OPEN REFLECTIONS

New Models of Knowledge Production. Open Access Publishing and Experimental Research Practices (Part I)

Chapter 5 of my thesis focuses on opportunities to intervene in the current cultures of knowledge production in academia and publishing, exploring efforts to rethink and re-perform the institutions surrounding the material production of the book, as well as our own entangled scholarly communication and publishing practices. I focus in particular in this chapter on open access publishing and experimental research practices. You can find a draft of the first part of this chapter underneath. As always, any feedback is more than welcome.

Chapter 5, part II can be found here and part III can be found here.

For chapter 2 of my thesis, see here and here. For Chapter 3 see here, here and here. And for chapter 4 see here and here.

5.1 Introduction

In the struggle for the future of the book and the university, access to scholarship has become an increasingly important issue, one that is standing at the basis of new knowledge practices. Many scholars however feel that access to specialised research, especially in the humanities, has diminished due to shrinking library budgets on the one hand and more trade focused scholarly presses and publishers on the other. As the previous chapter showed, due to the rise of economic ideologies and market forces in both academia and scholarly book publishing over the last few decades, the monograph as a specific publishing and communication format has increasingly developed according to market demands. In this chapter I want to explore two related efforts that might potentially offer an opportunity to intervene in the current cultures of knowledge production in academia and publishing. To do so, and as I proposed in my introduction to this section, I want to focus on the two remaining aspects of the strategy I am laying out towards re-cutting the object-formation of the book. In chapter 4 I explored the first step of this strategy, offering a potential way to reframe the discourse surrounding the past and future of the book; here I will examine the two further steps, namely rethinking and re-performing the institutions surrounding the material production of the book, as well as our own entangled scholarly communication and publishing practices.

As part of my effort to investigate potential alternatives, I will begin this chapter with a focus on some of the people and projects that are exploring (radical forms of) open scholarship and open access. Then, in the next part of this chapter, I will concentrate on research and publishing efforts that are investigating experimentation as a specific discourse and practice of critique, specifically with respect to the current system of scholarly object-formation (and opposed to narratives of innovation). Finally, I will conclude by arguing that, in order to sustain these affirmative critiques of the object-formation of the scholarly monograph and scholarly research more in general, we need forms of radical open access that include experimentation.

5.2 Openness and Open Access Publishing

Open access publishing can be seen as one of the most important recent developments in digital scholarly publishing. David Prosser, the director of Research Libraries UK (RLUK) even goes so far as to call it ‘the next information revolution’ (2003), and both the UK and the EU have made headway with mandating open access for publicly funded research. Open access has also been important for book publishing, and, more specifically, for the struggle over the future of the book. I will therefore begin with an analysis of the relationship between open access and scholarly book publishing, and the motives behind the latter’s interest in and uptake of open access. As part of that I will examine some of the forms a politics of the book based on openness might take, where a politics of the book is concerned with exploring how we can criticise and potentially start to change the cultures of material and technological production that surround scholarly communication in such a way as to allow for alternative, more ethical, critical and responsible forms of research. We can do this, I argue, by rethinking and deconstructing the object-formation of scholarship, both as part of academia’s impact and audit culture, and as part of the publishing market’s focus on commercially profitable book-commodities. This can be achieved, not by ignoring the fact that the book is and needs to be cut at some point in time (and thus cannot only be a processual and never-ending project), but by focusing on what other boundaries we might emphasise and take responsibility for. How might these aid us in critiquing the ongoing capitalisation of research—which comes to the fore in the increasing need for measurement, innovation and transparency, for instance?

To examine such a politics of the book based on openness, I will begin by looking at some of the critiques that have been put forward with respect to the concept of openness, and open politics more specifically. Where initially the open access and open source movements where heralded by progressive thinkers as part of a critique of the commodification of knowledge (Berry 2008: 39), openness is seen increasingly as a concept and practice that connects well with neoliberal needs and rhetoric, and that can be related to ideas of transparency and efficiency promoted by business and government.[1] From an initially subversive idea,[2] one can argue that open access, partly related to its growing accessibility and wider general uptake, is increasingly co-opted by capitalist ideology (of which the Finch Report, which we will be discussing later, is ample evidence) and as a result is turning in some respects at least into yet another business model for commercial publishers to reap a profit from.

