Friday, February 8, 2008

Boycott? I think not.

I fully support open-access scholarship, but find danah boyd's recent post on boycotting "locked-down" journals naive at best, and offensive at worst.

First of all, I think she overstates the "lock-down." I've published articles with Sage and Taylor&Francis, and was able to publish almost identical draft versions here. All I did was hand-write that provision onto my contract before I signed it, and no one ever objected. And while I agree that there is some sort of "black market" economy for exchanging articles, I'm willing to accept this as a viable tactic against an over-arching publication for profit strategy. In my experience, one of the quickest ways to alienate people from your cause is to invalidate existing acts of resistance because they don't fit your model. That's just scientific positivism applied to personal politics, and I don't like playing the "my politics are better than your politics" game.

This brings me to my main objection: danah's overall tone is so patronising to academics that I can't help but feel insulted. I mean, really, how do unsupported claims like this one - "If scholars are publishing for audiences of zero, no wonder no one respects them" - help our shared cause of reforming academic publishing?

Danah's position disrespects years of scholarship and community, and it dismisses outright the possibility that an academic might find genuine pride, or satisfaction, or joy in such work. Surely good ethnographers would want to ask a scholar what she gets out of a given practice before they tell her, or speak for her? And as an early career academic, I was most unimpressed by being given the option of becoming a "punk" or "conservative" scholar:

"Young punk scholars: Publish only in open-access journals in protest, especially if you're in a new field. This may cost you advancement or tenure, but you know it's the right thing to do...

More conservative young scholars: publish what you need to get tenure and then stop publishing in closed venues immediately upon acquiring tenure. I understand why you feel the need to follow the rules. This is fine, but make a point by stopping this practice the moment you don't need it."

What is this, high school? I honestly fail to see how this "open" model gives me any more space to manoeuvre as a scholar, or as a human being.

In any case, Mel Gregg also takes issue with danah's "capacity to diagnose the pitfalls of an entire industry and the motivations of all of us who choose to work in it" and I appreciated Jason Wilson's comments on how journal publishing actually works. But since I also really like constructive criticism, and I haven't provided any alternatives here, I'll second Alex Halavais' suggestion:

"If you want to find the Achilles heal, the catalyst that would get things moving much faster, it's easy enough: follow the money. Pressure NSF, MacArthur, etc., to require open publication for all funded research. Get state legislatures to do the same for state schools: if you get a summer grant or fellowship, your work needs to be published in public, so that the public who paid for it can access it."

I encourage Canadian citizens and researchers to contact the following organisations to voice your opinions on these matters:

SSHRC | NSERC | Killam Trusts

Researchers can also apply for funding from the Government of Canada's Intellectual Property Mobilization Program (IPM).

Canadian Intellectual Property Office | HRSDC Learning and Post-Secondary Education | Provincial Ministries of Education

Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada
| Canadian Federation of Students

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Anonymous anne said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

Anonymous anne said...

i'm not comfortable deleting reader comments because i really do believe that free speech exists to protect the opinions of people i disagree with.

someone posted an anonymous comment here this morning that i responded to with as much tolerance as i could muster, but after re-reading it i've decided to delete it.

disagreeing with someone is just fine, but slanderous comments (signed or not) are unacceptable.

Anonymous zephoria said...

Anne - I'm sorry that my tone upset you. I know that you get frustrated when I use my blog to rant. I know that you hate when I use hyperbole on my blog rather than taking the academic route of making claims and substantiating them with data. I'm sorry to have offended you.

My hope is that you can look past that and see the tone for what it was meant to be. You know me well enough to know that when I use terms like "punk" I'm not referring back to Hebdige, but rather referencing the play-by-your-own-rules tendency of the subcultures that I grew up with. Likewise, my use of conservative here is not an ode to a political stance, but to a more cautionary/traditional set of practices as implied by the original meaning of the term.

I'm sorry that you see what I'm saying as patronizing. This is not my intent at all, but I'm sure that you know that. My goal in posting what I did is to scream foul and motivate others to think about these issues. In that way, I think that I was more effective than I imagined I would be. I too love Alex's suggestion - this was extremely successful with MacArthur/MIT Press.

