Critical Keywords for the Digital Humanities: Open Access

The Cent­re for Di­gi­tal Cul­tu­res (CDC) at Leuphana University recently started releasing a collection of keywords (from post-media to copyfight), as part of its Critical Keywords for the Digital Humanities project. I was invited to submit a contribution on open access, which you can find underneath. All the keywords are available at the CDC website under a CC-BY-SA license, and include contributions by Ned Rossiter, Mercedez Bunz and Yuk Hui, among others. Go and have a look!

From the Introduction:

In the hu­ma­nities, a re­fle­xi­ve and of­ten cri­ti­cal use of vo­ca­bu­la­ry has so far been one of its key fea­tures. With the rise of di­gi­tal me­dia and in­for­ma­ti­on sys­tems, new tech­ni­cal forms of pro­ces­sing con­tent have emer­ged. From the per­spec­tive of the hu­ma­nities, this has gi­ven way to di­ver­gent in­te­rests and me­tho­do­lo­gies: On the one hand, de­ve­lo­ping di­gi­tal tools for hu­ma­nis­tic re­se­arch al­lows one to look at con­tent dif­fer­ent­ly (e.g. dis­tant rea­ding). On the other hand, loo­king cri­ti­cal­ly at tech­no­lo­gy in use al­lows one to de­li­ver a cul­tu­ral ex­pla­na­ti­on of our by now ubi­qui­tous di­gi­tal tech­ni­ques as de­mons­tra­ted by soft­ware stu­dies. The Critical Keywords for the Digital Humanities seek to com­ple­ment tho­se new ap­proa­ches of the di­gi­tal. For this, it ta­kes up one of the hu­ma­nities’ tra­di­tio­nal ap­proach anew: the use of words.

As the tra­di­tio­nal con­cepts in the hu­ma­nities find them­sel­ves un­der­mi­ned, this pro­ject in­sists on J.L. Aus­tin’s pro­po­si­ti­on that words do things. This em­powers us to in­itia­te a dia­lo­gue wi­t­hin new in­for­ma­tio­nal con­texts. It opens up a space for in­ter­ven­ti­ons to res­ha­pe in­heri­ted mea­nings and ques­ti­on ap­pearan­ces of aut­ho­ri­ty. Using this space, the collec­tion in­tro­du­ces, dis­cus­ses and po­si­ti­ons key­words lo­ca­ted at the in­ter­sec­tion of di­gi­ta­liza­t­i­on and the hu­ma­nities with the aim to chal­len­ge our so­ci­al rea­li­ties. As a two year pro­ject si­tua­ted at the Cent­re for Di­gi­tal Cul­tu­res, the Critical Keywords for the Digital Humanities pro­vi­des a snap­shot of a cer­tain time and con­text by ex­plo­ring the key­words of our di­gi­tal cul­tu­res.

More here.

Open Access

Janneke Adema

Adema, J. (2014): “Open Access”, in: Critical Keywords for the Digital Humanities, available at:

As a con­cept and prac­tice, open ac­cess has al­ways been hea­vi­ly de­ba­ted; by open ac­cess ad­vo­ca­tes, but also by the wi­der aca­de­mic com­mu­ni­ty as part of the de­ba­te over the fu­ture of scho­lar­ly com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on. From an in­iti­al sub­ver­si­ve pro­po­sal (Har­nad), open ac­cess has in­cre­a­sin­gly tur­ned into ac­cep­ted prac­tice, pro­mo­ted by go­vern­ments, in­sti­tu­ti­ons and busi­nes­ses ali­ke. Howe­ver, whi­le gro­wing in po­pu­la­ri­ty, the strugg­le over its spe­ci­fic im­ple­men­ta­ti­on in pu­blis­hing and scho­lar­ly com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on is on­go­ing and per­haps even more ur­gent than ever.