To present another context to this debate and to open up and struggle for an alternative future for the already diverse and contingent idea of openness, I will be critically engaging with the work of media scholar Nathaniel Tkacz. Tkacz has written an important article on openness in which he pinpoints what he considers to be some of the inconsistencies in the concept of openness and open politics, and how from its very inception it can be connected to neoliberal thought. He achieves this, both by going back to the ‘father of open thought’, Karl Popper, and by analysing the influence of open software cultures on current open movements. Tkacz’s article can be seen as an illustrative example of the kind of thinking that criticises the liberatory tendencies and idealism present in many openness advocacies, and that sees openness as related to neoliberalism—a way of thinking that is no less fuelled by the recent uptake of open access by government and commercial publishing.

However, as part of my exploration of an open politics of the book, I want to offer an alternative genealogy of openness: one that is closely connected to the history of the book and of scholarly knowledge production, as discussed in the previous chapter; but also one that supplements Tkacz’s analysis, which focuses mostly on openness’s genealogy in the thought of Popper and the open source movement, and on the prevalence of an open-closed dichotomy. My alternative genealogy forges a stronger connection between the ideal of openness and the development of scholarly communication and open access publishing, while simultaneously seeing openness as intrinsically implicated in practices of secrecy and closure. This will then serve as impetus to explore in further detail the diversity of current engagements with openness and open access (beyond a focus on its neoliberal usurpation) by analysing some of the different value systems, motivations and politics underlying its uptake. The emphasis I am placing here on the sheer variety that makes up the ‘schools of thought’ on openness and open access, also serves to counter the vision that open access is intrinsically connected to neoliberalist discourses and practices, and enables me to argue instead that it can, at least potentially, be used as a powerful critique of these systems. To illustrate this diversity of uptake I will contrast the neoliberal vision of open access publishing as envisioned in the Finch Report[3] with what could be called radical open access publishing, drawing on some recent experiments that try to challenge and rethink the book as a commercial object, as well as the political economy surrounding it, by cutting the book together and apart differently.[4] I will conclude my discussion of open access with an exploration of what an open politics of the book could then potentially be, the latter being a politics that has its base in forms of open-ended experimentation, but which at the same time remains aware of, and takes responsibility for, the boundaries that still need to be enacted.

5.2.1 Reasons and Motivations Behind Open Access

What, then, were the main reasons behind the uptake of open access, especially in scholarly book publishing? How was it envisioned as a potential strategy against excessive forms of commercial publishing and academic capitalism? The open access movement[5] can be seen as a direct reaction against the ongoing commercialisation of research and of the publishing industry, coupled to a felt need to make research more widely accessible in a faster and more efficient way. Open access literature has been defined as ‘digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions’.[6] The movement grew out of an initiative established by academic researchers, librarians, managers and administrators, who argued that the current publishing system was no longer able or willing to fulfil their communication needs, even though opportunities were now increasingly offered by new digital distribution formats and mechanisms to make research more widely accessible. From the early 1990s onwards, open access was initiated and developed within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, where it focused mainly on the author self-archiving research works in central, subject or institutionally-based repositories (Green OA). These can be works that have been submitted for peer review (preprints), or that are final peer-reviewed versions (postprints). The other main and complementary route to open access focused on the publishing of research works in open access journals, books or other types of literature (Gold OA) (Harnad et al. 2004: 310–314, Guédon 2004). In the humanities and social sciences (HSS), the fields where books have tended to be the preferred communication medium, open access caught on later than in the STEM fields. This was due, among other reasons, to: the slow rise of book digitisation and of ebook uptake by scholars; the focus on green open access within the STEM fields, targeting the high costs of subscriptions to journals in these fields, whereas journals in the HSS are generally cheaper; the specific difficulty with copyright and licensing agreements for books; and the expenses involved in publishing books in comparison with articles (i.e. they have different publishing and business models).[7]

