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PhD Abstract

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

Open access publishing (OA) removes price and permission restrictions to academic research but also represents an opportunity to reassess what publishing means to the humanities. OA is increasingly on the agenda for humanities researchers in the UK, having been mandated in various forms by universities and governmental funders strongly influenced by advocates in the STEM disciplines. Yet publishing practices in the humanities are unique to the field and any move to a new system of scholarly communication has the potential to conflict with the ways in which humanities research is published, many of which are shaped by the expectations of the neoliberal university that uniquely impact on the practices of humanities researchers. Furthermore, OA does not reflect a unified ideology, business model or political outlook, and different methods of publication based on open practices will inherently represent a variety of values, struggles or conceptual enclosures. This thesis explores and assesses the contrasting values and practices of different approaches to OA in the humanities through a series of case-studies on governmental and scholar-led forms of OA, which are analysed through a critical methodology comprising both social constructivism and deconstruction.

The analysis reveals how the UK governmental policy framework, comprised of policies introduced by the Research Councils (RCUK) and Higher Education Funding Councils (HEFCE), promotes a form of OA that intends to minimise disruption to the publishing industry. The scholar-led ecosystem of presses, in contrast, reflects a diversity of values and struggles that represent a counter-hegemonic alternative to the dominant cultures of OA and publishing more generally. The values of each approach are analysed on a spectrum between the logic of choice versus the logic of care (following the work of Annemarie Mol) to illustrate how the governmental policies promote a culture of OA predominantly focused on tangible outcomes, whereas the scholar-led presses prioritise an ethic of care for the cultures of how humanities research is produced and published.

In prioritising a commitment to care, scholar-led presses display a praxis that resembles the kinds of activities and relationships centred on common resource management (‘commoning’). The thesis therefore concludes with a series of recommendations for how such care-full values could be best realised in an emancipatory commons-based ecosystem of OA publishing for the humanities that would be cultivated through a range of institutions and political interventions.



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The ‘Care-full’ Commons: Open Access and the Care of Commoning

Talk given to the Radical Open Access 2 Conference in Coventry, 27 June 2018 as part of a panel on the commons and care. The talk was published as part of a pamphlet alongside pieces by Joe Deville and Tahani Nadim:


‘The commons’ is a term routinely employed by advocates of open access publishing to describe the ideal scholarly publishing ecosystem, one comprised entirely of freely available journal articles, books, data and code. Usually undefined, advocates invoke the commons as a good-in-itself, governed by the scholarly community and publicly accessible to all. The term itself is not associated with an identifiable politico-economic ideology, nor does it entail any particular form of organisation or practice. Without further justification, the term ‘commons’ has little meaning beyond referring to the various degrees of community control and/or accessibility associated with certain resources.

This paper will illustrate some of the uses (and abuses) of the commons in scholarly publishing, aiming to highlight both the ambiguity of the term and some of the drawbacks of treating the commons as fixed and static entity focused on the production and management of shared resources, as many do. While it certainly relates to resources and their governance, I want to reposition the commons – or ‘commoning’ specifically – as a practice of cultivating and caring for the relationships that exist around the production of shared resources. In reorienting the commons in this way, I will show how an attitude of commoning extends beyond the commons site itself and into the relationships present in other forms of organisation also. This allows us to reposition the commons towards a shared, emancipatory horizon while maintaining the need for a plurality of commons-based practices in publishing and beyond. A progressive and emancipatory commons, I argue, is therefore a space of ‘care-full commoning’.

