Open Access and Anthropology – a free and easy interview

(via OA News)

I’ve been having trouble getting away from the blogsphere to do research. One of my goals is to develop a slew of great interviews, but I’m finding the blogsphere is providing that too!

Christopher Kelty and a bunch of co-authors have published a conversation that deals perfectly with my research topic, titled “Anthropology Of/In Circulation: The Future of Open Access and Scholarly Societies”. They discuss issues relating to the circulation/distribution/sharing of anthropological productions. Particularly interesting is the discussion surrounding the role of Wiley-Blackwell publishing now that it manages the American Anthropology Associations publishing program.

They wrote the paper by circulating a draft written by two of the contributors, with each person adding bits and pieces to the conversation. The text was then edited and published.

It also points out how new generations of scholars are ignoring traditional scholarly societies, and so they ask, what is the purpose of them today? They state it cannot be simply about dissemination, as open access and online publishing make that unnecessary. They argue the AAA needs to adapt its methods to new publishing environments, and in order to that it needs to focus less on simply distributing work, but instead to put more emphasis on review, promotion, discussion, teaching, and reading.

In order for AAA publishing to survive, they argue anthropologists need to think beyond the budget of the AAA, to the budgets of libraries, schools, NGO’s, and other interested parties. Jason Baird Jackson writes,

“But if we want to think seriously about “sustainability” we
must realize that sustaining anthropology means more than sustaining the AAA budget—it means sustaining the viability of research libraries and of our not-forprofit university press partners as well. More and more research libraries today are responding by partnering directly with scholars to “publish” (in Chris’s sense) research, and thus they are expanding the library’s role in new ways. They are trying to make scholarship more open and more sustainable by cutting out the middleman, the publishing companies.”

They also discuss the possibilities for an improved Anthrosource which properly integrated new internet strategies. Jason Baird Jackson argues that outside Anthrosource and the AAA, a “shadow anthrosource” is emerging that in many ways threatens it. By not adopting new technologies, scholars are going elsewhere and sooner or later Anthrosource will be made irrelevant. He writes,

“AnthroSource was going to have a subject repository in which we
could have put our field notes, white papers, unpublished book manuscripts, etc. I saw this vision die during my first year as an editor. When the AAA couldn’t find a university to partner with, the repository was given up and AnthroSource became just a journal bundle.”

Self arching repositories, internet promotion on Youtube and blogs etc, have all taken up the roles traditionally held by journals. In many ways, the discussion brings to light the failure of traditional scholarly societies/journals/publishers to properly promote material and build interest, and that scholars are bypassing these instutions using new communication technologies to achieve results far greater than ever achieved by the AAA and its publishing program.

It is a great discussion. In the paper they link to a site where more discussion can take place, but its not working right now. Hopefully it will be up soon. (

7 responses to this post.

  1. A couple of things Owen as I read through your proposal.

    (1) do the contributors identify what their personal experience(s) is (are) with open access publishing?

    (2) given all of the discussion of how the Pentagon plans to make use of anthropological research, it almost seems like open access is handing them everything on a silver platter. Do they discuss this? The two discussions are happening at the same time as you know. It’s this realization (of the military using or reverse engineering our work, or even deep mining the works to extract names, locations, movements) that has made me feel a serious chill about OA. This is almost to the point of losing interest in OA, and as you know I was one of the biggest fans of OA, and someone who practiced it since 1999.


  2. [warning: high speed response to very deep question]

    I don’t agree with the idea that much anthropological research is beneficial to the Pentagon. If it was, they wouldn’t be trying to pump millions of dollars into the Minerva program to bribe academics to write pro-war propaganda. The most obvious use of anthropological research has been to call it a “clash of cultures”, but is that really using anthro research or just playing with bad, general, use it anyway you like, theory?

    Now this of course depends on what kinds of research one is doing and for what reasons. I’m sure there is information out there that could help plan out attacks, subjugate leaders etc, but can you give any examples of which academic essays the military might use? It would be interesting to find out what kind of information military planners might be looking for.

    Most importantly OA gives this information to both/all sides instead of only giving it to one. OA makes it easier to access. If students can access it, so can the military. With OA, so can everyone else. [not that the military has any trouble paying for journal subscriptions…]

    But you are arguing against the kind of research people are doing, the kind that is useful to backing up war (ie making it a “clash of cultures” etc to mask more obvious reasons… truth that it is part of a sophisticated, cruel and greedy energy policy… Or a childish attack by an insecure and incompetent administration/media/country/people/institution/society/world). Getting people to think about these issues has to be a good thing, and certainly requires that we distribute “our thoughts” to all people interested?

    I would say your argument is against ethnographic scholarship and less against OA. Where else are you going to publish or hide it that would keep it “safe”? [ie the military has no trouble breaking our standard 128 bit encryption, so keeping it hidden on your hard drive isn’t going to work either].

    OA levels the playing field [or works towards it]. That still leaves the question of doing ethical research and not causing harm.

    More constructive than withdrawing from research, would be to publish and expose facts about ourselves – this way opposing forces can benefit equally.

    Thanks for pointing the way to some great research questions.


  3. Thanks for that response. OA may level the playing field in terms of accessibility to information, but the playing field itself is not level in military and financial terms. Also, putting all the information in electronic format means that it can more easily be manipulated by data harvesters. Making it free means a savings for the Pentagon, as for other readers.

    I could tell you in private about some of the work that I will no longer be making available online, as I have planned — and luckily delayed — doing for the past few years. Sometimes procrastination is very useful.

    Subscribers to my blog also include two individuals with a military open access institute…because the U.S. military also loves open access. Then we talk about putting fieldnotes and other ethnographic data online, and it just seems like a recipe for disaster.


  4. Owen, have a look at this link:

    OSIS. I had two subscribers to Open Anthropology from this, and I just checked again and it is down to one (I guess the other got fed up with my anti-Pentagonism).


  5. Sorry for the spam!

    Here is another one, dealing with US military interest in open source (notice their notion of open source is that “what’s your is ours, and what’s ours is ours” — their data is not available, nor knowledge of how they are making use of our sources).

    See this.

    Also of possible interest, see how “indigenous and primary sources” are also being used by “independent” so-called policy analysis foundations, such as this one.

    And of course, let’s not forget our very own colleagues who have access to our work and whose own work is in alignment with the Pentagon and Homeland Security.

    So finally my questions (because it’s not an argument as such yet), have to do with how we can be tactical and smart, and keep in mind some of the dominant elements of our current context. The militarization of the social sciences is not something that is “out there”, an understanding of which is merely optional. If I were to develop this into an argument, it would be based on one single word: beware.


  6. […] anthro linksMaximilian Forte on Open Access and Anthropology -…Maximilian Forte on Open Access and Anthropology -…Maximilian Forte on private blogs for researc…Maximilian Forte on Open Access and […]


  7. […] initiated at Owen Wiltshire’s Another Anthro Blog, regarding a post by Owen titled, “Open Access and Anthropology — a free and easy interview,” I decided to develop my comments into a full post here, building on my previous post on […]


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