Open access also filled another void in the HSS, where it was perceived as the answer to the monograph crisis. As described in chapter 4, scholarly monograph publishing is seen to be facing a crisis, where its already feeble sustainability is being endangered by continually declining book sales.[8] Library spending on ebooks has gone down, due to acquisition budgets cuts and decisions to buy journals in STEM instead, which have seen rising subscription costs (Thompson 2005). This drop in library demand for HSS monographs has led university presses to produce smaller print runs and focus on marketable titles. This has been threatening the availability of specialised humanities research and has led to related problems for—mostly early-career—scholars, where career development within the humanities is directly coupled to the publishing of a monograph by a reputable press (Darnton 1999). Partly in response to this perceived monograph crisis, these developments have seen the rise of a number of scholarly-, library- and/or university-press initiatives that are experimenting more directly with making monographs available on an open access basis. These initiatives include scholar-led presses such as Open Humanities Press, re.press, and Open Book Publishers; cooperatives of university presses such as OAPEN and Open Edition; commercial presses such as Bloomsbury Academic; university presses, including ANU E Press and Firenze University Press; and presses established by or working with libraries, such as Athabasca University’s AU Press and Göttingen University Press. As Sigi Jöttkandt and Gary Hall argue with respect to the decision to set up Open Humanities Press in relation to the monograph crisis:

Such a situation not only affects the careers and, potentially, the choice of research areas of individuals. It also impacts the humanities itself – both because a lot of excellent work is unable to find appropriate publication outlets and also because decisions concerning the production, publication, dissemination and promotion of humanities research are being made less and less by universities and academics on intellectual grounds, and more and more by scholarly and commercial presses on economic grounds. When ground-breaking research that develops new insights is rejected in favour of more marketable introductions and readers, it is clear that academia as a whole becomes ‘intellectually impoverished’. (2007)

However, as is already indicated by the variety of initiatives and the diversity of their backgrounds, the motivations behind the development of open access archiving and publishing are extremely diverse. They include the desire to: increase accessibility to specialised humanities research by making it online and openly available (to enable increased readership and to promote the impact of scholarly research, next to enabling heightened accessibility to research to those in developing countries, for instance);[9] to publish or disseminate research in an open way in order to take social responsibility and to enhance a democratic public sphere as a means of stimulating a liberal democracy that thrives on an informed public; to argue for the importance of sharing research results in a more immediate and direct way; and to offer an alternative to, and to stand up against, the large, established, profit-led, commercial publishing houses that have come to dominate the field in order to liberate ideas and thinkers from market constraints and to be able to publish specialist scholarship that lacks a clear commercial market.

However, these liberal-democratic motives for open access exist side-by side, not just with more radical and critical motives, but also with the neoliberal rhetoric of the knowledge-economy. In the latter, open access is seen as supporting a competitive economy by making the flow of information more flexible, 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 competition and innovation. In this way the research process, its results and their dissemination, can be efficiently monitored and measured and can be better made accountable as measurable outputs (Hall 2008a, Houghton et al. 2009, Adema 2010). This will make it easier for business and industry to capitalise on academic knowledge and it will stimulate global competition.

5.2.2 The Potentials and Pitfalls of Open’s ‘Openness’

As Hall has argued in Digitize this book!, where he gives a very detailed and comprehensive overview of the differing but often also overlapping motivations that exist concerning open access and openness, there is nothing intrinsically political or democratic about open access. Motives that focus on democratic principles often go hand in hand with neoliberal arguments concerning the benefits of open access for the knowledge economy. The politics of the book in relationship to open access publishing is thus not predefined, nor is it my intention to argue that it should be.[10] Openness in many ways can be seen as what Laclau calls a floating signifier (2005: 129–155), a concept without a fixed meaning and one that is easily adopted by different political ideologies. As I will point out, it is this very openness and lack of fixity of the concept that gives it its power, but also brings with it a risk of uncertainty towards its (future) adoption. However, for some scholars it is exactly this ‘openness’ of open access or of the concept of openness that is problematic. Before we can explore in more depth what openness or an open politics could potentially enable in the form of experimental and critical scholarly practices, we therefore need to focus on some of the criticisms that have been made of this controversial and unsettled idea of openness. Recently, a lot of this critique has focused on the ease with which open access, as a concept and practice, can be applied in a variety of political contexts—most noticeably as part of a neoliberal rhetoric and profitable commercial business models (Tkacz 2012, Eve, M. 2013, Holmwood 2013a). As I mentioned previously, media scholar Nate Tkacz is one of the thinkers who has critiqued the concept of openness extensively from this angle, and it will thus be useful to explore his analysis here more in detail.