The use and abuse of the commons

Many uses of the term commons in scholarly communications are themselves ill-defined and intend to evoke a kind of participatory, inclusive or freely accessible resource. This lack of definition may be due to the popularity of the term and its deployment in the media to describe generic ‘shared resources’, everything from Facebook (Gapper 2017) to Bicycle Rental schemes (Rushe 2017). Here, ‘the commons’ refers to resources created through purely capitalist modes of organisation that either result in freely accessible services (Facebook) or utilise public space (dockless bikes). The tragedy of each one, the authors argue, is that they are exploitable by ‘bad actors’ such as vandals or fascists, what the Financial Times journalist terms ‘polluters of common resources’ (Gapper 2017). In neither case are the companies being described as commons actually governed by the users of their service, but rather it is their perceived accessibility that leads to their exploitation. There are numerous examples of uncritical and unspecific uses of ‘commons’ like this that position the commons as a resource that has a publicly-accessible dimension to it, irrespective of its governance structures or the interactions and relationships it fosters.

A similar usage of commons terminology is on display in scholarly communications too. Digital Commons is the name given to Bepress’s flagship suite of repository and journal-hosting software. Bepress is a for-profit company, recently acquired by Elsevier, that sells publishing products to universities. There is nothing about the Digital Commons service that entails collective governance of its infrastructures or common ownership of its outputs. As part of the shareholder-managed conglomerate Elsevier, Bepress is one component in a proprietary walled garden of services designed to lock-in users and monetise their analytics and interaction data (Schonfeld 2017). The ‘commons’ in Digital Commons simply refers to a portfolio of publishing products in which many (but by no means all) of the publications on the platform are publicly accessible at no charge.

The vague and ill-defined nature of the commons allows corporations to utilise commons terminology to imply that a resource is under the control of a scholarly community rather than the company itself. This trick is only achievable because of the association between the commons and open access resources, which are interchangeable in much of the discourse on open access. In this regard, Bepress can assert their products as promoting a progressive ecosystem of freely accessible resources, even while they profit off the labour of those who produce them. But the commons is not just a resource, as Carlo Vercellone explains, but a mode of production whose basis can be identified in the ‘self-management of the organisation of labour and in the non-appropriability of the main tools of production’ (Vercellone n.d.). Focusing on the resource itself, rather than how it is produced and maintained according to democratic self-management, is likely to permit this kind of corporate capture.

The commons is not (just) a resource

The commons is not a freely accessible resource, then, but a way of producing and managing shared resources. This was the word’s original medieval meaning as used to refer to a particular form of English land. The historian Katrina Navickas explains that land commons in England and Wales were always privately owned, but that local residents (commoners) were granted certain rights of use and access by the lord of the manor (Navickas 2018). This meant that the commons were neither commonly owned nor even publicly accessible, but instead were only available to local commoners for grazing cattle, collecting fuel, wood etc. The commons did not originally entail any form of open, public access to a resource but simply refers to the collective management of certain private lands.

The conflation of open access publishing with the commons is likely based on the association of open access with open-source software and free culture. The early web played host to an array of DIY, participatory cultures of production that resulted in free digital outputs. Consequently, freely available digital resources have acquired a mythical association with participatory and commons-based forms of production, even if their forms of production are firmly embedded in capitalism. One such example of this is the Creative Commons (CC) organisation and their suite of copyright licenses for making research freely available in accordance with conditions on reuse and modifiability.

Creative Commons produces literature (e.g., Stacey and Pearson 2017) framing CC-licensed outputs as alternatives to private- or state-owned creative/scholarly works, claiming that ‘the commons sees resources as common goods, providing a common wealth extending beyond state boundaries, to be passed on in undiminished or enhanced form to future generations’ (ibid). References to the ‘values and norms’ of commoning enhance this rhetoric and affirm CC’s commitment to a new way of operating beyond market and state. Yet, despite its name and ostensible commitment to commons ideals, Creative Commons merely ­­­reflects ordinary intellectual property norms and relations. CC licenses simply designate how a proprietary work can be used; it does not confer ownership of a work to a collective or abandon the idea of private ownership of digital works altogether, nor does it entail that the means of production themselves are in common ownership. Instead, Creative Commons reinforces a private and individualist understanding of intellectual property, and the social hierarchies this entails, especially the association of published scholarship with private property that can be used as a currency for individual career progression within the university.

