New Issue of Anthropologies: Occupy and Open Access

The March 2012 issue of Anthropologies is out, and editor Ryan Anderson has put together an important collection on anthropology, the open access movement inside the field, and how anthropologists are engaging with the Occupy movement. This issue is so full of good ideas, good review of literature and writing, and well-articulated taking of positions. I hope it is widely-read, as it has the potential to mark a shift towards a new way of doing anthropology, a new articulation for the field that won’t be found in any other journal.

I am going to give an overview first, and then provide choice sections from each of the nine essays.

What comes across most clearly in this issue is that we as anthropologists are among the 1%. We as US anthropologists, with access to AAA journals and universities with incredible built-up assets, can spend our time in research and commentary, backed by a wealth of time and a privilege of education to do work we love. Most of the 99%, inside or outside the United States, have nothing like that in their lives. What are we going to do about that?

This is our Writing Culture moment. We have realized that we are in an unsustainable position as a field, one that is both ethically and methodologically off. But this time more “reflexivity” is not the answer. Indeed, the problems are more like those that have been gradually overcome between the fixed positions of sociobiologists and post-modernists, each convinced they are right and with little ground in the middle. Overcoming that opposition took several decades, and happened through a gradual process of engagement and reaching out on both sides, and yet it still comes up to bite anthropologists in the ass, such as happened with the word “science” in the AAA’s vision.

Put differently, there is not an intellectual solution to our own political economy (our publishing), nor a singular answer to how we engage with change pragmatically and ethically and theoretically (what “occupy” highlights). But these issues do require serious reflection and serious doing. They also challenge anthropologists to “get on the right side of history.” And making that move is difficult, precisely because it can seem so antithetical to our well-honed ivory tower reflexivity and the assumptions that we have carried forward from the divisive debates of the past, that science is the answer or that we are infinitely flexible and all perspectives are equally valid.

So I see this special issue raising important discussion related to three important issues:

-Production of and access to our research and ideas

-How we relate to social change and social and economic justice and to participatory forms of change and engagement

-The shift to a pragmatic anthropology, a moral anthropology (and what that means), an anthropology that makes a difference

Okay, onto the issue itself. I want to start with the last piece, written by Ryan Anderson. In “Anthropology and Occupy,” Ryan engages with the considerable amount of literature that has already been written since last fall (almost all of it online). As pointed out on Information Fluency about some of my own work in this area, this coverage is a new type of literature review – gathering together and reflecting on what is happening related to vital topics in a field, at a pace and with a breadth of coverage (and links!) that just cannot be matched by literature reviews in journals. As Information Fluency puts it:

This is a new kind of literature review, a way of collating, summarizing, and analyzing an issue as it erupts across the web. [These] literature reviews will be less comprehensive and more about filtering out the most significant scholarly publications on an issue.

There are three other pieces that center on the occupy movements, my own piece on Why We Protest, Laurence Cuelenaere’s Picturing Direct Action, where the photo above appears, and Kyle Schmidlin on Occupy Austin. I particularly like Kyle’s piece for the way it explores the ambivalence of the Occupy movement, and the ambivalence of an anthropologist’s engagement with it. This sort of sorting through of what something means on the ground and inside ourselves is a crucial part of how this scholarship can move forward.

The other four pieces focus more on open access, but often drawing inspiration from the occupy movement. Together these four show why open access matters professionally, ethically, and in the context of powerful economies changing the academy. Doug Rocks-Macqueen in The Last Days of Rome is particularly powerful on that last point, that the present publishing model used by the academy is unsustainable and is particularly detrimental to libraries and to people who want to publish book. Jason Jackson delivers a powerful essay on why ethically we need to change as scholars in how we approach publishing in his piece We are the One Percent: Open Access in the Era of Occupy Wall Street. How can we be so informed and critical towards those outside the academy, and then such bumblers with blinders on when looking at ourselves?

Barbara Fister presents us the occupy view from libraries themselves in The Public Versus Publishers: How Scholars and Activists are Occupying the Library. I so like the way she ends, for this point is so easy to forget as I type away here at my home and get my articles through online access through the USF library. Her words point to a broader vision of what libraries have been and must be going forward:

Libraries are a recognition that scholarship and culture are more than the business of creating and consuming. They are a human conversation, and libraries provide common ground where that conversation can take place and be remembered. By taking aim at the right for the public to maintain this conversation and its memory, publishers have shown us what we have to lose. It’s time we resisted the outsourcing of our common heritage by occupying the library.

Finally, Kim and Mike Fortun deliver the brass tacks of how we can actually take a journal, including one as prominent as Cultural Anthropology, and make it open access with their piece Liberating Cultural Anthropology. Their post covers the financing and the editorial process for such an open-access journal. This is that pragmatic anthropology, aimed directly at how we can better manage our own political economy rather than simply take it as given to us by others.

