I recently wrote a briefing paper for Open Knowledge and PASTEUR4OA on open-access monographs. You can read it here.
I recently wrote a briefing paper for Open Knowledge and PASTEUR4OA on open-access monographs. You can read it here.
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.
Next month, Coventry University’s Centre for Disruptive Media is hosting an event entitled ‘Why Are We Not Boycotting Academia.edu?’ The event will explore some of the issues around the adoption of a venture-capital-funded platform/social network/repository for the dissemination of scholarly research, namely:
Why have researchers been so ready to campaign against for-profit academic publishers such as Elsevier, Springer, Wiley-Blackwell, and Taylor & Francis/Informa, but not against for-profit platforms such as Academia.edu ResearchGate and Google Scholar?
Should academics refrain from providing free labour for these publishing companies too?
Are there non-profit alternatives to such commercial platforms academics should support instead?
Could they take inspiration from the editors of Lingua (now Glossa) and start their own scholar-owned and controlled platform cooperatives for the sharing of research?
Or are such ‘technologies of the self’ or ‘political technologies of individuals’, as we might call them following Michel Foucault, merely part of a wider process by which academics are being transformed into connected individuals who endeavour to generate social, public and professional value by acting as microentrepreneurs of their own selves and lives?
These questions are excellent starting points for interrogating the impact of Academia.Edu – or Google Scholar, Mendeley, ResearchGate, etc. – and we should rightly be suspicious of the practices of platforms whose revenue is generated from selling user data collected via a closed algorithm. Such platforms are also representative of the state of higher education in which there are fewer (and more precarious) jobs for an increasing number of trained PhDs, forcing researchers to become ‘microentrepreneurs of their own selves and lives’. This results in the elision of working and personal lives and increasing amounts of immaterial labour undertaken by researchers who are forced to think of themselves as brands.
No doubt, part of the success of Academia.Edu is its large and growing user-base that researchers are unable to ignore, something remarked upon by Kathleen Fitzpatrick in her recent post ‘Academia, Not Edu’: ‘I’ve heard many careful, thoughtful academics note that they’re sharing their work there because that’s where everybody is.’ I have also heard anecdotally of a university department requiring its researchers to upload their research to Academia.Edu or ResearchGate, most likely as another way for a university to ‘showcase’ its prestigious research outputs. Thus, many researchers are using Academia.Edu simply because their peers and colleagues are too.
But what cannot be avoided, I feel, is that Academia.Edu does offer some very useful features. Over the past month I have logged in a number of times, followed a handful of researchers and keywords, and generally tried to understand how the platform works. As a tool for research discovery, Academia.Edu is actually quite good at (seemingly) serendipitously highlighting research that I would otherwise have missed, either through keyword recommendations or other researchers uploading and/or bookmarking papers. Many of these aspects encourage a more collaborative and open way of working – not just openness about what one is writing, as in the case of working papers, but about what one is reading too. This way of working is one step away from open notebook science and provides a real-time picture of the research being conducted.
So, despite the negatives of Academia.Edu’s business model, there are many features that could be exported to an alternative. The difficulty is to unpick which of the interesting and useful features are actually embedded in the site’s business model and which can be extracted and installed in more progressive or cooperative platforms. For instance, would it be possible to build on the CoRe framework to replicate some of the more interesting features of Academia.Edu? And how in the absence of a data-centric business model would such a framework be maintained?
These are the choices that need to be made about data-driven platform capitalism in general: e.g., the precarious labour of Uber drivers means that fares are cheaper and so a worker-owned alternative might not be able to compete on price; but there are features of Uber’s technology that can be replicated by more progressive outfits to offer an ethical, but still convenient, service. In the case of Academia.Edu, the task now is to work out which of their features can be kept, which need to be let go, and which can be improved upon in an alternative.
Nevertheless, with every passing day platforms such as Academia.Edu increasingly strive towards monopolies and will become harder to unseat.