(As far as Sage goes, I did ask for permission for a draft version and was denied. I'm jealous that you've been more successful at getting this provision.)

Anyhow, I'm sorry to of offended you (again).


Blogger Melissa said...

Thank you for having the patience to write something more articulate than I could muster (after a long day of writing, for more locked-down publications no doubt).

What remains patronising is the assumption that people don't already wrestle with these issues on a daily basis. Screaming about it is probably the least helpful way to encourage people to change their conclusions which are based on a complicated calculation of relative prospects, capacity and privilege in a competitive international industry.

I still don't know how you can possibly cry 'foul' after having so publicly bitten the hand that feeds you. But I guess that's because my political objectives aren't so easy to identify.

Anonymous zephoria said...

Melissa - perhaps my explanation for why I published in Convergence might help. I didn't put it in the body of the text because it's a sad story:

Another thing that might not be obvious now that I think about it is that the guest editors knew this was coming. But I totally see how this can be perceived as biting the hand that feeds me. It's been boiling up for months as we've gone back and forth about this issue, but behind blog doors.

I'm sorry that it looks patronizing. I'm very aware that people deal with these issues regularly. It was one of the central topics of AOIR this year. It's a constant conversation in my department, a regular topic with those who fund me and others in my field, and it was something that my advisor was obsessed with. By trying to personalize it, I wasn't trying to suggest that no one else thought about it, but rather, that I personally had reached the breaking point. In doing so, I wanted to provoke a conversation and offer what I thought were some reasonable steps moving forward for all academics who were wavering on these issues. That said, not everyone is aware of these issues. I've received a couple of dozen emails from young scholars who weren't aware of open-access publishing and thanked me for bringing up what was bothering them.

The bits on the economics of academic publishing weren't for the academics reading the entry, but acknowledging the fact that the majority of my readership are non-academics who don't understand the processes behind academic publishing. I wanted to boil it down uber quickly so that they'd get a sense of how this worked. That para initially started with a call to those non-academics in the room, but I cut it out to try to shorten the post. Probably a mistake since lots of academics have seen that section as condescending or overly simplistic.

For better or worse, one of the things that I love about my blog is that I get to learn from when people misinterpret what I'm trying to say. Derrida never made so much sense to me as he did after I started blogging.


Anonymous anne said...

sorry for the delayed response, but teaching duties called :)

i do know you well enough danah to know that you didn't mean to offend! you also know that i actually share many of these concerns, and in fact, this is what made your post so frustrating for me. if you meant to rally academics in particular, then i think it's worth considering the fact that *how* you say something is often just as important as *what* you say. "misinterpretation" never belongs to the receiver alone.

rather than making room for me, or others with similar concerns, to become your allies, you may have (inadvertently) done the opposite... writing for an unknown audience is difficult, and i will never tell you what you should write on your blog, but i'll say something i've said to you before: our published words have consequences, some of them unanticipated and unintended, but no less real because of that.

in any case, if you ever want to discuss what else academics might do to affect change in this arena please let me know :)

Blogger messels said...

anne, first time to come across your blog [and it was danah who pointed it out].

i have to say that i'm struggling to see the patronizing tone in her post. maybe it's because i'm not an academic, at least so far as credentials are concerned. ;)

danah doesn't completely agree with me on this but i see this insistence on locking sources and labeling sources as "worthy" of academic reading as completely elitist. the flow of information shouldn't be stopped at the boundaries of an university's walls.

danah makes some excellent points in her post about the exploitation of labor on the part of publishers (research, peer-review, etc). she doesn't point out that because of the internet, people who use to be simple, uneducated cogs are now learning to access information and form well informed opinions.

when thinking from the perspective of academia itself, i see a lot of personal justification for keeping information locked within academia. essentially, because of the new structures for information dispersal (i.e. the internet), academics are now threatened. they're no longer the only experts. by keeping information from the people locked away in extremely expensive subscriptions, it's possible to maintain the aura of better information. it's an antiquated system in desperate need of revision. the fact that it's sheltered by a fairly conservative bunch--not politically but as danah uses it in its original meaning--the normal forces of creative destruction are not at work. every other publication that depends on subscription payers is scrambling to keep up with the influx of demand for free content. subscriptions that cost thousands of dollars per year, protected and subsidized by the academic underpinnings of its own origin, prevent these forces from coming to bear. what i mean is, everyone who subscribes and pays for the subscription has an academic background, whether that be phd or just md. they're pre-disposed to a system of legitimizing academic publications as well as the process behind publishing, furthering its own elitism.

times are a changing--guess it's a question of whether academia can keep up. i think this is what danah was touching on when she was asking about the legitimacy of a source with zero readers...

