Open-access anthropology (and sociology): opening social research

May 1st is Open-Access Anthropology day. My contribution to this day:

It  is well past time to knock down the closed walls of the Ivory Tower.

Years ago, I worked on a project called The Public Knowledge Project. The principal investigator, Dr. John Willinsky, was actually a professor of literacy (and a distinguished one at that). John realized that university-based research was not getting into the hands of those outside the academy because academic journals are subscription only, for the most part.

John’s vision, and the vision of others, is to open up this research, make it available to people outside the university, and thereby make research much more meaningful, useful, and worthy.

I wholeheartedly agree. A former colleague of mine, Riva Soucie, has taken up the cause by founding New Social Inquiry, a open-access journal that is not only available for free, but is also ACCESSIBLE to non-researchers. Contexts magazine is also moving toward open-access research by offering regularly updated blogs (my favourite is the Visual Sociology blog).

Open-access isn’t just about open-source (although that’s part of it). It also means writing in accessible language and contextualizing the research for people who are not inside the academy.This is why I write this blog and why I call on all academics to blow down that Ivory Tower, and get out there. As Hubert Blumer once said in his famous article “What’s wrong with social theory?”:

Let us renounce the practice of taking in each other’s laundry.

Well put, Herbert!

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3 responses to “Open-access anthropology (and sociology): opening social research

  1. Pingback: Happy Open Access Anthropology Day « Sara Anthro Blog

  2. Boy, I can’t wait. Part of my work approach is to take ideas/models from academia and translate them into something that’s useful for a business. But I run into this problem of unavailable articles *all the time*.

    There’s a good reason for researchers to want their papers publicly available: if people can’t read your stuff, it’s hard for you to participate and be visible in online conversations. This is esp important for researchers who are looking for corporate clients.

    Just yesterday I came across a blog post that summarized what looked like a very interesting article — but the article wasn’t available online, only via a $$$ academic journal subscription.

    So I tweeted the blog post, because I couldn’t tweet the article.

    And sadly, the original researcher probably won’t get any attention from that (of course he’s mentioned in the blog post, but most people won’t bother to look further.)

    The blogger will get the clicks and the credit for her summary write-up.

    And the researcher (who’s a professor at a business school and who probably would like to be attracting companies that would pay him for consulting) lost one small opportunity to get his name out there.

    • Hi Mary,
      This is an excellent point! Imagine if you told every academic this story. Now I bet 60% of them would say, “So what? I don’t do private sector consulting. I don’t care.” But then if you had another story about, say, a policymaker looking for innovative ideas around, say, local recycling programs and they too found the blog post, but could not download the original article, then what would they say?

      Most academics do what they do because they genuinely want to make the world a better place, in whatever way they can. They do not publish in open-source journals not because they don’t care, but because these are the only journals that “count.” Harvard has mandated that all articles by its faculty must be open-source at least one year after original publication in closed-source. The American National Institutes of Health also mandates open-source publishing for all research it funds.

      We are starting to make a difference!

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