Open ac­cess li­te­ra­tu­re has been de­fi­ned by Pe­ter Sub­er, one of its grea­test ad­vo­ca­tes, as “di­gi­tal, on­line, free of char­ge, and free of most co­py­right and li­cen­sing re­stric­tions” (Sub­er 2012: p. 4). From the ear­ly 1990s on­wards, the open ac­cess mo­ve­ment – alt­hough the term open ac­cess was not yet used then – grew out of an in­itia­ti­ve es­ta­blis­hed by aca­de­mics, li­bra­ri­ans, ma­na­gers and ad­mi­nis­tra­tors. Some of the first fre­e­ly avail­able on­line jour­nals were laun­ched by aca­de­mics du­ring that time, in­clu­ding Ste­van Har­nad’s Psycoloquy (1989), Surfaces by Jean-Clau­de Guèdon (1991) and Postmodern Culture by John Un­sworth et al. (1990). Open Ac­cess was in­itia­ted and de­ve­l­o­ped wi­t­hin sci­ence, tech­no­lo­gy, en­gi­nee­ring and ma­the­ma­tics (STEM), whe­re it fo­cu­sed main­ly on what is now de­fi­ned as the Green Road to open ac­cess. Here, aut­hors self-ar­chi­ve their re­se­arch works sub­mit­ted for peer re­view (pre­prints) or their fi­nal peer-re­view­ed ver­si­ons (post-prints) in cen­tral, sub­ject or in­sti­tu­tio­nal­ly-ba­sed re­po­si­to­ries. For in­stan­ce, in 1991, Paul Gin­sparg star­ted the first free sci­en­ti­fic ar­chi­ve for phy­si­cists on­line, ar­, and in 1997, Pubmed Cen­tral was laun­ched ba­sed on the life sci­en­ces and bio­me­di­cal da­ta­ba­se MED­LI­NE. The other main (and com­ple­men­ta­ry) rou­te to open ac­cess, the Gold Road, fo­cu­ses on pu­blis­hing re­se­arch works in open ac­cess jour­nals, books or other ty­pes of li­te­ra­tu­re (Guédon, 2004). For ex­amp­le, the Pu­blic Li­bra­ry of Sci­ence (PLoS), foun­ded in 2000, is a non-pro­fit open ac­cess sci­en­ti­fic pu­blis­her ai­med at crea­ting a li­bra­ry of open ac­cess jour­nals – such as PLoS Bio­lo­gy – that ope­ra­te un­der an open con­tent li­cen­se.

Next to the­se dif­fe­rent rou­tes to open ac­cess, the­re are also dif­fe­rent forms of open ac­cess. Ma­king re­se­arch more ac­ces­si­ble by ta­king away pri­ce bar­ri­ers is known as pro­vi­ding Gratis open ac­cess. If some or most per­mis­si­on or li­cen­sing bar­ri­ers to a work are re­mo­ved on top of that – ma­king it more open and en­ab­ling its reu­se for scho­lar­ly or com­mer­ci­al pur­po­ses – then Li­bre open ac­cess is pro­vi­ded. The main open ac­cess de­fi­ni­ti­ons, to­ge­ther known as the ‘BBB-de­fi­ni­ti­on’, were agreed upon in three se­mi­nal pu­blic state­ments ba­sed on mee­tings of the mo­ve­ment’s mem­bers in Bu­da­pest, Be­thes­da and Ber­lin. The­se de­fi­ni­ti­ons all com­bi­ne Gra­tis and Li­bre open ac­cess, al­lo­wing both ac­cess and reu­se of scho­lar­ly con­tent as long as the aut­hor is pro­per­ly at­tri­bu­ted.