Blogger Trevor said...

I've long been involved in an attempt to free up publication in my discipline, a little site called the disseminary. It failed. It didn't fail because of how it was run, who was behind it or lack of cash. It failed because it was simply impossible to find articles or get people to write for it even though they would get paid much more writing for us than in an elite academic journal. I accept the the pace of change in my discipline is glacial compared to the pace of change in the area's that danah and Anne work in. Still, change happens over time and individual scholars need simultaneous flexible access to multiple modes of scholarly dissemination in order to further their goals both in terms of the content and shape of their disciplines. I do think that it is patronising to call for scholars to focus their publications as danah suggests. We can't all be rock stars because some of our disciplines are still just discovering the blues.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing the piece, Anne.

There's another aspect of the article that really bugs me. People like danah (not necessarily saying danah, but not freeing her of this either) often get paid huge amounts for their research for corporations.

For some academics this is a natural part of the business. For others, funded research of this type is unheard of or even offensive. Sometimes this is because of disciplinary matters (an anthropologist working on how individuals relate to user interfaces will get offers that a scholar of 18th century slave history will not) while at other times it is a matter of personal choice (yes, universities may be evil, but I feel they are less evil than corporations).

Those of us who aren't attached to the corporate tea have to make it on our own only to wind up in a downsized academic world in which any school would be glad to have you if you wanted $2,200 a course as an adjunct.

This is the reality for the VAST MAJORITY of humanities academics in the United States. Moving forward through peer-reviewed publications is crucial for us so that we can continue to teach. This is where I find danah's piece incredibly irresponsible. It's a call to arms, but for who? For the elite, by the elite, of the elite? Excuse me, I'll sit this one out.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't this about maintaining control? I sense you are struggling with the boundaries in the blogsphere.

Traditional locked down journals do need to be boycotted. The reason is: No one has any respect for them today. The only people giving them respect are a small group of established authorities.

It is entirely because there is no faith in the authority, or respectability of most social science journals that open access is the way to go.

Why keep your views on how to fix the situation to private conversation? When you write:
"in any case, if you ever want to discuss what else academics might do to affect change in this arena please let me know :)"

I sense a desire to maintain control over the discussion, by moving it out of the blogsphere.

Actually, I find this blind threat that her published words have "unintended consequences" to be quite funny. What exactly should she be worried about here? Disrespecting, an already disrespected institution? And of course, some may respect it, but theres no way you can argue it is "well respected".

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Teaching is about inspiration, not about establishing authority over the other.

The idea that peer review (as it exists in most academic journals) establishes a functional hierarchy is something that needs more debate!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did that last commenter even read Anne's post?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

No he didn't. I know because it was me and I wasn't clear that I was addressing one of the other comments on the article.

Also: my rant seems directed at the author, but I didn't mean that. Its not at all the case.

I appreciate the counter-perspective offered here. Pardon the arrogant tone and language!

Anonymous anne said...

wow. nothing i've ever posted has solicited so many anonymous comments!

in any case, i'd like to answer the one that reads like an attempt to psychoanalyse me.

i wasn't "struggling" with anything except the call for a boycott. as i clearly stated, i support open-access journals and i don't think boycotts of so-called 'closed' journals are the right response to the issues at hand.

my request to continue the conversation was not a request to continue it offline, but rather to see if we could move it beyond the topic of boycotts.

that simple. i even provided some links that readers could follow up on in their own ways.

mind you, it also wouldn't hurt to actually see some support for the claim that there is so much "disrespect" for academic work. just saying it doesn't make it so.

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