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

My PhD thesis aims to provide the practical and theoretical foundations for a new ecosystem of open-access (OA) scholarly publishing for the humanities that is distinct from both traditional toll-access publishing and the OA system as advocated by the UK governmental funding agencies.

Throughout the thesis I develop an argument that the intervention into open access by the UK governmental funding agencies (HEFCE and RCUK), in the form of open access mandates, is overall detrimental to humanities scholarship as broadly defined. The policies are somewhat contradictory with respect to open access, which is in part due to the complex lineage of OA itself, and continue to treat scholarship as a commodity rather than a common good for use by all. This is compounded by the absence of any movement towards open access monographs, which is vital if the humanities are to be included.

Simultaneously, humanities disciplines have developed their own specific epistemic practices and it is unclear that the dominant forms of OA publishing currently meet the requirements of humanities researchers. This is true against the backdrop of a humanities that is receiving less funding and training more PhD students for fewer academic job opportunities, especially in the context of the marketization of higher education. It is also true that the humanities have been shaped by the material conditions of the book: e.g., the printed codex forces a particular kind of long-form, linear argument, usually by a lone author. Any exploration into the future of humanities publishing should therefore respond to how and why humanities publishing practices have developed.

However, there are many projects on the fringes of open-access publishing that confront and explore these issues, seeking to reorient publishing in favour of a new humanities, but that remain economically precarious and alienated from the mainstream. Such projects tend to be small and self–reliant but would also benefit from infrastructures that foster mutual cooperation and shared resources.

Given the above, the thesis seeks to understand the conditions and possibilities for another way forward: one that is simultaneously sympathetic to the publishing practices of humanities researchers, but also seeks to reorient publishing for the betterment of humanities disciplines. This strategy, I argue, should be routed in commons-based peer-production organised through cooperative institutional networks of university libraries and scholar-led progressive publishers. Such a network would provide the economic, organisational and technological foundation for new, experimental and distributed forms of publishing that treat knowledge as a common good for a more democratic and vibrant public sphere. This alternative network represents the kind of initiative that should be funded initially at the governmental level and I offer a plan for how such a network could be realised.

See my draft table of contents for more