Tkacz’s assessment of openness in his article ‘From Open Source to Open Government: a Critique of Open Politics’, is based on what he sees as ‘a critical flaw in how openness functions in relation to politics’ (2012: 386). Tkacz explores ‘the recent proliferation of openness as a political concept’—where it has become, as he states, ‘a master category of contemporary political thought’ (2012: 386–387)—through a detailed reading of the work of Karl Popper on openness and the open society, while further tracing its recent genealogy through software and network cultures. His critique focuses mainly on how openness and open politics, both in Popper and in contemporary incarnations of open politics, serves as an inscrutable political ideal, merely opposed to its empty binary, the closed society, or closed politics, which is a politics based on centralised governance (critiqued by neoliberalists such as Friedrich Hayek) and/or unchallengeable truths (such as Popper argues one can find in the politics of fascism and communism).

Tkacz is interested in how this concept and ‘empty ideal’ of openness has recently re-emerged in politics, and how it has been re-politicised, based on its connections with software cultures. He explores how openness has been translated into new domains, such as open access, in entities such as Wikipedia and Google, and in a variety of government initiatives, as a practical application of open-source politics. His examination leads Tkacz to conclude that ‘the same rhetoric [of openness] is deployed by what are otherwise very different groups or organisations’ (2012: 393). Openness shows certain consistencies throughout these cultures, Tkacz argues, such as in ‘its couplings with transparency, collaboration, competition and participation, and its close ties with various enactments of liberalism’ (2012: 399). These can also be seen to underpin our current neoliberal governmentality.[11] The mobilisation of openness in the politics of ‘activist and marginal network cultures’ (2012: 395), as well as in more mainstream organisations, urges Tkacz to coin a critique of the open, arguing that there are some crucial problems with the concept and that it has a poverty that ‘makes it unsuitable for political description’ (2012: 399).

As noted above, Tkacz relates these problems to a genealogy of openness connected to the thought of Popper and the politics and political economy of software and network cultures. For Tkacz, Popper is the father of open thought, who sketches an overall theory of the open versus closed society. Tkacz sees the thought of both Popper and Hayek (one of the fathers of neoliberal thought) as highly influential with respect to the current politics of openness. He analyses the recent proliferation of openness in open movements ‘largely as a reaction to a set of undesirable developments, beginning with the realm of closed systems and intellectual property and its “closed source’’’ (Tkacz 2012: 403). Here he sketches a conceptualisation of openness that is similar to the binary already proposed by Popper.

In his critique of openness, Tkacz thus focuses mainly on Popper and on how the binary open-closed cannot be upheld, since closure is inherent in Popper’s notion of openness. Tkacz states that, based on the philosophy of Popper, the open as a concept is reactionary (where it merely states what it is not, i.e. not closed), it has no (true, positive) meaning—which would close it off—and cannot ‘build a lasting affirmative dimension’ (2012: 400). He further argues that if there are positive qualities to openness, they exist at the level of reality (of real practices) and are therefore subject to continual transformation, which Tkacz sees as paradoxical: how can something that is already open, then become more open, when this means that it thus must have not been open before? For Tkacz, then, clearly ‘Openness (…) implies antagonism, or what the language of openness would describe as closures’ (2012: 403). He argues, however, that these closures get obscured in current incarnations of open politics. The way the open is used in a forward looking and almost prophetic way in many open movements (towards ‘more openness’) has made these simultaneous closures invisible, which mainly has to do with the lack of critique of the open in these movements. For Tkacz’s argues that there has been little reflection on the concept of openness, especially with respect to ‘how seemingly radically different groups can all claim it as their own.’ From this Tkacz concludes that ‘openness, it seems, is beyond disagreement and beyond scrutiny’, and elsewhere, ‘whose meaning is so overwhelmingly positive it seems impossible to question, let alone critique’ (2012: 386, 399).

Making-the-Paper-Into-Pages

In response to Tkacz’s analysis that openness is ‘beyond disagreement’ and ‘impossible to question’, I would like to argue that an extensive critique of openness does exist (including his own work on the topic), and has been formulated, also from within open movements.[12] Furthermore, I would also like to offer an alternative to Tkacz’s genealogy of openness—and with that to open access and open politics. I want to do so to offer a supplement to his genealogy based on the thought of Popper and the politics of software and network cultures, but also in an attempt to offer a genealogy that does not rely so strongly on the open-closed binary. For the genealogy of openness that Tkacz traces is a very specific one; one that relates to what Hall has called ‘the liberal, democratising approach’ to openness (2008a: 197). An alternative genealogy that tries to re-asses the binary open-closed and that can be traced back to the early developments of scholarly publishing, influencing current incarnations of open access, might therefore be beneficial here. It might be so, not only with regard to rethinking some of the problems Tkacz describes relating to the concept of openness, but also to casting a more favourable, affirmative light on the potential of openness and of forms of what can be called radical open access.