One of the frequently voiced criticisms of open-access publishing is that it harms the career prospects of early-career scholars, especially in the context of the competitive academic job market. One such argument against licensing work for derivatives (CC BY/CC BY-SA) is that the labours of junior researchers may be exploited before they have had the chance to sufficiently ‘use’ the data they have generated, to fully flesh out the research in their conference paper, etc. Academia is competitive, so the argument goes, and junior researchers should not give an advantage to the free riders who themselves do not reciprocate by sharing their research for reuse. More restrictive licensing, such as the non-commercial and non-derivative versions, has been suggested as a potential solution. But do more restrictions to access and use address the issue of ECR vulnerability at hand?
There is a similar argument concerning open access publishing more generally, particularly the lack of prestige associated with new OA publishers (or the low impact factor of OA journals in the sciences). Here, the logic follows that it would be irresponsible to recommend that an early-career scholar publishes his/her research with a new OA publisher because it would be frowned upon by job boards, funders, tenure committees, and so on. Even if this were the case – and I’m sure to an extent it is true, though how great the extent is for all fields remains to be seen – it hardly seems a problem with OA per se. It is, rather, to do with the pernicious effects of prestige and the over-reliance of it as a proxy for research quality, which is especially detrimental to scholarly communication as a whole. (see Chapter 2 in Martin’s Eve excellent book on open access in the humanities for a more thorough explanation of this idea.)
Heather Morrison argues in a recent post to the Global Open Access List: ‘The future of the OA movement needs such [early-career] scholars to succeed, obtain tenure and thus be eligible to sit on tenure and promotion committees and address these problems.’ This is no doubt true, but in an ever diminishing job market where fewer and fewer graduates achieve permanent academic jobs, only the most successful researchers who ‘play the game’ will succeed. It is a tall order to assume that these individuals who have benefited from the system will then go on to change it. A solution requires greater coordination between numerous stakeholders – not just the individual academics who are shaped by it.
What these kinds of arguments against open access do is push the burden of the broken system away from the institutions, governments and publishers that perpetuate the problem and place it on new and innovative methods of scholarly communication. If we want to start treating research as a commons (which I do) then we should be questioning the practices of those institutions that encourage credentialism, metricisation and proprietary ownership of scholarship, rather than trying to wrap up researchers in cotton wool by warning them of the dangers of confronting the old ways of doing things. A better way of nurturing the commons might be to encourage those lucky enough to have job security to patronise and promote new OA publishers and experiment with new methods of research simply for the sake of experimentation. This in turn might shift research practices in a more open direction, helping them to become normalised and accepted in the academy. Simultaneously, early-career researchers can explore and experiment with ways to build a better system.
One interesting approach for graduate students is the Lethbridge Journal Incubator as described by Daniel O’Donnell et al. This publishing model aims to provide graduate students with ‘early experience with scholarly publishing […], highly-sought after research and technical skills, and project management experience.’ The incubator simultaneously seeks to enable open access publishing without the need for a commercial infrastructure by treating the publishing process as an educational exercise. In this way, graduate students are taught the technical/practical skills involved in the publication process and can begin to learn the context in which publishing and scholarly communication operate – particularly why open access is important and how it should be best handled. This seems a positive approach to open access that recognises its necessity but does so in a way that is beneficial to graduate students and takes into account their vulnerability.
The main point I am trying to convey here is that open access publishing is not responsible for the increasingly competitive job market and the need for researchers to publish in the right places and in the narrowly defined “correct” ways. OA is no doubt beholden to this state of affairs but it is not something that junior researchers need to be shielded from. If we discourage researchers from openly licensing their research or publishing with open access presses then we run the risk of legitimising the status quo and perpetuating a publishing system that is economically unviable and damaging on so many levels.
I’m not saying that there are any easy solutions, but that we should be continually reminding researchers that the economics of publishing, the competitive nature of scholarship and the precariousness of academic employment is what hinders early-career researchers, and not open access publishing. If anything, a wholesale move away from subscription publishing and expensive monographs would free up some of the research budgets that might at least form part of the solution.
Having just returned to London from the Post-Digital Scholar Conference in Lüneburg, I thought I’d share some immediate and brief impressions of what was a thoroughly engaging and informative meeting.