As the va­rious forms and ite­ra­ti­ons of open ac­cess out­li­ned above al­re­a­dy ex­em­pli­fy, the open ac­cess mo­ve­ment has been di­vi­ded in its views on what open­ness is and how we should go about achie­ving it. No­nethe­l­ess, it has been united in its mis­si­on to im­pro­ve the con­di­ti­ons un­der which aca­de­mic work can cir­cu­la­te. Even though new di­gi­tal dis­tri­bu­ti­on for­mats and me­cha­nisms in­cre­a­sin­gly of­fe­red op­por­tu­nities to make re­se­arch more wi­de­ly ac­ces­si­ble, open ac­cess ad­vo­ca­tes argued that the tra­di­tio­nal pu­blis­hing sys­tem was no lon­ger able or wil­ling to ful­fil their com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on nee­ds. The­re was also the wi­de­s­pre­ad fee­ling (also known as the tax­pay­ers ar­gu­ment) that the pu­blic should not be pay­ing twice for the same re­se­arch: once to fund its con­duct and then again to buy ac­cess to it from (com­mer­ci­al) pu­blis­hers via li­bra­ries or in­sti­tu­tio­nal sub­scrip­ti­ons. Open ac­cess can also be seen as a di­rect re­ac­tion against the on­go­ing com­mer­cia­li­sa­ti­on of re­se­arch and the pu­blis­hing in­dus­try. For in­stan­ce, Har­vie et al. have argued against the prac­tices of so-cal­led ‘fe­ral’ pu­blis­hers, tar­ge­ting in par­ti­cu­lar the high pro­fit mar­gins and tax avo­idance of In­for­ma, which in­clu­des the Tay­lor & Fran­cis and Rout­ledge im­prints (Har­vie et al., 2012). Fur­ther­mo­re, as part of the ‘Aca­de­mic Spring’, al­most 15,000 aca­de­mics up to now have si­gned the Cost of Knowledge boy­cott pe­ti­ti­on to pro­test against El­se­vier’s busi­ness prac­tices, ob­jec­ting to its high jour­nal sub­scrip­ti­ons among other things.

For se­veral de­ca­des, jour­nal sub­scrip­ti­on pri­ces have been ri­sing far above their aver­age cost, fas­ter than in­fla­ti­on and fas­ter than most­ly de­cli­ning li­bra­ry bud­gets. This has trig­ge­red a pri­cing cri­sis for scho­lar­ly re­se­arch, first­ly in what we now know as the se­ri­als cri­sis, and sub­se­quent­ly in the mo­no­graph cri­sis, which pre­do­mi­nant­ly hit the hu­ma­nities. As Sub­er has argued, a pri­cing cri­sis also me­ans an ac­cess cri­sis, as li­bra­ries are no lon­ger able to af­ford all the re­se­arch aca­de­mics need (2012: pp. 29-30). The­se ad­ver­se con­di­ti­ons also in­cre­a­sin­gly led to li­bra­ries de­ci­si­ons to cut spen­ding on mo­no­graphs to buy jour­nals in STEM ins­tead, de­s­pi­te their ri­sing sub­scrip­ti­on costs. This drop in li­bra­ry de­mand for mo­no­graphs has con­se­quent­ly led pres­ses to pro­du­ce smal­ler print runs and fo­cus more on mar­keta­ble tit­les. This has been de­tri­men­tal for tho­se (most­ly ear­ly-ca­re­er) re­se­ar­chers who de­pend on book pu­bli­ca­ti­on for tenu­re and pro­mo­ti­on. Part­ly in re­s­pon­se to this ‘mo­no­graph cri­sis’, a ri­sing num­ber of scho­lar­ly-, li­bra­ry- and/​or uni­ver­si­ty-press in­itia­ti­ves are ex­pe­ri­men­ting more di­rect­ly with ma­king mo­no­graphs avail­able in open ac­cess, in­clu­ding scho­lar-led pres­ses such as Open Hu­ma­nities Press, and pres­ses es­ta­blis­hed by or working with li­bra­ries, such as Atha­bas­ca Uni­ver­si­ty’s AU Press.