Tkacz’s problem with the concept of openness, in my opinion, relates mostly to the concept of openness as developed and used by Popper (notwithstanding the influence this has had on the political reincarnation of openness). It isn’t the concept itself, in all its uses—as Tkacz describes it (2012: 399)—that has crucial problems, but the specific concept of openness developed and used by Popper. It is this concept that is based on a binary between open and closed; and that has been further developed through the thought of Hayek and network and software cultures, following a forward-looking (neo)liberal/democratic approach to openness. In this respect, Tkacz has traced the genealogy of a specific approach to openness, one that makes it easy to connect openness to neoliberalism and capitalist democracies, as well as to a teleological conception of openness as a form of looking forward, focused on being more open (in the sense of being less closed).

However, I would like to draw attention to other forms and cultures of openness that do not connect so strictly to this binary, but rather envision openness and closure as enmeshed, similarly to the argument Tkacz makes when he states that openness inevitably includes closures. Tkacz regards these closures in openness as something inherent in openness, but then following the binary conception of openness in the thought of Popper, decides to see this as problematic and paradoxical for the concept of openness, instead of developing this further and envisioning this as a potential core strength of ideas of the open and open politics. As he states: ‘closure remains an inherent part of the open; it is what openness must continually respond to and work against – a continual threat amongst the ranks’ (Tkacz 2012: 403). However, building further on what Tkacz states about openness implying antagonisms, I would argue that these antagonisms, these closures, are exactly what we need (and have always had) as part of an open politics, and what give it its strength.

I would thus like to propose a genealogy of openness in which openness is integrally connected to and entangled with a different ‘antagonist’, namely, secrecy. Interestingly, in this genealogy, openness as a concept is directly related to the historical development of systems and discourses of knowledge production and communication. Scholarly research on openness in scientific communication can be seen to be far more ambivalent and contextual in its coverage of the concept of openness than Popper is, for instance (Long 2001, David 2008, Vermeir and Margócsy 2012, Vermeir 2012). By offering both a contrasting and a supplementary genealogy of openness, I would like to shed a more positive light on the potential of openness, both as a concept and as a practice and politics, to critique the ongoing marketisation of knowledge.

Extending from that, and in response to Tkacz’s prompt to explore open projects more closely,[13] I would like to take a more contextualised look at some specific open access projects at the end of this section. There I will argue that if we analyse specific instances of how openness is practised and theorised, we will see that open access is not one thing, that its meaning is highly disputed, that it is (or can be) implemented in different ways and that this leads to different and often contrasting politics. For neither the same rhetoric nor the same underlying motivations for openness are shared by the different groups of people involved in open access practices, where these groups theorise openness in (often highly) different ways, and according to different underlying value systems.[14] This includes practices and theories of radical open access that are critical of openness in its neoliberal/democratic guises, but still try to engage with the open in an affirmative way too. The latter are projects that don’t necessarily adhere to a teleological vision of openness (towards the goal of more openness, whatever that would be), but argue instead that openness is not about being more open, for instance, but is rather about being open to change and experimentation—depending on the contingent circumstances, the political and ethical decisions and cuts that need to be made and so on—in a process of continual critique, without necessarily being forward looking in a teleological sense. In our ongoing affirmative politics and practices of the open we make cuts and close down the open; however, as I will argue, we can start to think more responsibly and ethically about the closures we enact and enable in our communication practices: for instance, by focussing on creating difference as part of the incisions (closures) we make, and by promoting otherness, variety and processual becoming. Instead of shying away from these closures, these boundaries that are already implied in openness, might a more interesting approach not be to explore how these decisions are made, by whom, and how we can re-cut them in different ways? And might it not be more interesting to do so especially with respect to how we currently publish our scholarly books?