That’s my overview. Head over to Anthropologies to access all the articles in their entirety, and to comment on specific ones. But I also want to do some of my own “literature review” right here, and provide those quotes that struck me as capturing something important in each, and thus help us have a larger vision of why anthropology can open itself up with its own effort to occupy our daily practices.


Ryan Anderson, Introduction: Anthropologies of Access

Anthropology is fairly behind the times when it comes to OA, and we could pick up a thing or two from others… We just have to be open to learning, listening, and thinking creatively when it comes to writing, publishing, and sharing anthropology.

What is the whole Occupy movement really all about? What were people trying to do? At heart, I’d say that those movements and protests were about voicing frustrations. Frustrations with not only the big, abstract global economy–but also the local economies and politics that affect people in their day to day lives… When it comes to academia, then, what’s the equivalent of pitching a tent and making claims about the direction of our academic commons?

Barbara Fister, The Public Versus Publishers: How Scholars and Activists are Occupying the Library

Over the past ten years, scholarship has been massively privatized; library access to journals is now almost largely outsourced to corporations, and soon scholarly books will be licensed the same way, in digital bundles. Public libraries, coming to the digital fray late, are battling commercial book publishers who, one by one, are refusing to allow libraries to loan books published in digital form. Already endangered by cuts in public funding, public libraries are now being told by publishers that sharing in any form is a threat to their business model and will no longer be tolerated.

Kim Fortun & Mike Fortun, Liberating Cultural Anthropology: A Thought Experiment

Less than a decade ago, the AAA self-published all its journals and newsletters. Despite – or perhaps because of — this, AAA today does not think that self-publishing is a sustainable strategy, and believes it needs the services (copyediting, metadata-ing, promoting and marketing) and revenues Wiley Blackwell provides…

Whatever the “value added” to a journal article by any commercial publishing partner, it is a pale shadow of the base value provided freely by passionate authors, generous reviewers, and committed editors. This core strength of the system is astounding, and astoundingly important, and should never be minimized or dismissed. This is our work, made from and with our interlocutors and colleagues, and we insist that it be available to anyone who wants to read it…

The process and budget put forward here is one sketch, open to additional refinement and revision. We put it forward to advance discussions of alternative publishing models that is aware of the “brass tacks,” and motivated by an ethical and political economic sense that change is necessary

Jason Baird Jackson, We are the One Percent: Open Access in the Era of Occupy Wall Street

How it is that the same scholars who can produce such nuanced, complex, critical accounts of the workings of power and capital, of mediascapes, of speculation, of neoliberalism, of privatization and enclosure, of circulation, of exploitive labor practices, of union-busting, of social change, of technology, of educational practices, of inequality, of law, of injustice, of everything that matters—past and present—could seemingly be so out of touch when it comes to the political economy of the scholarly publishing system to which they contribute free labor as editors and peer-reviewers, through which they circulate their research findings, and from which their scholarly organizations increasingly extract rents that their home institutions, their students, and their societies cannot afford (and should not need) to pay? …

Especially for a field that studies, and relies upon the goodwill of, people (the 99%) and that aspires to be, and certainly can be, engaging, accessible, and useful outside the groves of academe, the reality of 1% access and the dream of 3% access should be absolutely unacceptable (Kelty et al. 2008:564). In a world filled with lifelong learners seeking knowledge, desperate social problems needing redress, rapid cultural change to be negotiated, and nearly boundless deprivation and suffering, we have unprecedented need for an anthropological scholarship that is widely and freely available.

Doug Rocks-Macqueen, The Last Days of Rome: The Rise of Open Access and the Fall of For-profit Publishers

The reprieve given by the big deals can only last so long and in the meantime many journals are still being squeezed out of publication. As noted by the outgoing editor of Cultural Anthropology, in an open letter to the AAA Committee on the Future of Print and Electronic Publishing , subscriptions to several key AAA journals fell by 20% between 2007 and 2009 (American Anthropologist 1683 to 1361, American Ethnologist 887 to 720, Cultural Anthropology 485 to 387) with fear that these numbers would drop even more once institutions leave their contracts (Fortun 2010). Decreasing subscriptions can only lead to increasing prices.

Moreover the increasing costs of journals, while down from peek increases of 20% (figure 1), are still not at a sustainable level and libraries are quickly running out of room to manoeuvre their budgets. In an ironic twist on the AAA statement that their journals help monographs (AAA 2011), journals are actually killing off books at an incredible rate. The number of books university libraries buy has fallen from 2-3,000 per book run in 1970 to below 200 now (Gardiner & Musto 2004; Greco &. Wharton 2008; Thompson 2005). Most universities now only spend 20% of their acquisition budgets (Publishers Communication Group 2011), in some cases less than 10% (Wiehle 2007), on books. Books once commanded two-thirds of these same budgets. Libraries can no longer cut books in hopes of keeping pace with rising prices of journals.

