Kimberly Christen – Access and Accountability

(by way of Max’s twitter feed)

If you haven’t already, check out Kimberly Christen’s recent article “Access and Accountability: The Ecology Of Information Sharing in the Digital Age“, published in Anthropology Now.  Then check out the website referred to in the article.

The essay addresses the importance of respecting different norms for sharing information. She introduces the idea of creating knowledge sharing protocols that respect existing “ethical systems”.  Her work is one of the best examples I’ve found that considers anthropological sensitivities in relation to open access:

“As users maneuver through the site they can access information about specific places, their cultural significance and history. But within each area a random sampling of content is tagged with protocols that disturb their viewing. As a visitor begins to get acquainted with a place, a video clip may stop halfway through because the material is restricted by gender, or audio of a song may fade in and out because elements are restricted to only those who have been ritually initiated, or a photo may be only half visible because someone in the photo has died.

In every case, users must grapple with their own biases about information freedom and knowledge sharing online. After each restriction pops up with a short textual explanation, an animation plays describing the Warumungu protocols for that specific type of content. The site is designed to frustrate Internet users who function out of an “information wants to be free” paradigm—that is, those who expect that clicking on something or searching for information should necessarily result in unrestricted access to the materials they find. Our goal was to use the medium itself as a means of reflecting on the limits of the Internet to value other knowledge systems, and at the same time challenge people to take seriously different types of information distribution and production systems.”

(Christen 2009)

Another professor of mine shared similar concerns about open access sharing in an interview I held with him. I don’t have permission to post the discussion here, but he mentioned how he had done fieldwork among a group that considered certain kinds of information should be shared during certain seasons. For this reason he was unable to publish certain stories he had collected, as it would be disrespectful to the groups desire to share the information at certain times.

Big thanks to Kimberly Christen for a great article, and for stressing the valuable contributions anthropology can bring to the open access debate.


“Two Sides to Sharing Knowledge”


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