Critical Debates

Genealogies of Openness

The his­to­ry and rise of the idea of the ‘open’ that has in­flu­en­ced the de­ve­lop­ment of the open ac­cess mo­ve­ment re­mains con­tested and in­dis­tinct. Open ac­cess can be seen as an offspring of the wi­der open sour­ce mo­ve­ment, but has also been in­flu­en­ced by long­stan­ding prac­tices and dis­cour­ses of open sci­ence and open aut­hor­ship. A lot of con­fu­si­on exists about what open­ness is, what it me­ans, and whe­ther it is a goal in its­elf or a me­ans to an end. Na­tha­ni­el Tkacz, for in­stan­ce, in tra­c­ing the ge­nea­lo­gy of open­ness back to Karl Pop­per’s work (among others), ar­gues that in the cur­rent pro­li­fe­ra­ti­on and fe­tis­hi­sa­ti­on of open­ness as an in­scru­ta­ble po­li­ti­cal ide­al and goal in its­elf, it me­rely func­tions as the po­si­ti­ve an­ti­do­te to an em­pty bi­na­ry; na­me­ly, clo­sed­ness, the clo­sed so­cie­ty, or clo­sed po­li­tics. Open­ness has be­co­me an un­con­tested, but em­pty ob­jec­tive, in its in­scru­ta­bi­li­ty re­a­dy to be ta­ken up by a va­rie­ty of dif­fe­rent groups all clai­ming it as their own, from Goog­le to The Open Know­ledge Foun­da­ti­on. Open­ness, ba­sed on this Pop­pe­ri­an ge­nea­lo­gy, is thus main­ly seen as a re­ac­tion against clo­sed sys­tems and sour­ces; ob­fu­s­ca­ting, as Tkacz sta­tes, the clo­sures that open­ness also ne­ces­sa­ri­ly im­plies (Tkacz, 2012: pp. 386, 399).

Other ge­nea­lo­gies fo­cus more on the di­ver­se mo­ti­va­tions, as well as cri­ti­ques, that have in­for­med open­ness his­to­ri­cal­ly, in­clu­ding from wi­t­hin the open ac­cess mo­ve­ment. Here, the fo­cus is on the com­ple­xi­ty of open­ness its­elf, and the way it can­not sim­ply ser­ve as one side of an ‘open-clo­sed’ bi­na­ry, sin­ce it has al­ways al­re­a­dy been clo­se­ly en­me­s­hed with clo­sed­ness as well as with its other pro­po­sed ant­ago­nists. For in­stan­ce, Chris­to­pher Kel­ty has argued that in the open sour­ce mo­ve­ment, open­ness is not op­po­sed to clo­sed­ness, but to pro­prieta­ry, which he ar­gues, is a “com­pli­ca­ted mesh of the tech­ni­cal, the le­gal and the com­mer­ci­al” (Kel­ty, 2008: p. 143). This ent­an­g­led de­ve­lop­ment of open­ness also co­mes to the fore in re­cent his­to­ry of sci­ence stu­dies. Pa­me­la Long, for in­stan­ce, has shown how his­to­ri­cal­ly open­ness de­ve­l­o­ped in con­nec­tion to ide­as and prac­tices of se­crecy, aut­hor­ship, and pro­per­ty rights along­s­ide the es­ta­blish­ment of print and the prin­ted scho­lar­ly book in the West (Long, 2001). His­to­ri­cal re­se­arch into the de­ve­lop­ment of ear­ly mo­dern na­tu­ral phi­lo­so­phy shows a com­plex pic­tu­re, nu­an­cing the op­po­si­ti­on bet­ween open sci­ence and se­cre­ti­ve tech­no­lo­gy, see­ing open­ness in sci­ence as in­tri­ca­te and en­me­s­hed.

The­se al­ter­na­ti­ve ge­nea­lo­gies of open­ness also shed a dif­fe­rent light on the Mer­to­ni­an ide­al of open sci­ence (com­mu­nism) that has ac­com­pa­nied our nar­ra­ti­ves of mo­dern re­se­arch, whe­re as part of its prac­tical his­to­ri­cal de­ve­lop­ment, open­ness and se­crecy can be seen to have co-de­ve­l­o­ped in chan­ging con­di­ti­ons of power, pa­tro­na­ge, and tech­no­lo­gi­cal de­ve­lop­ment. No­nethe­l­ess, the spe­ci­fic con­text in which the open ac­cess mo­ve­ment de­ve­l­o­ped – re­la­ted to de­ve­lop­ments in (di­gi­tal) tech­no­lo­gy, the exis­ting cul­tu­res of know­ledge and un­fa­voura­ble eco­no­mic and ma­te­ri­al con­di­ti­ons – re­qui­res us to take into ac­count the in­flu­ence of both this long­stan­ding nar­ra­ti­ve on ‘open’ scho­lar­ship, as well as the day-to-day prac­tica­li­ties of ent­an­g­led se­crecy and power re­la­ti­ons.