Creative Commons’ position on intellectual property is reflective of their broader commitment to liberal individualism and private property relations. Lawrence Lessig, one of the organisation’s founders, writes in his book on free culture that: ‘[the] free culture I defend in this book is a balance between anarchy and control. A free culture, like a free market, is filled with property. It is filled with rules of property and contract that get enforced by the state.’ (Lessig 2004, xvi). Lessig sees Creative Commons as a set of resources operating within a capitalist economy that rely on free culture to enhance and improve the business prospects of those who share. This individualism is not only reflected in the attribution requirement for CC-licensed works, which positions the work as sole property of its creator, but it is also noticeable in much of Creative Commons’ framing of the benefits of CC-licensing to the creators, for example: ‘the fact that the name of the creator follows a CC-licensed work makes the licenses an important means to develop a reputation or, in corporate speak, a brand’ (Stacey and Pearson 2017). Creative Commons therefore utilises both the language of progressive politics mixed with the business-friendly hallmarks of branding and innovation.

Despite its influence in scholarly publishing, Creative Commons’ understanding of the ‘commons’ lacks any real meaning as a commons. Not only is CC-licensed work not common property, unlike movements that reject copyright in favour of the public domain, common- or non-ownership, it also says nothing about the ways in which the creative work was brought into being: the labour involved, the profits taken and the governance of such efforts. In order to represent a truly scholar-owned commons, the governance and/or ownership of the publication processes themselves have to at least be taken into account, not just the accessibility of digital resources.

Discussing the commons more generally, Massimo De Angelis writes: ‘The problematising of commons within a project of emancipation thus must not simply rely on lists of isolated objects [emphasis added], but must open up to the internal relations among the components of these lists and the respective commoning’ (De Angelis 2017, 67). When describing something as a commons, then, one should not just refer to the resource itself but look instead to the structures around how it is produced, reproduced and organised. This is why, as De Angelis and Stavrides highlight, a holistic understanding of the commons includes an appreciation of not just the resource (or ‘pooled resources’), but its users (‘the commoners’) and the relationships and practices involved in its maintenance and access (‘commoning’) (De Angelis and Stavrides 2010). Definitions of the commons as a resource are limited because they fail to take into account the informal practices and social relations involved between commoners. From the perspective of an emancipatory commons struggle, I will argue, it is more important to focus on commons praxis than the resource itself.

The commons as a practice

The commons is not just a series of ‘isolated objects’ but refers to the social praxis involved within and across different forms of commons organisation. It is therefore a practice focused on the relationships involved in various forms of production, rather than exclusively (or even primarily) on the resource itself. For some commons theorists such as Elinor Ostrom it is the formalised governance practices that determine these relationships. Ostrom’s Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) Framework is one way of determining how a particular common resource is created, managed and maintained (Hess and Ostrom 2007). This framework relies on extrapolating the best rules of maintenance and access from the resource in question, presupposing a rational, consensus-building approach to the commons.

However, Ostrom’s approach to commons governance is liberal and exclusionary, treating subjects in a political vacuum rather than embedded in a particular situation and entangled in a number of different relationships and projects with asymmetrical power structures. Patrick Bresnihan argues the liberal approach to commoning fails to appreciate this attachment or ‘entangled subjectivity’ and instead treats participants in a commons as ‘calculating, liberal (human) subject[s] separated from a world of other liberal subjects and discrete, measurable (non-human) resources’ (Bresnihan 2016, 7). A similar point is made by Fred Saunders who argues that the conception of a ‘rational resource user’ in the commons fails to adequately account for a ‘meaningful consideration of local norms, values and interests in commons projects’ (Saunders 2014).

