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.

Commoning the humanities: an argument for grassroots interventions in the implementation and adoption of open access publishing 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 s/he works. 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 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 analyses the language of the policies, including the Finch Report for open access to journals and the Crossick Report for open access to monographs, situating them as part of the state’s neoliberal agenda in higher education that marginalises humanities disciplines and seeks primarily to appease the incumbent publishing industry and ensure the status quo is maintained.

Building a values framework

The next two 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 will 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 will shed light on how forms of OA impact the library, perhaps through increased costs, bureaucracy, etc.; but it should also illustrate where the university’s responsibilities lie with regards to OA, particularly where their current practices are detrimental to the humanities.

The fourth chapter aims to provide the theoretical framework for an alternative system of open access publishing in the humanities, based on an analysis of some of the experimental projects that stand outside traditional implementations of OA. Looking both within and outside of the university setting, I will assess projects that confront the approaches of both traditional subscription publishing and the dominant forms of OA publishing – such as scholar-led publishing houses, university-based experimental and born-digital projects, and publishing houses serving scholars outside of a traditional university setting. This will create the values basis for a new system of open access publishing that seeks to critically engage with the humanities situation and how this manifests within scholarly communication. The research will comprise semi-structured interview with the founders of progressive OA projects, analysis of opinion pieces, blog posts, and other calls for OA in the humanities.

Moving towards an alternative

In the fifth chapter I build a positive picture of what open-access scholarly publishing could look like, based on ideas found in distributed, open, cooperative, and peer-produced alternatives to traditional publishing (drawing on, e.g., (Ostrom 1990; Benkler 2006, etc.)). One of the primary factors affecting the longevity of the projects mentioned in the previous chapter is their permanence or economic resilience. As such, this chapter builds a picture of how such projects can survive, especially in the context of market-driven university, through resource sharing, cooperative governance and treating knowledge as a commons rather than a commodity for private ownership.

Finally, in the sixth chapter I will offer a practical exploration of 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. Central to this chapter is the idea of the partner-state approach (Kostakis and Bauwens 2014) and how, for example, government mandates or subsidies can be devised to support better systems of publishing for the humanities and what such an approach might mean for higher education more generally.

The concluding chapter will summarise these issues and highlight where further research is needed, particularly an interrogation into the various conceptions of ‘research quality’ and its effects on the political economy of scholarly publishing. By now, I should have made a case for what is wrong with the dominant, traditional approaches to open access publishing for the humanities, what an alternative picture of OA could look like and how it can be achieved. This picture will be multifarious and inclusive, in opposition to the centrally mandated OA advocated by governments, funders and universities. Ultimately, I hope in the thesis to provide the foundations for a mutually cooperative network of small OA publishers, based on open-source software, shared legal and technical resources, and cooperation rather than competition.


Benkler, Yochai. 2006. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven [Conn.]: Yale University Press.

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.

Kostakis, Vasilis, and Michel Bauwens. 2014. Network Society and Future Scenarios for a Collaborative Economy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ostrom, Elinor. 1990. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. The Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

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