I will thus explore an alternative and complimentary genealogy of openness to that offered by Tkacz next—one that fits better, I will argue, with the specific, contextual politics of open access and radical open access publishing, and that does indeed see openness and secrecy/closure not as binaries but as integrally enmeshed. After the examination of that alternative genealogy, I will provide an account of some of the different ways in which openness and open access have been and are being theorised and practised, by comparing the neoliberal analysis of open access the Finch report offers, with the practices and critique of radical open access publishing. I will do so to emphasise the contingency and contextuality of openness, but also to bring attention to more radical and critical incarnations of open access and openness, which focus on a critique of the business ethics underlying neoliberal politics, among other things.

5.2.2.1 A Genealogy of Openness and Secrecy

In her book Openness, Secrecy, Authorship (2001), the historian Pamela Long provides a genealogy of openness that is closely connected to the development of specific cultures of knowledge, and the way these have categorised and conceptualised knowledge. She shows how openness advanced in connection to ideas and practices of secrecy, authorship, and property rights, and alongside the establishment of print and the printed scholarly book in the West (although her exploration of openness, secrecy, authorship and the technical arts stretches back to developments in antiquity). Long looks at the influence and development of craft and practice-based or mechanical knowledge, alongside traditions of theoretical knowledge, and their mutual influence and interaction with respect to the construction of the discourse surrounding knowledge over the centuries, including its relationship to openness and secrecy. Where initially in antiquity Aristotelian science made strict divisions between têchne (material and technical production), praxis (action) and episteme (theoretical knowledge), Long argues that it was the direct links and closer interaction between the mechanical arts (craft knowledge), political power, and theoretical knowledge (or learned traditions), which led to the development of empirical and experimental scientific methodologies in the 17th century, including an expansion of scientific authorship into practices of ‘openly purveyed treatises’ (2001: 102).

As Long points out, it was the new alliance between power (praxis) and the technical arts (têchne) that initially enabled authorship in these fields to expand in an effort to legitimate and promote those in political power. New city-based rulers wanted to emphasise their legitimacy, and did so through, among other things, grand urban redesigns and other construction projects. Books on the mechanical arts thus became a worthy subject from the 15th and 16th century onwards, where many of these volumes emerged from a patronage system, produced to enhance the status of the patron. However, they also served to enhance the status of mechanical and craft knowledge, for one important aspect of openness, as Long states, was the accurate or proper crediting of authorship, which in the mechanical arts led to validation of practice in an environment where priority and novelty became of growing value (2001: 180). As Long makes clear, ‘open display of technological practices and of practitioners-authors developed in tandem with the growing value of novelty and priority,’ where as she puts it ‘open authorship often could be used to establish priority’ (2001: 209). These practices led to ‘the development of an arena of discursive practice in which the productive value of certain technical arts (inherent in their ability to produce fabricated and constructed objects) was augmented by their status as knowledge-based disciplines’ (Long 2001: 243). It was this improved cultural status for the mechanical fields as well as for new forms of open authorship that significantly influenced the culture of knowledge. Long claims that it was these forms of open authorship that developed in the technical and mechanical arts that were highly influential when it came to ‘seventeenth-century struggles to validate new experimental methodologies’, including open authorship, in the scientific fields (2001: 250).

However, and this is where Long’s argument becomes important in this context, she also argues that these new, open traditions of authorship developed at the same time that neoplatonic secrecy and magic and esoteric knowledge saw a rise in popularity.[15] Part of the complexity of early modern science was exactly the co-existence of ‘diverse values of transmission, including both openness and secrecy, as well as evolving attitudes of ownership and priority’ (Long 2001: 250). Long clearly complicates the opposition between openness and secrecy here, as well as the identification of science with openness. As she states: ‘until recently openness was taken to be characteristic of science, and there was very little reflection concerning whether scientific practices were actually open and, if they were, what that openness meant’ (Long 2001: 4). We can locate this association of science with openness in scholars such as Robert Merton (1973) and Derek de Solla Price (1969), who argue that science is intrinsically open (to communicate findings the scientific norm of communism is seen as essential), where technology is regarded as intrinsically secret (to sell material trademarked objects). However, as Long argues, recent historical research into the development of early modern natural philosophy, shows a far more complex and contextual picture, where Vermeir and Margócsy write that ‘the opposition between secretive technology and open science has been qualified, nuanced and contextualized’ (2012). Openness is thus intricate and enmeshed with secrecy, and integrally connected to issues of priority and patronage, where it functions in a complicated network of alliances, mixed up with authorship in relationships of power and secrecy. This is something that is supported by Paul David, who argues that a functionalist search for the origin of open science can know a historicist bias, where we take our current conception of open science for granted. A more contextualised historical search for origins shows a very different and more messy picture, one caught up in systems of power and rival political patronage (David 2008: 14–16).