Contested Terms

The mea­ning of open­ness as re­flec­ted wi­t­hin the ter­mi­no­lo­gy sur­roun­ding open ac­cess (green, gold, gra­tis, li­bre, etc.) con­ti­nues to be a high­ly char­ged to­pic. For many ad­vo­ca­tes, the de­ba­te about the ‘true’ de­fi­ni­ti­on and ‘cor­rect’ im­ple­men­ta­ti­on of open ac­cess is of cri­ti­cal im­port­an­ce for the fu­ture of aca­de­mia. The on­go­ing dis­pu­te over ter­mi­no­lo­gy is thus of a high­ly strategic cha­rac­ter. For some, the free on­line avail­a­bi­li­ty of all scho­lar­ly re­se­arch is the most im­portant goal of open ac­cess; whe­re for others, ac­cess is only the be­gin­ning or a me­ans to an end (re-use, data-mi­ning, ex­pe­ri­men­ta­ti­on, etc.). Ste­van Har­nad, howe­ver, ar­gues that more ex­pan­si­ve and dis­pu­ted forms of open ac­cess that can po­ten­ti­al­ly chal­len­ge the in­te­gri­ty of a work, such as Li­bre open ac­cess, are stan­ding in the way of the main­stream ac­cep­tan­ce of the pro­ject of uni­ver­sal ac­cess (Har­nad, 2012b). On the other hand, man­da­ting Green open ac­cess might ul­ti­mate­ly mean the im­ple­men­ta­ti­on of a wa­te­red-down ver­si­on of open ac­cess, not al­lo­wing re-use rights nor fun­da­men­tal­ly chal­len­ging or chan­ging the pre­sent (com­mer­ci­al) pu­blis­hing sys­tem. Howe­ver, the cur­rent prac­tical im­ple­men­ta­ti­on of a va­ri­ant of Gold open ac­cess in the UK does not seem to of­fer much so­lace eit­her. In what has be­co­me known as The Finch Report (June 2012) – an in­de­pen­dent stu­dy com­mis­sio­ned by the UK sci­ence mi­nis­ter Da­vid Wil­letts, ex­ami­ning how UK-fun­ded re­se­arch ?ndings can be made more ac­ces­si­ble – re­com­men­da­ti­ons have been made (which will in­form the UK go­vern­ment’s open ac­cess po­li­cy) which in­clu­de the fur­ther im­ple­men­ta­ti­on of ar­ti­cle pro­ces­sing char­ges for the open ac­cess pu­blis­hing of jour­nals. This re­com­men­da­ti­on can be seen to main­tain and fa­vour the sys­tem of com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on as cur­rent­ly set up, pro­tec­ting the in­te­rests of es­ta­blis­hed sta­ke­hol­ders, main­ly com­mer­ci­al pu­blis­hers. For in this sys­tem, the pu­blis­hers’ pro­fits will be sustai­ned via APCs, whe­re in, for in­stan­ce, Green open ac­cess, de­po­sit­ing of ar­ti­cles in re­po­si­to­ries will not re­qui­re any char­ge. Har­nad has thus al­re­a­dy cal­led The Finch Report a case of ‘suc­cess­ful lob­by­ing’ from the side of the pu­blis­hing in­dus­try (Har­nad, 2012a).

