Archive for March, 2011

Thesis defended. Issue #1:representing anthropology & being cynical.

How was it?  Brutal [even if it was accepted with minor revisions!] !!! I’ll do my best to summarise the experience, and issues raised, over the next few posts.

The biggest issue that came up: Chapter 2.

Why, I was asked, would I present anthropology in such a negative light? What does such a negative portrait hope to accomplish? Why would I want to participate in such a horrible world? [real question] Why not lead from the strengths the thesis can make to the discipline? Why did I reference Vine Deloria Jr and why did I reference James Hunt?

To paraphrase the question: Haven’t people pooped on anthropology enough? Is it really necessary to select particularly nasty examples of anthropology to describe what anthropology is and how it has changed? Have anthropologists not changed enough already that you could just cite what they do NOW?

My answer: it hasn’t helped to shove anthropology’s dirty laundry under the rug. The history of anthropology shocked me to the core, and I wasn’t about to ignore it. Vine Deloria’s arguments, that I cite in chapter 2, are the best definition and critique of anthropology I’ve ever read. I stand by that reference 100%.

James Hunt? Well sure he isn’t representative of all anthropologists.  And I’ve been told I cannot say that “his work is seen as biggoted and racist” in a thesis, even if his work IS..  But the reason I chose James Hunt was that he founded the Anthropology Society of London with the intention of mixing politics and science, and he promoted public engagement.  Anthropologists aren’t all saints, and when they engage the public, it isn’t necessarily virtuous. That was my point. My bigger point was  that anthropologists get things wrong, and that we need to give people a place to respond and interpret anthropologists interpretations.

Finally, while I probably didn’t express this well enough in the thesis, chapter 2 was NOT a “complete” representation of the discipline. I was looking at the history of the discipline to find breaking points, frictions, that pushed the direction in different directions. The point I wanted to make in chapter 2 was that there are arguments for 1) increased collaboration with non-anthros, 2) increased public engagement, and 3) to “open the social sciences”.

Now say what you want, but I think the examples I give do back that up. I’m not sure I did that well enough in chapter 2 though. The reactionary response I received from one reader has forced me to correct this, to somehow open up chapter 2 with recognition that the points discussed are very selective and not trying to represent the discipline as a whole.

Many more posts to come…


I also learned the proper definition of “reactionary”. I used the word to represent a person “reacting”, which it is not. This has since been corrected, and I did my best to use it correctly in the paragraph above!!! Reactionary is restricted to a conservative backlash, someone defending the status quo, and not to someone getting pissed off by your actions.


When given the option to select your thesis committee, give it a lot of thought. Don’t allow faculty members to turn your thesis into a battleground, even if that’s what social science is all about.

Next post: Issue #2 – Why didn’t you include the following works? [list included]

Open Access – Books & Journals

[This post is a reply to a reader’s question, “What about books?”]

Discussions related to Open Access often focus on journals, but as one thesis reader has asked me, what about books? Open Access is about removing the price barriers to peer reviewed academic research, whether it be book, journal article, or whatever else. The peer review system for book publishing is different than that of a journal, but anthro books are still considered “quality research” that should be disseminated. Charging $20-100 for a book is still a significant barrier for many libraries. As one teacher commented, a really good anthropology book will sell about 1000 copies.

So if the books were cheaper, would they be disseminated and read more? Would more copies end up being distributed? Maybe! Should academics be concerned about the dissemination of their work? Is it okay for people to try and make money off your research at the expense of researchers having easy access to it? So to be clear, the same OA arguments apply to books and journals.

But there are some interesting particularities to look at. For example Google Books makes it simple to read and scan through millions of expensive published academic books. It lets you read a portion of the text, which is plenty for scholars to decide if they would benefit from purchasing or borrowing the book. In this way Google Books improves the visibility of academic work published in book form, while still demanding that people and libraries pay to read it. To answer a readers question, since people still need to pay to get full access, Google Books is not a form of Open Access publishing.

And while e-books and e-book readers are taking off, many people still hate to read large documents on the computer. It’s just nicer and easier to read away from the computer. The confusion creeping in here is that Open Access is associated with online dissemination journals, rather than with removing price barriers to research where-ever they may be.

So yes, as Lorenz Khazaleh recently posts, OA is also about books! He writes,

More and more journals have gone open access, now it’s time for open access books!

OAPEN – Open Access Publishing in European Networks is an initiative in Open Access publishing for humanities and social sciences monographs. Several European university presses have joined the initiative that aims to improve the accessibility and dissemination of academic books.”

Further, books can be Open Access, in that they are free to access online, and they cost money in print, at the very same time. A book can be published OA, and at the same time printed and sold. Take a look at what Max has done with his edited volume of student authored essays, titled “The New Imperialism”. He describes the process involved,

“Having seen, from early on, that I would be receiving a batch of excellent papers, I asked the seminar participants if they would not want to put their output on the record, to publish their work. One option was to have all the papers online, on the seminar website. The other was to publish it like my Department also publishes an annual volume of student research, Stories from Montreal. They opted for the latter and I got busy creating something I had never planned to establish: a publishing entity, Alert Press (amazingly, the name was not taken). That was just the start–then came getting an ISBN, arranging for the National Library of Canada to do Cataloguing-in-Publication, getting a copyright certificate, and formally registering the Press. The printing would be done on demand, which is where the services of Lulu come in. Then there was the index–no proper book can go without one. That is, as some know, a particularly large expense which had to be out of pocket. Each of the papers had to be revised, edited, proof read, and re-corrected, references checked, formatting done for the book, providing images that are free under a Creative Commons License (up to the front and back covers of the book), and then indexed. Only the very best papers were included, which in this case means that only 14 of the initial 25 papers made the final cut. One or two opted out of the publication idea from the start–it is entirely voluntary, and not a course requirement. But it will be an annual feature.”

Now published, the book is available in a number of forms. The paperback costs about $10. A hardcover sells for $19. And an e-book version can be downloaded anytime for free. This shows how Open Access can work alongside other publishing models.

Christopher Kelty, a blogger at Savage Minds, published his book “Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software” on the books website, and through Duke University Press. The entire book can be read and commented on online, exploring ways readers can help contribute content to the book after it has been published. Kelty also talks about “modulating” his work, as part of an experiment that looks at how Open Access to research, and new more flexible licensing models,  allow people to use the work in new ways.

The Prickly Paradigm Press, and the earlier Prickly Pear Press,  also provide a number of OA books licensed under the Creative Commons. An interview with Marshal Sahlins discusses the history of the publishing organization, and why free access to research, and the creative commons license is important. Sahlins writes,

“I just want to say that I truly support the idea of the free dissemination of intellectual information, and that I truly lament the various forms of copyrights and patents that are being put on so-called intellectual property. I also lament the collusion of universities in licensing the results of scientific research, and thus violating the project of the free dissemination of knowledge that is their reason for existence. So I consider it an important act to release these books under a Creative Commons type of license. I’m happy, and also a little proud, to do so.”

This is all to say that OA book publishing is working alongside other dissemination strategies, and that yes, you can provide both.

Update: check out 40,000 free e-books that have been made available through Project Gutenberg.

Related posts:

Kelty on the Culture of Publishing

Doing a little digging: Golub and Sahlins Interview.