Long gives neither a positive nor a negative definition of openness, but connects it to secrecy directly when she states that ‘openness refers to the relative degree of freedom given to the dissemination of information or knowledge and involves assumptions concerning the nature and extent of the audience’ (2001: 5). Historian Koen Vermeir has similarly pointed out that ‘openness and secrecy are often interlocked, impossible to take apart, and they might even reinforce each other. They should be understood as positive (instead of privative) categories that do not necessarily stand in opposition to each other’ (2012: 165). Vermeir argues that we need to pay more attention to the specific genealogies and contexts in which the values as well as the practices of openness and secrecy have operated. Normally they are seen as negations of each other, but Vermeir notes that it might be useful to see them as gradational categories that need to be judged according to their specific historicity where openness now means something different than it did in the 17th century, for instance. We might also consider positive notions of openness and secrecy (as in the positive notion of freedom), by looking at the intentionality behind openness: how or in what way is circulation/dissemination of scholarship positively promoted? Vermeir emphasises that something can be open but at the same time undiscoverable in a sea of information overload, which can make for new forms of secrecy.[16] Openness and secrecy also don’t always exclude each other, Vermeir states—in the publication of a coded text, for example. Finally, whether we see something as open or secret also depends on the perceiver’s viewpoint.

This short overview of an alternative genealogy of openness shows that, if we look at the history of our cultures of knowledge and scholarly authorship and at the development of our modern systems of scholarly communication and publishing (including its technological advances), we can see that openness as a concept has always been integrally entangled with notions of secrecy. At the same time it enables us to argue, following Vermeir and Long, that it is essential to take this genealogy into account if we want to study and understand the development of the open access movement—particularly as a specific incarnation of open politics. The particular context in which the open access movement arose, related to developments in (digital) technology, the existing cultures of knowledge and unfavourable economic and material conditions, requires us to acknowledge the influence this longstanding tradition of open scholarship has had on its values and underlying motivations. At the same time it is important to study this ideal of open science and the assumption that knowledge needs to be shared by efficient forms of dissemination and consumption, as part of a historical development where, in practice, openness and secrecy co-developed in changing conditions of power, patronage, and technological development.[17]


[1] Kember refers in this respect to ‘policy-driven’ open access, related to an economic agenda that is focused on research as innovation (2014a or 2014b?).

[2] Also see Stevan Harnad’s ‘Subversive Proposal’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subversive_Proposal

[3] The Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, an independent group chaired by professor Dame Janet Finch, was set up in October 2011 to examine how UK-funded research can be made more accessible.  It released the report, Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: How to expand access to research publications”, also known as the “Finch Report” in June 2012. On 16 July 2012, the UK government announced that it has accepted the report’s recommendations. See: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-to-open-up-publicly-funded-research and http://www.researchinfonet.org/publish/finch/

[4] These experiments focus on both access and re-use, on a critique of the overly commercial political-economy surrounding publishing, and on establishing both a practical and experimental method. Radical open access can thus be seen as theories or practices of open access that are focused on openness as a means to: critique established systems; rethink the book and the humanist understandings that accompany it; change scholarly practices by focusing on ‘doing’ scholarship differently; explore experimentation, and finally—and perhaps most importantly in this context—to critique the concept and practices of openness, as well as the dichotomies between closed and open, and between the book and the net that keep one being (re-)introduced. The term radical open access was first introduced by Gary Hall at a talk at Columbia University, entitled ‘Radical Open Access in the Humanities’ (2010).

[5] Although divided in its views on what openness is and should be, and how we should go about achieving open access, one can argue that there is such a thing as an open access movement. As Guédon has put it: ‘Open access became a movement after a meeting was convened in Budapest in December 2001 by the Information Program of the Open Society Institute. That meeting witnessed a vigorous debate about definitions, tactics, and strategies, and out of this discussion emerged two approaches which have become familiar to all observers, friends, or foes’ (2004: 315). In order to further the promotion of open access and achieve higher rates of adoption and compliance among the academic community, a number of strategic alliances have been forged between the various proponents of open access. It can be claimed that these alliances (those associated with green open access, for instance) have focused mostly on making the majority if not indeed all of the research accessible online without a paywall (Gratis open access) as their priority. Although they cannot be simply contrasted and opposed to the former (often featuring many of the same participants), other strategic alliances have focused more on gaining the trust of the academic community, trying to take away some of the fears and misunderstandings that exist concerning open, online publishing.