Sustainable Business Models

The se­arch for the right de­fi­ni­ti­on of open ac­cess has in­cre­a­sin­gly tur­ned into a quest for the ul­ti­ma­te sustainable open ac­cess busi­ness mo­del, ba­sed on the idea that the print-ba­sed sub­scrip­ti­on mo­del (es­pe­cial­ly in the hu­ma­nities) is no lon­ger sustainable, and that the (long-term) sustaina­bi­li­ty of open ac­cess still nee­ds to pro­ve its­elf. Howe­ver, de­s­pi­te this cri­ti­cism, one could also ar­gue that the print-ba­sed mo­del has ne­ver been sustainable and that spe­cia­li­sed and book-ba­sed re­se­arch in the hu­ma­nities es­pe­cial­ly has ne­ver been mar­keta­ble or self-sustai­ning and al­ways re­li­ed on some form of ad­di­tio­nal fun­ding (Ade­ma, 2010).

Chris­ti­an Fuchs and Ma­ri­sol San­do­val thus ar­gue for the ad­ap­ta­ti­on of­the so-cal­led Dia­mond (also known as pla­ti­num) mo­del, a va­ri­ant of the Gold open ac­cess mo­del that does not char­ge any fee to aut­hors or re­a­ders, nor to their in­sti­tu­ti­ons. In this mo­del, Fuchs and San­do­val sta­te, re­se­arch is pu­blis­hed in open ac­cess ‘wi­thout the com­mo­di­ty lo­gic’, ar­guing that any form of for-pro­fit open ac­cess will crea­te new aca­de­mic in­e­qua­li­ties of ac­cess bet­ween the ha­ves and have nots (Fuchs and San­do­val, 2013: p. 439). Here the fo­cus is on the ne­ces­si­ty of pu­blic fun­ding, and on the idea that open ac­cess busi­ness mo­dels need to be sub­si­di­sed. The sustaina­bi­li­ty or even pro­fi­ta­bi­li­ty of scho­lar­ly pu­blis­hing in ge­ne­ral is ques­tio­ned in this con­text, whe­re the ar­gu­ment is that pu­blis­hing costs should be an in­te­gral part of the costs of re­se­arch.

Neoliberal Rhetoric

The pro­s­pects of open ac­cess in many ways de­pend on how open ac­cess has been and is cur­rent­ly per­cei­ved. As be­co­mes cle­ar from above, open­ness can be seen as a floa­ting si­gni­fier (La­clau, 2005: pp. 129-155), a con­cept wi­thout a fi­xed mea­ning, ea­si­ly ad­op­ted by dif­fe­rent po­li­ti­cal ideo­lo­gies. For some, it is ex­act­ly this ‘open­ness’ of open ac­cess that be­co­mes pro­ble­ma­tic. Whe­re in­iti­al­ly the open ac­cess and open sour­ce mo­ve­ments were he­ral­ded by pro­gres­si­ve scho­lars and thin­kers as a cri­tique of the com­mo­di­fi­ca­ti­on of in­for­ma­ti­on and know­ledge (Ber­ry, 2008: p. 39), in­cre­a­sin­gly open­ness is seen as a con­cept and a prac­tice that has and can be ap­p­lied in va­rious po­li­ti­cal con­texts—most no­ta­b­ly as part of a neo­li­be­ral rhe­to­ric—and that can be con­nec­ted to ide­as of trans­pa­ren­cy and ef­fi­ci­en­cy he­ral­ded by busi­ness and go­vern­ment. This has been re­la­ted to the ‘open­ness’ of the con­cept and its mul­ti­pli­ci­ty of ad­ap­ta­ti­ons (Eve, 2013; Tkacz, 2012). For in­stan­ce, as part of neo­li­be­ral rhe­to­ric, open ac­cess is seen as sup­porting a com­pe­ti­ti­ve eco­no­my by ma­king the flow of in­for­ma­ti­on more ef­fi­ci­ent, trans­pa­rent and cost-ef­fec­tive, and by ma­king re­se­arch more ac­ces­si­ble to more peop­le. This ma­kes it easy for know­ledge, as a form of ca­pi­tal, to be ta­ken up by busi­nes­ses for com­mer­ci­al re-use, sti­mu­la­ting eco­no­mic in­no­va­ti­on. In this way, the re­se­arch pro­cess and its re­sults can be ef­fi­ci­ent­ly mo­ni­to­red and can be bet­ter made ac­coun­ta­ble as mea­sura­ble out­puts (Ade­ma, 2010; Hall, 2008; Hough­ton, 2009).