In the opening session, Clare Birchall helpfully defined post-digital as a kind of ‘working through’ the digital sphere, rather than leaving it behind. This is a particularly helpful frame for the conference as a whole, which highlighted the various approaches, both practical and theoretical, to humanities publishing in the digital age. This is pertinent given the conference’s subtitle: Publishing between Open Access, Piracy and Public Spheres – specifically the ‘Open Access’ component of the meeting.
I’ve attended a number of conferences on open-access publishing, though few specifically on its relationship with the humanities. In general, however, conferences on OA can often descend into arguments over the implications of Creative Commons licensing, government mandates and the ‘proper’ definition of openness. PDSC was different in that discussions seemed geared towards issues surrounding content: digital methodologies, the nature of authorship, the future of writing/reading, etc. This for me is the best way to explore Open Access, as a broad, performative approach to new ways of publishing in the digital age, rather than any defined end point that needs implementing by institutions, funders or governments (as when has that ever realistically worked in the humanities favour?). This is similar to a point made by Janneke Adema in her talk on messiness in open-access publishing. Here Adema argues that messiness is to be encouraged as without it we presuppose a defined (non-messy) problem that a particular kind of OA is supposed to address, as opposed to a range of mutating issues to be continually engaged with through experimentation (echoing Willard McCarty’s ‘Remember that the struggle is the point of it all’ from his Roberto Busa award lecture last year ). Adema also mentioned the crucial point that humanities monograph publishing has always been subsidised, so perhaps the search for the mythical OA business model will always prove fruitless and publishers should purposefully maintain a more messy approach to simply getting things done, in a way that a number of newer OA book publishers do. [In fact, in their talk on traditional publisher approaches to open access, Armin Beverungen and Helge Peters show that ‘business model’ is itself a relatively new concept arising out of Silicon Valley in the 90s, and not something that has been traditionally relied upon throughout the history of capitalism.] Therefore, only through experimentation and messiness are we able to navigate (or ‘work through’) the digital and its relationship with the humanities, especially when it comes to OA.
That’s not to say that more traditional institutional/governmental themes were not implicit in the discussions – the threats of job losses and managerialism certainly loomed large – but they were not allowed to dominate in a way that can often stifle productive discussion. Maybe this is because humanities scholars are so used to the feeling that our disciplines are under threat and so this no longer needs to be vocalised. As it happens, the most conservative voices came from the more scientific participants such as Martin Haspelmath, whose talk was a fervent defence of highly selective journal publishing (Nature, Science, etc.) as a way of showing researchers the research they should read. For Haspelmath, mega-journal publishing biases against younger, less established scholars, or those from less prestigious institutions, whose names might not carry enough weight to attract readers to their research. This affirmation of the status quo assumes that everything is OK with scientific publishing and that the current system does in fact help early-career researchers and those from smaller institutions – I’m not convinced that’s the case.
Where I feel the conference was strongest was in highlighting the important connection between humanists and digital artists & designers. Obviously I understand that this was a unique crowd of researchers, but it’s no coincidence that the majority of the presenters were very comfortable with experimentation in scholarly communication (book sprints, crowd-sourced/anonymous authorship, piracy, etc.), especially those connected to the more artistic elements of the humanities. This relationship is a huge benefit to the humanities, and one that certainly sets them apart from the more scientific disciplines, especially as artists are naturally comfortable with experimentation, collaboration, feelings of precarity and DIY approaches to sharing their work. As an advocate of OA in the humanities, I think a lot can be learned from this and hope to attend more such meetings in the future. I’ll update this post with links to the videos and presentations when they’re available – but in the meantime, visit the conference website for interviews with participants that are an excellent introduction to the material covered: http://www.postdigitalscholar.org/.
 McCarty, Willard (2014) ‘Getting there from here: Remembering the future of digital humanities’, Literary and Linguistic Computing, Vol. 29, No. 3. http://doi.org/10.1093/llc/fqu022
My time as a Panton Fellow has been both busy and extremely rewarding. In the last year I’ve been involved in a number of projects, met some fantastic people and attended a number of events centered on data sharing within academia. Whilst data sharing in the humanities and social sciences is still in a very nascent stage, especially the average researcher’s awareness of open data, there is definitely a sense that it is firmly on the agenda as part of the broader move towards openness in scholarly research. The crucial thing now is to continue to reach out to the average researcher, highlighting the benefits that open data offers and ensuring that there is a stock of accessible resources offering practical advice to researchers on how to share their data.
