Archive for February, 2011

Making anthropology accessible online (some conclusions)

Another thesis version has been submitted and this project is finally coming to a long drawn out close. In the end I’ve created a rather ugly beast. It’s too long to read quickly, and it takes too long to get its points across. It feels more like a proof of work then anything else unfortunately, but that is hopefully close to what a thesis is meant to be.

The least I can do, having tried my hand at blogging research as it goes,  is to filter out what’s interesting:

Research into the history of the discipline revealed a number of reasons anthropologists would want to disseminate their work to non-anthropologists. Anthropologists pushing for a kind of public anthropology, want researchers to involve themselves in contemporary public debates – alongside journalists and anonymous internet trolls. Anthropologists pushing for a kind of collaborative anthropology, seek to recognize and incorporate the expertise of people outside the discipline. Finally, anthropology is often defined as being interdisciplinary to begin with.

Many OA advocates claim scholarship is meant to be shared as widely as possible. But the success of subscription based journals shows that scholarship doesn’t need to be shared widely to succeed/sustain itself.

Even when journal publishers allow researchers to archive their work, many researchers question reasons for doing so.  The Concordia Spectrum repository for example,  lists 146 articles under Sociology and Anthropology. 2 of those are from faculty members, and the rest are masters theses. Yet many of the faculty support OA to some degree, sharing their work online on personal websites. So somehow the institutional self archiving repository at Concordia is challenged by professional politics. Are researchers at universities paid to publish? Should they have to provide their research output to the universities library? What if the faculty is on shaky terms with a shaky administration? Researchers probably want to maintain autonomy over their work, to limit as much as possible the control of university administrators (objection! speculation!).

Other faculty have unanimously approved OA mandates however, and I am pretty sure OA resistance is no longer about ignorance. Researchers understand that they can make their research more accessible through OA, but they question its professional impact.

Another big issue that came up in my anthropology readings is that anthropologists have expressed the need to better incorporate feedback into the research process. So this thesis explored getting feedback “out in the open”. Open Access publishing isn’t (necessarily) about getting feedback from different audiences. Repositories remain for the most part rather static dumping grounds for quality peer reviewed content. Review and comments are controlled through editors and journal presses. Aside the fact that the discipline is interdisciplinary, and aside ethical and moral obligations to make research relevant to non-anthropologists, and aside the desire to engage in contemporary public debates alongside journalists, why, anthropologists ask, should they share their work online, and why would they have their work uglied with obnoxious anonymous online diatribe?

So even though blogging and other social media are great tools to incorporate collaborators as writers and content producers, sharing ideas, links, articles, comments, etc.,   the issue of collaborating with, and to incorporating feedback from, non-experts remains an issue within the discipline. Some of this relates to debates in anthropology between science and advocacy. Science and its system of expert peer review limit the participation of non-experts. Does this make sense for anthropological research?

Anthropologists are concerned then that increased dissemination online won’t necessarily help disseminate the work properly. Who else will benefit or make use of it? Who else will contribute to or comment on it? Academics are encouraged to focus on peer reviewed prestige publications, and not on public engagement and other work that raises too much publicity. Researchers in other institutions can surely make use of interlibrary loans, why should I have to post it online where it dominates my Google profile?

So I conclude the beast by discussing two kinds of anthropology that are openly accessible online. One is anthropology in public, the other public anthropology. Anthro in public is about reaching anthros with the Internet. Anthropology is done for academics, who then do great things with that knowledge (objection heresay!). Public anthropology is about changing the style of anthropology to appeal to different audiences outside academia.

Yes that is all.  Of course it’s filled with references, research, and a few random stray ideas that I couldn’t let go of. I already disagree with points I’ve made in it, but I’m going to hold off changing anything until I get feedback from the authorities.

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