Indeed, any such ‘neutral’ approach to a commons, especially one that is agnostic (and therefore tacitly favourable) towards commercial organisations, will strive to homogenise local conditions that favour the business over the commoners. Tom Slee makes a similar point regarding software design for improving urban commons, such as those created and implemented by the Code for America organisation, that: ‘seek to force the uniqueness of individual cities into standardised frameworks in order to build software that works across many cities. The very idea of a one-size-fits-all solution to bottom-up city innovation is flawed, because every application that is successfully implemented in a large number of cities erodes the uniqueness that makes the city distinct’ (Slee 2016, 157). Large, all-encompassing commons that aim for a consensual interoperability will therefore nullify the nuanced local arrangements in favour of a simple solutions that benefit those with most power and capital.

The commons, then, is best positioned as a struggle that recognises the micro-political situations of each commons and the need for experimentation into alternatives and ways of resistance. A more historical perspective of the agricultural commons as the centre of medieval English life reveals that it has always been such a struggle. Silvia Federici illustrates how, contrary to naïve historical understandings that portray feudal society as harmonious, the medieval village was a ‘theater of daily warfare’ (Federici 2004, 26). Lords would try to limit peasant access to common land through litigation, taxation and demands that peasants carry out certain ‘labour services’ on the lord’s land (ibid). Jean Birrell describes how in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries lords were continually litigating against commoners for using more of the commons than laws permitted, despite that ‘the erosion of pastures and woodland inevitably reduced the area in which they could be exercised, while the number of commoners increased’ (Birrell 1987, 23).

So, the commons was always a struggle for particular communities to reclaim access to the land and resources traditionally managed as part of their way of life. We can extend this idea of the struggle to an understanding of the commons today, particularly in the face of privatisation of scholarly publishing, higher education and societal commons more generally. In trying to reframe open access publishing as a form of commons, it is necessary to appreciate that commoning is a practice that can operate outside of a self-defined commons site and within areas dominated by capital (and that emancipatory practices of commoning may be absent from self-described commons projects, as I have shown with Creative Commons). We see glimpses of the commons through various practices of commoning in already existing open access projects that may be latent and thus requiring drawing out and joining up.

Radical Open Access and care-full commoning

We can thus reconceive of radical open access publishing as a commons not because of the resources that radical open access publishers make available, nor even because they are governed according to any particular rules or not-for-profit philosophy, but because the presses are involved in various forms of commoning – which is to say informal practices of care, resilience and shared enterprise within and across various institutional arrangements positioned towards a shared horizon of reclaiming the common. Care in this sense is relational rather than end-directed: it is a situated practice.

Joan Tronto and Berenice Fisher define care as ‘everything that we do to maintain, continue and repair “our world” so that we can live in it as well as possible’ (Tronto 1993, 103). ‘Our world’ is key here. Commoning is not prescriptive but requires us to respond to the situations of commoners rather than assuming everyone needs the same level of attention. From the perspective of publishing, this means departing from a cookie-cutter approach to open access that sets a limit on what is covered within a publishing service and what is not, much like common commercial forms of open access based on article-processing charges.

Perhaps most importantly, care as commoning exists outside of self-defined ‘commons sites’. Massimo De Angelis illustrates how commoning can manifest as forms of resistance inside factories, schools and other institutions dominated by capital (De Angelis and Stavrides 2010). We can point to the practices of teach-outs and mutual reliance on display during this year’s UCU strikes as an example commoning in the service of reclaiming higher education as a common good. Similarly, projects within the Radical Open Access Collective promote a form of commoning based on collaboration and support for each other’s projects, despite not necessarily identifying as a ‘commons’ itself. Thinking about commoning as care in this way moves away from the idea of a self-defined commons resource and towards acts of care that operate horizontally across a range of institutions. I would like to argue that the struggles for radical open access and commons-based higher education are themselves inseparable from collective forms of resistance and action towards an emancipatory but ever-evolving horizon. The commons is therefore a situated practice of care positioned towards a commons horizon.


Birrell, Jean. 1987. “Common Rights in the Medieval Forest: Disputes and Conflicts in the Thirteenth Century”. Past & Present, no. 117: 22–49.

