OPEN REFLECTIONS

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

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 second part of this chapter underneath. As always, any feedback is more than welcome.

Chapter 5, part I 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.

5.2.2.2 Openness Contested

Now that I have provided an alternative genealogy of openness—one more focused on the complex interaction between openness and secrecy/closure, and the intricate relationship between the concept and practice of openness and the development of our modern system of scholarly communication—I want to offer an account of the different ways in which openness and open access have recently been theorised and practiced. What I want to show here is that openness (which as I made clear above functions as a floating signifier), and especially open access, has indeed increasingly been taken up in neoliberal rhetoric and politics. However, contrary to Tkacz and those critics of open access that relate it or its roots to neoliberalism, or see its current uptake in the Finch report or profit-focused author-pays models as exemplary, I want to explore how the understanding of open access, openness and open science has been heavily contested and how separate discourses on the concept of openness have been developed within the scholarly communication realm (Hall 2008a, Adema and Hall 2013, Eve, M. P. 2013, Fecher and Friesike 2013, Holmwood 2013b). It is important to emphasise this because if the implementation of open access in the UK, for instance, proceeds along the lines of the Finch report (2012), then there is a risk that this version of open access will become the dominant or hegemonic narrative, subsuming the variety of discourses that currently exist on open access as well as its multifaceted history.

It is for this reason that I want to both reclaim and put forward another version of open access, one that targets business oriented approaches directly and instead positions open access as an ongoing critical project. Focused on experimentation and the exploration of new institutions and practices, this approach towards openness, examining new formats and stimulating sharing and re-use of content, can be seen as a radical alternative to, and critique of, the business ethics underlying innovations in the knowledge economy. It also offers a potential way to break-through the object-formation of the scholarly book—something that prevails in the neoliberal vision of open access (which sees the book as a product)—and the exploitation of scholarly communication as capital, as objects to sustain and innovate the knowledge economy.

To do this I will compare the (mainly neoliberal) motives that the Finch report identifies as being fundamental to open access with the values underlying a series of experiments with radical open access publishing. I will begin by giving a short general overview of the influence of neoliberal rhetoric and ethics on higher education, and on experiments with digital academic and open access publishing more in general.

5.2.2.3 The Neoliberal Discourse on Open Access

The discourse of neoliberalism, which focuses on the reshaping of culture and society according to the demands and needs of the market, has infiltrated higher education on a number of different levels (Pekkola 2009). It has turned capitalism from a mode of production into a cultural logic where economic freedom is seen as the necessary precondition for political freedom. David Harvey, in his history of neoliberalism, describes it as ‘a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade’ (2007: 2). Wendy Brown conceptualises neoliberalism as a political rationality that extends market values and economic rationality beyond the economy into all dimensions of human life, including our institutions, where they become part of our social actions. Neoliberalism can thus be seen a form of governmentality which ‘produces subjects, forms of citizenship and behaviour, and a new organization of the social’ (Brown 2003). Within this mode of thinking, not only are universities forced to act more and more like profit-making enterprises instead of public institutions—in a process that also involves the ongoing privatisation of Higher Education in the UK—but the focus of the knowledge economy is also placed to an ever higher degree on the extensive standardisation and the economic exploitation of knowledge, as a form of capital produced within these universities (Hall 2008a). This leads to a situation where researchers within the knowledge economy are asked to produce research that feeds directly into and sustains the neoliberal economy (Olssen and Peters 2005).

Increasingly, open access publishing is featuring in neoliberal discourses in Higher Education and government as a system to promote innovation and transparency of research (fitting in well with the aforementioned audit culture). Open access supports the knowledge economy by making the flow of information more flexible, efficient 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. Additionally, the research process, its results and their dissemination, can be efficiently monitored and can be better made accountable as measurable outputs as part of an audit culture: think of experiments with bibliometrics and data mining, for instance, which can be used as tools to stimulate greater transparency of research. In conclusion, according to this neoliberal rhetoric, society, or better said, the individual taxpayer, gets improved value for money or return on investment with open access (Hall 2008a).