[6] See Peter Suber’s Open Access overview: http://www.earlham.edu/∼peters/fos/overview.htm

[7] For a more detailed description of the reasons why books and book publishing were slow to adopt to open access and open access publishing, see Adema and Hall (2013).

[8] As already discussed in the introduction, this narrative of crisis can be misleading, presupposing an idealised past and the possibility of a teleological move beyond or out of this ‘crisis’. In saying this, I do not intend to dismiss the dire situation in which book publishing finds itself, but I want to emphasise that the scholarly book has never been sustainable and in this sense would be in a ‘perpetual crisis’ (Adema 2010, Copper and Marx, 2014). In this respect Kember’s insights are valuable, where she prefers instead to ‘recognise the genealogy of crisis that is, in effect, no crisis at all, but rather an ongoing, dynamic and antagonistic encounter with all that is considered to be external to the humanities – digitisation and marketisation included’ (Kember, 2014b: 107)

[10] Hall makes a subdivision in discourses concerning open access publishing motives. He distinguishes the liberal, democratising approach; the renewed public sphere approach; and the gift economy approach (Hall 2008a: 197).

[11]An argument can be made here, based on the work of Wendy Brown, that it is not so much an ‘open’ politics, as it is the logic of the free or open economy that underlies this governmentality. For one could assert that it is not an open politics which stimulates a neoliberal rhetoric, but the fact that there is a lack of politics altogether within neoliberalist forms of governmentality—following Brown’s analysis of the waning of homo politicus and the rise of homo economicus in neoliberal systems. In this sense the destruction of the democratic imaginary is again not based on an open politics, but on a lack of politics, on the demise of the idea of the demos (Brown et al. 2012).

[12] The list of people critiquing or being critical of ‘openness’ is actually quite extensive, especially if we expand it to works that focus on discourses related to cognitive capitalism and knowledge work. A critical exploration of openness can be found in the following works, among others: Hall (2008a), Broekman et al. (2009), Krikorian and Kapczynski (2010), Luke and Hunsinger (2009) and Morozov (2013).

[13] As Tkacz states: ‘Rather than using the open to look forward, there is a need to look more closely at the specific projects that operate under its name—at their details, emergent relations, consistencies, modes of organising and stabilising, points of difference, and forms of exclusion and inclusion’ (2012: 404). For example, Tkacz has been doing this extensively for Wikipedia; see Tkacz and Lovink (2011).

[14] Similarly, diverse ‘schools of thought’ exist in relation to the concept and practice of ‘open science’, as Fecher and Friesike have argued on the basis of an extensive literary analysis (2013).

[15] This coexistence and entanglement of open and secret knowledge right up until the 18th century has been corroborated by historian Paul David, among others (2008: 9).

[16] The same argument can be made with respect to the current method of hierarchisation according to ‘impact factors’ as part of our modern journal system, where ‘indexed’, high impact journals are the journals that will be bought by libraries and others mostly fall by the wayside. As Guédon explains:

No longer was it sufficient to be a good scientist in order to do research; one also had to be part of an institution that could afford to buy the record of the ‘Great Conversation’, i.e. to subscribe to the set of journals defined by SCI. And if one wanted to join the ‘Great Conversation’, simply publishing in a journal recognized as scientific was no longer enough; it had to be a journal included in the SCI set of journals. All the other journals simply disappeared from most radar screens, particular when they could not be ranked according to a new device based on citation counts: the impact factor (IF). (2014: 90–91)

[17] This entanglement of openness and secrecy continued throughout history and is visible, as Vermeir and Margócsy have argued, in the discrepancies between the Mertonian norms of communism and the security concerns of the McCarthy era, as well as in modern biotechnology, a scientific field communicating its findings amid a context of trade secrets and strict confidentiality (2012).


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5 comments on “New Models of Knowledge Production. Open Access Publishing and Experimental Research Practices (Part I)

  1. Pingback: New Models of Knowledge Production. Open Access Publishing and Experimental Research Practices (Part II) | OPEN REFLECTIONS

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  3. Pingback: On Liquid Books and Fluid Humanities (part I) | OPEN REFLECTIONS

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