Bresnihan, Patrick. 2016. “The More-than-Human Commons: From Commons to Commoning”. Space, Power and the Commons: The Struggle for Alternative Futures. New York: Routledge.

De Angelis, Massimo. 2017. Omnia Sunt Communia: On the Commons and the Transformation to Postcapitalism. London: Zed Books.

De Angelis, Massimo, and Stavros Stavrides. 2010. “On the Commons: A Public Interview with Massimo De Angelis and Stavros Stavrides”. E-Flux, 2010.

Federici, Silvia. 2004. Caliban and the Witch. New York: Autonomedia.

Gapper, John. 2017. “Facebook Faces the Tragedy of the Commons”. Financial Times. 29 November 2017.

Hess, Charlotte, and Elinor Ostrom. 2007. Understanding Knowledge as a Commons : From Theory to Practice. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.

Lessig, Lawrence. 2004. Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock down Culture and Control Creativity. New York: Penguin Press.

Navickas, Katrina. 2018. “Common Land and Common Misconceptions”. History of Public Space (blog). 2018.

Rushe, Dominic. 2017. “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: Dockless Bikes and the Tragedy of the Commons”. The Guardian, 5 November 2017, sec. Politics.

Saunders, Fred. 2014. “The Promise of Common Pool Resource Theory and the Reality of Commons Projects”. International Journal of the Commons 8 (2).

Schonfeld, Roger C. 2017. “Reflections on ‘Elsevier Acquires Bepress'”. ITHAKA S+R (blog). 2017.

Slee, Tom. 2016. What’s Yours Is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy. Toronto: Between the Lines.

Stacey, Paul, and Sarah Hinchliff Pearson. 2017. Made with Creative Commons.

Tronto, Joan C. 1993. Moral Boundaries: A Political Argument for an Ethic of Care. New York: Routledge.

Vercellone, Carlo. n.d. “The Common as a Mode of Production. Towards a Critique of the Political Economy of Common Goods”.


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New article on scholar-led publishing

Janneke Adema and I have an article published today in Insights entitled: ‘Collectivity and collaboration: imagining new forms of communality to create resilience in scholar-led publishing’.


The Radical Open Access Collective (ROAC) is a community of scholar-led, not-for-profit presses, journals and other open access (OA) projects. The collective promotes a progressive vision for open access based on mutual alliances between the 45+ member presses and projects seeking to offer an alternative to commercial and legacy models of publishing. This article presents a case study of the collective, highlighting how it harnesses the strengths and organizational structures of not-for-profit, independent and scholar-led publishing communities by 1) further facilitating collective efforts through horizontal alliances, and by 2) enabling vertical forms of collaboration with other agencies and organizations within scholarly publishing. It provides a background to the origins of the ROAC, its members, its publishing models on display and its future plans, and highlights the importance of experimenting with and promoting new forms of communality in not-for-profit OA publishing.

You can read it here:

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Google Books and labour erasure in the digital humanities

I’m currently prepping to teach an article by Jean-Baptiste Michel and colleagues (paywalled) that presents an early (if not the first) analysis of the content digitised as part of the Google Books project. I ended up going down a rabbit hole trying to understand how the 25+ million books were actually scanned, as it wasn’t immediately clear. This is from the supplementary methods section of the article itself:

We describe the way books are scanned and digitized. For publisher-provided books, Google removes the spines and scans the pages with industrial sheet-fed scanners. For library-provided books, Google uses custom-built scanning stations designed to impose only as much wear on the book as would result from someone reading the book. As the pages are turned, stereo cameras overhead photograph each page, as shown in Figure S15.

‘Google’ is being euphemistically used here to mean human labour, though the term is employed in a way so that the reader might think the whole process is automated rather than undertaken by humans. There is no actual mention of the scanning undertaken by humans at all.