This situation is how Open Access wins in the end. The current publishing model of hiding content behind a pay wall cannot cope with the large amounts of research being produced. There is simply not enough money available to pay for the current publishing model.

Kyle Schmidlin, Occupy Austin

Characteristic of the movement is a vague sense of directional anger, much like the Tea Party, and their anger is focused in the same general direction – moneyed politicians and financial institutions. Actually, my central disagreement with Occupy from the outset was its focus on economic matters, which don’t particularly interest me. But despite the freedom of anyone to speak at the General Assembly, there is a real reservation on my part to use the podium as a preaching opportunity about ending wars, decriminalizing “sin” activities like drug use, prostitution and gambling, and wiping out personal debt, among other things.

This, to me, is why Occupy has stalled. Meetings have focused on what the movement should do next, but by and large the political and social issues are not discussed in any depth – except in the case of the reading group, which has been my main avenue of participation.

Ryan Anderson, Anthropology and Occupy

As I said at the outset, this is just a cursory look at what’s out there when it comes to anthropology and the Occupy Movements. Surely there is more–and please feel free to share your links and citations in the comments section. My main question here, at the end, is what role anthropology can play in understanding complex, contradictory, and contested social movements like this. What can anthropologists tell us about what happened? What perspectives can they add that differ from the sound bites and short clips on the six o’clock news? I am also really fascinated with the question of participation–should anthropologists actively take part in these sorts of movements? If so, to what extent?

Daniel Lende, Why We Protest

Antrosio’s work highlights a third notion, as does Parker’s cartoon. It is also a notion that Margaret Mead embraced, that anthropology can be a light towards the future, against our own misguided, indeed unscientific and uninformed notions. Even more, it can help us inform our strivings towards progress, towards a better place for ourselves and those we love.

As we talked about in class today, one derived thing that distinguishes us from ants, and even from chimpanzees, is a synthesis of emotion and value and social convention, coupled with our ability to reflect on the future and to exercise agency towards something better for ourselves. That is our anthropological nature, revealing the possibility of many anthropologies – or ways of being – for ourselves.

The photo at top comes from Laurence Cuelenaere’s photo essay, Picturing Direct Action.

These pictures, taken at the Occupy Boston encampment on Dewey Square, are not intended to document the struggle for social justice (always imbued by discourses on rights subject to the approval of the state), but to join the action taken against the belief in endless progress that binds the logic of capital to the state.

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3 Responses to New Issue of Anthropologies: Occupy and Open Access

  1. Pingback: Occupy and Open Access in Anthropologies (and Elsewhere) | Shreds and Patches

  2. daniel.lende says:

    Some good – and critical – commentary on this piece, particularly my provocative 1% characterization, happening over on Occupy Anthropology on Facebook:

    I object to this: “we as anthropologists are among the 1%. We… can spend our time in research and commentary, backed by a wealth of time and a privilege of education to do work we love.” Please, academic aristocracy, do not speak for the rest of us.

    Wow, for real! We’re so confused about class we can’t even understand that what we’re talking about is the vast gulf between people who make money from money and people who work for a living—even if that work is brain work. Kropotkin, of course, more than a century ago called for a combination of physical and intellectual labor! I’d be more than happy to be able to organize my life in such a manner.

    In a tweet they also directed me to the website, The Adjunct Project, which highlights the treatment of “contingent faculty” by different universities, including a data set that documents the varying treatment.

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  3. Hi Daniel,

    I enjoyed this piece very much–thank you for the round-up and commentary. By “we as anthropologists are among the 1%” it just needs to be much more precise: tenure-track anthropologists in the U.S. with immediate and free access to research articles are among the 1% in relationship to their true peers and public.

    And although I think I know what you are saying about the Writing Culture moment, at least some anthropologists view that as the moment when anthropology decided to become even more insular and navel-gazing, reinforcing academic hierarchies and deciding that the aesthetics of re-reading texts trumped fieldwork and engagement. I know others don’t see that and have disputed such claims, but it is still a perception. At the risk of being old-fashioned and problematic in other ways, is this our Ruth Benedict moment? Before publishing Patterns of Culture in 1934:

    “She debated with friends and her editor the merits and demerits of over fifty titles for the book, worried about the colour of its cover, rewrote its blurb several times, insisted that its price be as low as possible, and got Mead to publicize it in conversations and reviews.”
    – Jeremy MacClancy, “Popularizing Anthropology” (1996:32)

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