pointing to, but around an issue of advocacy primarily, not scholarship. He encouraged people to help rewrite his book Code, and Other Laws of Cyberspace because it needed to respond to rapidly changing legal and technical issues. The volunteers were organized by Lessig, but free to take his work in another direction if they so chose. Similarly, Benkler's experiment aimed to open up his book (The Wealth of Networks) to all potential reuses and derivative works, partially as a way to test his own claims about “peer production.” But it wasn't a huge success. On the one hand, academics are extremely suspicious of such a project precisely because we are so obsessed with credit. On the other hand, nonacademics might not see value in the process because it doesn't allow one to “break into” academia—it's still Benkler's book, no matter what you do with it.
Cultural Anthropology is in fact at the right scale and right middle distance to make such projects a success. But I think this discussion makes clear that editors are neither being asked to innovate, nor are they in any position to do so. All the ideas CA has had (about trying to jump-start new modes of engagement with topical areas and producing more longitudinal connections across issues, and creating a public advisory board) are good ones—and there is plenty of technology to facilitate them all—but they come from the bottom up and gain no traction within the AAA or WB. Academics desperately need ways to transform what they are doing every day into contributions that go beyond the single, uncontextualized contribution to a journal. That tradition of rereading and deepening you mention hasn't disappeared—but the world has changed around it such that “Malinowski's seminar” is no longer a seminar at the London School of Economics, but a global debate that no one knows quite how to manage yet. What we lack is a correlative to “Malinowski's seminar” that isn't just another department, but something that can lend legitimacy and hopefully pool some resources across all our distributed locales. If we continue to work in the ways we have we will live in a world of “publish AND perish.” We spend massive amount of time meeting the demands to publish, and when we do, our work disappears into a black hole—inaccessible, unread, and unconnected to any other works that might be in dialogue with it.
MMJF: The more this discussion progresses the more it sounds like revolution is actually the right course—should we be creating new associations? We all put a lot of time into journal work, writing, reviewing, resubmits, second round reviewing, sourcing images, etc. Why not put that work into our own, peer-reviewed, sponsored by SCA or its spin-off? If the major anthropology departments agreed to count that work for tenure would that not be a start? What else could we or the SCA do to move beyond the current state of affairs?
CK: Well in a way, I can't answer this without sounding self-aggrandizing: more people should be doing what all of us here do. More authors, especially senior authors who can take the risk, should be urging their presses and journals to open access their articles, or threaten to take them to places that will. As Kim and Tom suggest, there are all kinds of solutions, a range of possible meanings for open access, so it needn't be an all or nothing deal. As this video [http://blip.tv/file/743274, accessed May 6, 2008] and the SPARC Author Addendum [http://www.arl.org/sparc/author/addendum.shtml, accessed May 6, 2008] make clear: retain the rights you need. If you want to be able to post your article on a website, deposit it in a respository, or email it to your students and colleagues, you can keep that right. Publishers only need the right to publish the article, not all rights. There are open source tools for creating your own journal as well, but there is a lot of visible and invisible labor in doing so, which means that any move toward a new association will require money, staff and time.
KC: Perhaps the SCA could make it their role to promote and help strategize about open access solutions? This journal has started a “public advisory board,” which is intended to get anthropological research out to the people beyond the academy who might need it or use it or benefit from it. Most authors would want their works available to their “source communities” and even if you don't, there are people other than AAA members, or members of elite universities who might want to read it.
CK: The sections could also start making the case that the accounting needs to change. We should be paying to publish research, not to purchase it. Ideally, I don't want anyone to have to pay to get their research published—but it costs money to do research, full stop. Whether that money comes from the government, your university, a grant, a foundation, or a trust fund, part of the accounting should be the costs of peer review, revision, and publication of an article. Anthropologists should be urging their department chairs, deans, university counsel, faculty senates and councils, funders and everyone else in the ecology of the university system to rethink how they account for the costs of research—to focus on the up-front costs of research and to include in that the costs of publication, promotion and archiving, rather than living in fantasy world in which costs are covered by selling the research. This is better for funders as well, because it forces academics to more precisely predict the potential output of a research project, and to be held accountable for what is or is not published as a result. Scholars and librarians have common cause here, because libraries should be the natural leaders in the dissemination of a university's research—but they certainly aren't going to do so if they are paying $15,000 per subscription to buy the research that their faculty members produce, as Jason has made abundantly clear already.
JJ: In some ways, I can imagine new kinds of problems (perhaps exciting, perhaps threatening) that would emerge out of the success of Open Access. Given the diversity of Open Access possibilities (“gold OA” journals that are predicated on subsidies or shoestrings, large scale “author-pays” operations, “green OA” and “institutional repositories,” all the different versions of Creative Commons licenses, and so on), there could be a chaotic proliferation of different solutions—by university, by discipline, by nation?11 Are we risking a kind of anarchy here? Are there any lessons from the success of Free Software that might help us grapple with the state of scholarly communications?
CK: Absolutely, and this goes back to the Rex's comment that “just because WB is all about standardization doesn't mean standardization has to be all about WB.” Standardization has been essential to the success of Free Software at every level—standard ideas about software programming styles, standard ideas of what a “operating system” is, standard tools for creating, managing, and processing software source code, and so on. But “standard” doesn't always mean “internationally approved by some important body in Geneva”—it just as often means de facto standardization, when “everyone uses what everyone uses.” So in terms of scholarly publishing, there are a lot of de facto standards: standard ideas about what an article is, how long it is and what format, but also standard metadata formats and standard tools for managing and mining citations. Having multiple different versions of an article available may not matter if the standards are robust enough that people can easily know that they are all the same article. But if every different repository, publisher, and scholarly society does things its own way, then that might be a problem.
TB: This strikes me as a good place to encourage us to engage with WB and the AAA. The people involved in AAA decision making are hardworking folks reluctantly goaded into service. Furthermore, by framing our own complicities and involvements (as critics or as editors) in terms of engagement, I think we can continue to argue for the value of an Open Access model for a whole host of reasons. This could include paying attention to the hard, and sometimes invisible, work that the AAA and WB are doing to achieve a version of open access.
CK: I would agree, there are plenty of solutions that allow everyone to benefit without going backward; it is worth the while to build on the solid foundation and reputation of the AAA, and to hold WB to as high a standard as possible. The future of innovative scholarship is not only in the AAA and its journals, but in the structures we build that allow our research to circulate and interact in ways it never could before. Individuals will still write great papers and journals will still publish them, but this is one small slice of what counts as research, and especially as collaborative research. Anthropologists are far from the only people facing these challenges, and in the era of so-called “interdiciplinarity” there are a lot more interesting discussions to have out there, in public, in new networks and new forums, than there are inside the institutions of the journal and the scholarly society as they have always been.12
Posted by Christopher Kelty on August 11, 2008