From digging further, it is clear that the labour was indeed provided by people, and as Leah Henrickson shows in “The Darker Side of Digitization“, many of these book-scanners seem to be people of colour (which is anecdotally confirmed in an interview Henrickson cites with artist Andrew Norman Wilson). There are a number of sites on the web that collate human glitches in Google Book scanning (see image below from this New Yorker article on the ‘Art of Google Books‘), many of which reveal the handiwork of people of colour. Henrickson refers to a source (of questionable reliability) that states how ‘the average Google book-scanner earned $24,000 USD in 2008’. Assuming this is close to being true (and it’s not hard to imagine it is) it’s apparent that Google did not value this work any greater than minimum wage — Henrickson claims that it must be ‘the most unenjoyable job at Google’.


It is striking how the authors of the article I was reading fail to mention the labour involved in scanning these books, bearing in mind that this is one of the first articles to utilise Google Books as a subject of analysis (and Google themselves are listed as authors). What’s more, all the authors (as far as I can tell) are men and the majority white, senior academics in their field; there is thus a sharp distinction between women of colour as a resource for the creative uses of men. I’m reminded of Silvia Federici’s critical analysis that under capitalism ‘women themselves became the commons, as their work was defined as a natural resource, laying outside the spheres of market relations’ (Caliban and the Witch, 2004, p. 97).

The erasure of the labour of women and people of colour is no new thing, nor is the erasure of labour in the digital humanities (or ‘big data’ fields in general). Yet this is one of the starkest examples I’ve seen of both at once, especially as it looks like the authors of the paper went to lengths to erase this labour and imply that it is simply undertaken by machines. This was undervalued, poorly paid work undertaken largely by marginalised people and should have been acknowledged. Please remember this if your academic research has to utilise such labour, be it via Google Books, Mechanical Turk or student interns.



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The Radical Open Access Collective: building alliances for a progressive, scholar-led commons

This a repost of a piece Janneke Adema and I wrote on Radical OA for the LSE Impact Blog:

This week saw the launch of a new website for the Radical Open Access Collective, a vibrant community of presses, journals, publishing projects, and organisations all invested in not-for-profit and scholar-led forms of academic publishing. The members of this collective showcase the wide variety of alternative forms and models of open access publishing currently experimented with, mainly in the humanities and social sciences. This in a context where, although open access is now finally gaining ground, the spirit of experimentation that originally fuelled this movement is being progressively sidelined by a growing reliance on and implementation of specific, market-driven open access publishing models (particularly those connected to exorbitant article and book processing charges); models which do not necessarily suit, support or sustain open access publishing in the humanities and social sciences, but which do serve commercial stakeholders’ interests and the current publishing status quo.

The Radical OA Collective reminds us that Radical-OA-Collective-square.jpgexperimentation with new forms of publishing remains essential, and that open access has always been about more than just improving access to research. As a movement open access has also focused on exploring and promoting not-for-profit, institutional and academic-led publishing alternatives, for example. This is to provide a counterpoint to the commercial legacy system and the vast profits it extracts from our scholarly research and communication interactions. This system has posed specific risks to specialised book publishing in the humanities, to the publication of books by early-career researchers, and to the dissemination of research from those working in the global south or writing in languages other than English; all of which, although essential to sustaining the scholarly conversation, often lack a direct market appeal. To counter this the Radical OA Collective highlights the importance of making publishing more diverse, equitable, and open to change, where it wants to ensure that new and underrepresented cultures of knowledge are able to have a voice. Members of the collective therefore work together to champion the variety of alternative models for scholarly communication that currently exist, and the collective is keen to build alliances with other initiatives interested in building a collaborative and non-competitive publishing ecosystem; one which supports a progressive and multi-polar knowledge commons.

During open access week, we’d like to highlight three examples of what radical open access, and the Radical OA Collective specifically, brings to open access.