No­nethe­l­ess, As Gary Hall ar­gues, the­re is not­hing in­trin­si­cal­ly po­li­ti­cal or de­mo­cra­tic about open ac­cess (2008: p. 197). Mo­ti­va­tions be­hind open ac­cess are very di­ver­se, and mo­ti­ves that fo­cus on de­mo­cra­tic prin­ci­ples go hand in hand with neo­li­be­ral ar­gu­ments con­cerning the be­ne­fits of open ac­cess for the know­ledge eco­no­my. In­de­ed, open ac­cess, open­ness and open sci­ence have been theo­ri­sed and prac­ticed in ra­di­cal­ly dif­fe­rent, al­ter­na­ti­ve, cri­ti­cal and af­fir­ma­ti­ve ways wi­t­hin aca­de­mia, of­fe­ring a po­ten­ti­al coun­ter­weight to the pre­do­mi­nan­ce of neo­li­be­ral forms of open ac­cess as well as pro­vi­ding new ways of thin­king about po­li­tics (Ade­ma and Hall, 2013; Eve, 2013; Hall, 2008; Holm­wood, 2013b).

Futures: Radical Open Access

Alt­hough it is the open­ness of the con­cept of open ac­cess that brings with it a risk of un­cer­tain­ty towards its (fu­ture) ad­ap­ta­ti­ons, it can also be seen as that which pro­vi­des its po­ten­ti­al po­li­ti­cal power. For ex­amp­le, the con­tin­gent and con­textu­al forms of what can be cal­led ra­di­cal open ac­cess fo­cus on ex­pe­ri­men­ta­ti­on, and the ex­plo­ra­ti­on of new in­sti­tu­ti­ons and prac­tices. This ap­proach towards open­ness, ex­plo­ring new for­mats and sti­mu­la­ting sharing and re-use, can be seen as a ra­di­cal al­ter­na­ti­ve to and cri­tique of the busi­ness ethics un­der­ly­ing in­no­va­tions in the know­ledge eco­no­my, ques­tio­n­ing the sys­tem of (com­mer­ci­al) aca­de­mic pu­blis­hing as it is cur­rent­ly set up. Forms of ra­di­cal open ac­cess can also be seen to of­fer an af­fir­ma­ti­ve en­ga­ge­ment with open ac­cess by es­ta­blis­hing prac­tical and ex­pe­ri­men­tal (and in many ca­ses also scho­lar-led) al­ter­na­ti­ves to the pre­sent pu­blis­hing sys­tem. Me­dia Com­mons and Me­dia Com­mons Press are ex­am­ples here of scho­lar-led in­itia­ti­ves ex­pe­ri­men­ting with new forms of pu­blis­hing and col­la­bo­ra­ti­on. For many of the­se in­itia­ti­ves, open ac­cess also forms the star­ting point for a wi­der cri­tique and in­ter­ro­ga­ti­on of our in­sti­tu­ti­ons, prac­tices, no­ti­ons of aut­hor­ship, the book, and pu­bli­ca­ti­on. For ex­amp­le, Open Hu­ma­nities Press’s Li­ving Books About Life se­ries is open on a read/​wri­te ba­sis for con­ti­nuing col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve pro­ces­ses of wri­ting, edit­ing, re­mi­xing and com­men­ting, chal­len­ging the phy­si­cal and con­cep­tu­al li­mi­ta­ti­ons of the co­dex for­mat and re­thin­king the book as an open, li­ving and col­la­bo­ra­ti­ve pro­cess.

