Monthly Archives: January 2016

Table of contents (draft)

This is the current table of contents for my thesis, subject to change. See my research summary for more information.

Common Struggles: policy-based vs. scholar-led approaches to open-access in the humanities

Introductory chapter: The context for the thesis is the development of free culture and open-access publishing over the past twenty years and how new methods of digital distribution allow scholarly information to be published and shared in more democratic and experimental ways to traditional print publishing. At the same time, the value of humanities disciplines is being questioned – with academic departments under threat, funding being cut and an ailing public sphere – and so there is a real opportunity to rejuvenate and transform the humanities by utilising new methods of digital publishing.

Framing the debate

The first chapter offers an account of how humanities publishing currently operates, aiming to illustrate its unique ‘epistemic culture’ (Knorr-Cetina 1999). This chapter will establish that a researcher’s manner and rhythm of publication is highly specific to the discipline in which they work. In the case of the humanities, the traditional long-form codex has forced a particular kind of liberal-humanist scholarship that is linear, printed and associated with a single-author. This is placed in the context of the broader crisis within the humanities and neoliberal higher education more generally, particularly the declining academic job market and diminishing funding opportunities. Using this analysis, the chapter then explores some of the well-established routes to open access – APC-based publishing, institutional repositories, disciplinary preprint repositories and Academia.Edu – in order to argue that they are not wholly appropriate to the ways in which the humanities currently operate. The main purpose of this chapter is to provide a foundation for an investigation into how a different form of OA might be adopted in the humanities, one that is both sensitive to current publication practices but also responsive to the broader issues within the humanities more generally.

The second chapter interrogates the term ‘open access’ as a boundary object (Bowker and Star 2000) with no fixed meaning and that various communities of practice are able to use to their ends. The chapter offers a genealogy of the term ‘open access’, aiming to demonstrate that there are numerous understandings of, and conflicting motivations for, open access (particularly between those prioritising ‘openness’ v. ‘access’), which have resulted in both contradictory and conservative policy formation by RCUK and HEFCE. The chapter provides the methodological framing of ‘open access’ as socially constructed, conceptually multiple and subject to various hegemonic interventions from a wide range of perspectives.

Building a values framework

The next three chapters aim to situate different approaches to OA within a values spectrum to provide a basis for open access publishing in the humanities. Examples of OA implementation will be assessed according to the extent that they disrupt the values associated with publishing, the humanities or higher education more generally. It is important here to avoid oppositional thinking between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ strategies, but instead seek to understand the choices that have been made, the ideals that have been prioritised/sacrificed and the resultant states of affairs that ensue.

The third chapter assesses the practical applications of the OA policies, looking at how a Russell Group and a 1994 Group university have implemented OA policies of their own. Through semi-structured interviews, analysis of internal documentation, meeting minutes and spending data, I analyse how the university is approaching national funder-mandated OA: how funds are being distributed, how power is distributed, how academics are affected and how this relates to assumptions surrounding humanities research in higher education. Such analysis sheds light on how forms of OA impact the library, perhaps through increased costs, bureaucracy, etc.; but it also illustrates where the university’s responsibilities lie with regards to OA, particularly where their current practices are detrimental to the humanities.

The fourth chapter provides the theoretical framework for an alternative system of open access publishing in the humanities, based on a series of interviews with scholar-led open access presses. This chapter conceptualises scholar-led OA as a distinct counter-hegemonic project to commercial forms of subscription and open access, exploring the distinct values of scholar-led presses that prioritise diversity, experimentation and an ethics of care over neoliberal logics of choice. The chapter also explores some of the practical issues entailed in scholar-led publishing that may prevent its broader uptake.

The fifth chapter offers a comparison of policy-based and scholar-led forms of OA, illustrating the differences between the UK policy framework and the scholar-led presses analysed and situating them on a continuum between ‘care’ and ‘choice’. This makes explicit the contrasting (and in some cases complementary) values in each approach and the ways in which OA is understood and promoted in the creation of different forms and systems. The chapter also discusses how labour is valued in each approach to OA.

‘care-full’ alternatives

In the sixth chapter I develop an argument for scholar-led forms of open access that I term the ‘care-full commons’, based on the values of unpicked in the previous sections. This chapter explores various approaches to the commons, from rational liberal-humanist to autonomist Marxist and beyond, and conceives of the commons as a struggle, borrowing from Sylvia Federici and Peter Linebaugh, that is best thought of as a practice rather than a resource itself. Employing the idea of the commons as a site of care, the chapter describes the features of a ‘care-full commons’ for scholar-led open access in the humanities based on generosity, decentralisation and mutual reliance. Mutual reliance is framed in terms of a ‘boundary commons’ that simultaneously entails autonomy and resilience for the projects in the commons.

Finally, in the concluding chapter I will offer a set of practical recommendations on how such an ecosystem of publishing could be implemented: what the transitional steps are and how researchers, universities and the government could enable such a system. This describes the importance both of institutions and assemblies in adopting horizontal forms of publishing that conform to a commons framework. The chapter is also forward looking in its call for research into ways in which commoning could be applied to other areas within higher education and beyond.


Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Susan Leigh Star. 2000. Sorting Things out: Classification and Its Consequences. MIT Press.

Knorr-Cetina, Karen. 1999. Epistemic Cultures: How the Sciences Make Knowledge. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.



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