1. A focus on experimentation

Members of the collective do not shy away from asking difficult questions about what publishing is and, with that, what it can become. Many initiatives within the collective see their publishing projects as an extension of their own critical work and a way to explore different modes of publishing, often deterred by our (still very paper-centric) established publishing forms and practices. As such they have been keen to experiment with publication forms, models, processes, relations, and agencies, cutting through the stabilisations within scholarly publishing–from the fixed book to the single author–that, often uncritically, have become disciplinary norms. This open-ended critical experimenting has become a guiding principle for many initiatives to explore the potentially more politically and ethically progressive possibilities made possible by technological developments and digital tools; to investigate how these might impact on the ways in which research will be conducted, disseminated and consumed in the future. As an ongoing critical process, experimenting can therefore be seen as a form of intervention into the object-formation and increasing marketisation of publishing and academia.

Many of the projects involved in the collective see open access as essential to enabling these new forms of (digital) experimentation. This may be through communal authoring and editing of wiki books (see Open Humanities Press’ Living Books about Life series); anonymous or collective authorship (in the case of an Uncertain Commons, for example); or multimodal or digital-only publications, publishing platforms and software (including ground-breaking initiatives such as Vectors and Scalar, but also newer projects, such as electric press and Textshop Experiments) next to projects that want to focus on what openness means for images and visual forms of communication (i.e. Photomediations Machine) for example. But alongside experiments such as these we also want to highlight projects that aim to cut across both disciplinary boundaries and distinctions between practice and theory (for example Goldsmiths Press, which also focuses on publishing literary and artistic works), as well as scholarly communities that are experimenting with the creation of new communities and social networks to share research and establish cross-disciplinary alliances (from MediaCommons Press, to The BABEL Working Group and Humanities Commons).

2. Underrepresented cultures

One of the main motivations underlying the Radical OA Collective concerns the promotion of diversity and equitability within academic publishing, and this entails the creation of environments where traditionally underrepresented cultures can fully participate. This includes presses and alliances that promote publishing and collaboration in specific regions; for example CLACSO, which brings together hundreds of research centres and graduate schools in the social sciences and humanities, predominantly in Latin American countries, or African Minds, which, next to publishing works from African academics or organisations, has conducted in depth research on the state of the university press in Africa. Members also promote publishing in different languages; see, for example, Éditions Science et Bien Commun, a Quebec-based press publishing research by and for francophone countries in the Global South, or meson press, which (next to books in English) is keen to publish and translate media theory books in German.

There is also a focus on providing opportunities to early-career researchers to publish, and not only to publish but to help them directly with the publishing process and familiarise themselves with it. Mattering Press, which originates from a peer-support group of early-career researchers, in particular wants to stimulate those at the beginning of their academic careers, as do publications such as Capacious: Journal for Emerging Affect Inquiry, dedicated to the publication of writings and creative works by degree-seeking students. punctum books is well-known for providing space for the publication of works of so-called “para-academic” theorists and practitioners, often independent or precariously employed researchers or those in so-called “alt-ac” positions. These projects and the collective as a whole are dedicated to opening up scholarship to publics that are new or currently underserved, including those writing on niche topics or conducting experimental research for which the commercial publishing market doesn’t always provide a space.

3. Ethics of care

One of the things for which the Radical OA Collective stands out is its members’ focus on the ethics and politics of publishing. For example, many initiatives foreground an ethics of care, as part of which publishing is understood as a relational practice, highlighting and caring for the relationships involved throughout the publishing process, from authors, editors and reviewers to typesetters, copy-editors, indexers and beyond. This involves, amongst others, paying, rewarding or otherwise acknowledging people fairly for their labour wherever possible, while ensuring that the efforts of volunteers are not exploited or overly relied upon. Well aware of the high amounts of volunteer labour that academic-led initiatives depend on, the collective has made this one of its focal points, writing about and discussing the diverse forms of labour academic publishing relies upon, arguing for it to be valued more in various ways (that are not necessarily monetary).  A focus on labour issues is all the more important in a predominantly commercial publishing environment, given the large amounts of academic volunteer labour (from peer reviewing to editing, to liking and bookmarking and building relationships in exchange for usage data in SSRNs) that is needed to sustain it and maintain the exorbitant profits its stakeholders have come to expect.