The po­ten­ti­al of ra­di­cal open ac­cess thus lies in how it en­vi­si­ons open ac­cess as an on­go­ing cri­ti­cal pro­ject, em­bra­c­ing its own in­con­sis­ten­cies and batt­ling with its own con­cep­ti­ons of open­ness. Fol­lo­wing this vi­si­on, open ac­cess should be un­ders­tood not as a ho­mo­ge­neous pro­ject stri­ving to be­co­me a do­mi­nant mo­del, nor as a con­cept with a pre-de­scri­bed mea­ning or ideo­lo­gy, but as a pro­ject with an un­k­nown out­co­me en­ga­ged in a con­ti­nuous se­ries of cri­ti­cal strugg­les. And this is ex­act­ly why we can­not pin down ‘open’ (nor ra­di­cal open ac­cess) as a con­cept, but why we need to lea­ve it open, open to other­ness and dif­fe­rence, and open to ad­apt to dif­fe­rent cir­cum­stan­ces.


Ade­ma, J. (2010): Open Access Business Models for Books in the Humanities and Social Sciences: An Overview of Initiatives and Experiments (OA­PEN Pro­ject Re­port), Ams­ter­dam.

Ade­ma, J. and Hall, G. (2013): ‘The Po­li­ti­cal Na­tu­re of the Book: On Ar­tists’ Books and Ra­di­cal Open Ac­cess’, in: New Formations 78 (1), pp. 138–156.

Ber­ry, D. M. (2008): Copy, Rip, Burn: The Politics of Copyleft and Open Source, Plu­to Press.

Eve, M. P. (2013): ‘Open Ac­cess, “Neo­li­be­ra­lism”, “Im­pact” and the Pri­va­ti­sa­ti­on of Know­ledge’, Dr. Martin Paul Eve blog, 10 March, avail­able at:

Fuchs, C. and San­do­val, M. (2013): ‘The Dia­mond Mo­del of Open Ac­cess Pu­blis­hing: Why Po­li­cy Ma­kers, Scho­lars, Uni­ver­si­ties, Li­bra­ries, La­bour Uni­ons and the Pu­blis­hing World Need to Take Non-Com­mer­ci­al, Non-Pro­fit Open Ac­cess Se­rious’, in: tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique. Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society 11 (2), pp. 428–443.

Guédon, J.C. (2004): ‘The “Green” and “Gold” Roads to Open Ac­cess: The Case for Mi­xing and Matching’, in: Serials Review 30 (4), pp. 315–328.

Hall, G. (2008): Digitize this Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now, Min­nea­po­lis: Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­ne­so­ta Press.

Har­nad, S. (2012a): ‘Finch Re­port, a Tro­jan Hor­se, Ser­ves Pu­blis­hing In­dus­try In­te­rests Ins­tead of UK Re­se­arch In­te­rests’, in: Open Access Archivangelism, June 19, avail­able at:,-a-Trojan-Horse,-Serves-Publishing-Industry-Interests-Instead-of-UK-Research-Interests.html

Har­nad, S. (2012b): ‘Open Ac­cess: Gra­tis and Li­bre’, in: Open Access Archivangelism, May 3, avail­able at:

Holm­wood, J. (2013b): ‘Mar­kets ver­sus Dia­lo­gue: The De­ba­te over Open Ac­cess Igno­res Com­pe­ting Phi­lo­so­phies of Open­ness’, in: Impact of Social Sciences, 21 Oc­to­ber, avail­able at:

Hough­ton, J., Ras­mus­sen, B. and Shee­han, P. (2009): Economic Implications of Alternative Scholarly Publishing Models: Exploring the Costs and Benefits. A Report to the Joint Information Systems Committee, JISC.

Kel­ty, C. M. (2008): Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software, Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press Books.

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Tkacz, N. (2012): ‘From Open Sour­ce to Open Go­vern­ment: A Cri­tique of Open Po­li­tics’, in: ephemera: theory in politics & organization 12 (4), pp. 386–405.

One comment on “Critical Keywords for the Digital Humanities: Open Access

  1. Albert
    December 18, 2014

    Reblogged this on sonofbluerobot.

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