With this in mind, in this final post I had originally wanted to be able to share the open-access book I’ve commissioned entitled Issues in Open Research Data, but alas it is still in production and will be published in November. Nevertheless, I am delighted to say that the book was successfully funded via the crowd-funding website Unglue.It and will be available in PDF, EPUB and low-cost print editions when it is published. The book features chapters by open data experts in a range of academic disciplines, covering practical information on licensing, ethics, and advice for data curators, alongside more theoretical issues surrounding the adoption of open data.
As the book will be open access, each chapter will be able to standalone from the main volume so that communities can host, distribute, build upon and remix the content. The book is primarily a work of advocacy and aims to start a conversation with the academic community at large – I’ll be sending out copies to research libraries, repositories and others that might be interested. Do get in touch if you think your institution would like a printed copy and I’ll see what I can do.
Another initiative I wanted to mention is the forthcoming Journal of Open Humanities Data, which will be launching very soon through Ubiquity Press. The journal will feature peer-reviewed publications describing humanities data or techniques with high potential for reuse, everything from cultural items to large text corpora. In doing this, the journal aims to incentivise data sharing through publication credit, which in turn makes data citable through usual academic paper citation practices. Ultimately the journal will help researchers share their data, recommending repositories and best practices in the field, and will also help them track the impact of their data through citations and altmetrics. The call for papers will be posted in the next few weeks but, again, please do get in touch if you’d like to hear more.
Last of all, many thanks to the Open Knowledge Foundation for all their advice and support: specifically, Peter Murray-Rust, Michelle Brook, Jenny Molloy and Jonathan Grey, and many others too. I have already signed up to be involved in a few Open Knowledge projects in the coming year and I look forward to helping further the cause of openness across academia (and maybe working on my PhD..!)
Here is a roundup of some of the activities I’ve been involved in over the past year:
In my first three-month update report report I discussed the book I’m working on as the major output of my Panton Fellowship. Entitled Introduction to Open Research Data, the book explores both the practical and theoretical issues associated with Open Data from a range of general and disciplinary viewpoints. The book will be Open Access, available in various ebook formats and low-cost print editions, and remixing will be encouraged – particularly the subject-specific guidance, which disciplinary communities can build upon as a foundation for a collection of resources on Open Data.
Whilst I am still awaiting a couple of contributions, I am happy to be able to share a provisional table of contents for the book. (Chapter topics on the left and authors on the right . Chapter titles still TBD):
1. Foreword: Introduction to the Panton Fellowships
2. Introduction to the book and the Panton Principles – Sam Moore (with input from the original Panton group)
3. Open Content Mining – Peter Murray-Rust and Jenny Molloy
4. Open Data and Neoliberalism – Eric Kansa
5. Data Sharing in a Humanitarian Organization: The Experience of Médecins Sans Frontières – Unni Karunakara (previous published in PLOS Medicine)
6. Open Data in Earth/Climate Sciences – Sarah Callaghan
7. Open Data in Psychology – Wouter van den Bos, Mirjam Jenny and Dirk Wulff
8. Digital Humanities and Linked Open Data – Jodi Schneider
9. Open Data in Palaeontology – Ross Mounce
10. Open Data in the Health Sciences – Tom Pollard
11. Open Data in Economics – Velichka Dimitrova
12. Why Open Drug Discovery Needs Four Simple Rules for Licensing Data and Models – Antony J. Williams, John Wilbanks and Sean Ekins (previously published in PLOS Computational Biology)
I won’t go into more detail about the content of each chapter, though authors were given free rein to approach the subject however they saw fit. Furthermore, I sought permission from the authors of the previously published pieces, though they were originally published under CC BY, and all were happy for their contributions to appear in the book.
I’m super excited for how this is coming together and I hope to have the book published by August. I will of course be posting updates along the way. Get in touch if you have any questions!