The Radical OA Collective therefore seeks to redirect this volunteer labour where possible towards more progressive forms of publishing, for example by shifting it away from commercial profit-driven publishers and gifting it to developing not-for-profit open access projects instead. Related to this is a commitment to taking time and care with regard to the published object itself, something that is often lacking in profit-oriented modes of publishing. But perhaps most important, as Eileen Joy of punctum books writes, is for the collective to care for “ourselves and each other” in the face of marketised cultures of higher education that require researchers to work long hours and think of themselves as “brands”:

“This would be to think of Community, or the Collective, as a sort of ‘mutual admiration society’, but also as a Convalescent Ward, in which ‘taking care’ (of ourselves and each other) would be more important than ‘performing’ according to so-called ‘professional’ standards and protocols.”

Next to bringing together this community of people eager to change publishing, to make it better and more just, the collective wants to support other academics eager to set up their own presses and projects, or those disillusioned with the commercial solutions currently on offer. We share advice and offer support from those within the community who have already gained experience with publishing in this manner and are willing to help others in a horizontal and non-competitive manner. We have started to formalise this through the creation of an information portal with links to resources on funding opportunities for open access books, open-source publishing tools, guidelines on editing standards, ethical publishing and diversity in publishing, and OA literature useful to not-for-profit publishing endeavours. We want to turn this into a toolkit for not-for-profit publishers in the future (and this will be of use not only to academic-led presses, but hopefully also to university presses, and library-run and society publishers, for example). We have also set up a directory of academic-led presses, to help legitimise this form of publishing as a “model” and make scholars aware that there are publishing alternatives out there.

If you run a not-for-profit OA publishing initiative or are interested in starting your own scholar-led publishing project, we encourage you to join the Radical OA mailing list and help us further build this supportive and inclusive publishing environment.

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Radical Open Access Collective

The new and updated website for the Radical Open Access Collective website is now live!

Untitled-2.pngFormed in 2015, the Radical OA Collective is a community of scholar-led, not-for-profit presses, journals and other open access projects in the humanities and social sciences. We represent an alternative open access ecosystem and seek to create a different future for open access, one based on experimenting with not-for-profit, scholar-led approaches to publishing. You can read more about the philosophy behind the collective here:

As a collective, we offer mutual reliance and support for each other’s projects by sharing the knowledge and resources we have acquired. Through our projects we also aim to provide advice, support and encouragement to academics and other not-for-profit entities interested in setting up their own publishing initiatives. The current website contains a Directory of academic-led presses, which showcases the breadth and rich diversity in scholar-led presses currently operating in an international context and across numerous fields, and an Information Portal with links to resources on funding opportunities for open access books, open source publishing tools, guidelines on editing standards, ethical publishing and diversity in publishing, and OA literature useful to not-for-profit publishing endeavours. We will be further developing this into a toolkit for open access publishing in order to encourage and support others to start their own publishing projects. If you run a not-for-profit OA publishing initiative or are interested in starting your own scholar-led publishing project, we encourage you to join the Radical OA mailing list and get involved with the discussion!

Please do get in touch if you would like further information on the project or would like your publishing project to be involved.

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New article – A genealogy of open access: negotiations between openness and access to research

I have a new article published in Revue française des sciences de l’information et de la communication (French Information and Communication Sciences Review). The piece is entitled ‘A genealogy of open access: negotiations between openness and access to research’ and looks at the various histories and lineages of OA to argue that it is best understood as a boundary object rather than a concept with a fixed definition or entailing a specific approach.

You can read it here:

The article is part of an issue on open science and open access (‘Libre accès aux publications et sciences ouvertes en débat’), which features some really interesting work from a range of researchers working in both French and English.



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