As I argued earlier, the openness of the discourse around open access has made it easy to incorporate in a neoliberal context. Martin Eve, although critical of an equation of open access with neoliberalism, argues that open access is easily connected to measures related to the REF, its impact agenda and call for transparency and the privatisation of knowledge (Eve, M. P. 2013). This connection can be used to explain to some extent the current resistance of certain scholars to open access, again related to its potential towards increasing transparency, and towards promoting an audit culture and state control.[1] Their opposition focuses on how, in the new system proposed by government (together with HEFCE and RCUK), universities, or more specifically, university management, will have more widespread control over their academics’ ability to publish. These scholars argue that the specific implementation of the gold open access (as favoured in the report)—in which in order to publish in an open access journal a fee needs to be paid beforehand (e.g. by one’s institution)—is an attack on academic freedoms, and will most likely be aligned with the REF’s impact agenda (Sabaratnam and Kirby 2012). In this sense, while many academics are not against increasing access to scholarly publications, they are afraid that the policy recommendations of transparency and openness will be used as an instrumentalist justification for the imposition of a certain version of open access. It is one which has the potential to promote a further expansion of neoliberalism and which, as sociologist John Holmwood has argued, will function to ‘open all activities to the market and reduce public accountability of its operation’ (2013a).[2]

To explore this neoliberal rhetoric surrounding open access in more depth, let’s now take a closer look at the Report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings—or the Finch report as it is commonly known after its chair, Dame Janet Finch. This is an independent study commissioned by the then UK government science minister David Willetts, released in June 2012, drawing on the advice and support of a group of representatives of the research, library and publishing communities. The report recommends the further implementation of author-side fees for the open access publishing of journals, where an article processing charge (APC) will be needed to cover the publishing costs. This fee, paid for by authors or in most cases by their institutions, will enable the article to be opened up to the wider public under a CC-BY license (as recommended by the Finch report). This is a strategy that can be seen as maintaining and favouring the system of communication (or ecology, as the Finch report calls it) as it is currently set up.[3] In this gold APC system, the publishers’ profits will be sustained, where in green open access, depositing of articles in repositories will not require an APC. But as Philip Sykes, a librarian on the Finch panel, has said, ‘It’s not in the interests of UK scholarship to make recommendations which undermine the sustainability of the publishing industry’ (Van Noorden 2012). This has provoked Stevan Harnad to conclude that ‘The Finch Report is a successful case of lobbying by publishers to protect the interests of publishing at the expense of the interests of research and the public that funds research’ (2012).

The report offers recommendations to ensure sustainable and efficient models for future scholarly communication defining, among other things, the criteria for success with regard to how to reach this goal. In the following quote related to APCs they accurately illustrate the neoliberal vision of promoting market mechanisms in Higher Education, and of universities acting as businesses: ‘The measures we recommend will bring greater competition on price as well as the status of the journals in which researchers wish to publish. We therefore expect market competition to intensify, and that universities and funders should be able to use their power as purchasers to bear down on the costs to them both of APCs and of subscriptions’ (Finch 2012: 11).

But this vision comes to the fore even more directly when we look at the motivations underlying the wider dissemination of research that the Finch report identifies and supports. According to the report, improving the flows of information and knowledge will promote:

  • enhanced transparency, openness and accountability, and public engagement with research
  • closer linkages between research and innovation, with benefits for public policy and services, and for economic growth;
  • improved efficiency in the research process itself, through increases in the amount of information that is readily accessible, reductions in the time spent in finding it, and greater use of the latest tools and services to organise, manipulate and analyse it;
  • increased returns on the investments made in research, especially the investments from public funds (Finch 2012: 5)

In short, according to the vision of the Finch report, ‘these are the motivations behind the growth of the world-wide open access movement’: promoting greater transparency, accountability, innovation, economic growth, efficiency and return on investment (Finch 2012: 5). The report thus locates the values underlying open access for the most part in the effect it will have on the knowledge economy, and on how it will be a valuable return on investment.

5.2.2.4 Radical Open Access

Motivations for experimenting with alternative forms of open academic publishing are not only focused on serving the knowledge economy, however, as is implied above. Many open access advocates, for instance, see it as a movement and a practice that actually has the potential to critique and provide alternatives to the increasing marketisation of higher education and scholarly publishing. But as I will show, the schools of thought involved in open access publishing and research can be said to be more wide-reaching, more complex and enmeshed, even than that. It will therefore not be fruitful to create yet another dichotomy, distinguishing neoliberal motives for open access publishing from anti-neoliberal ones, as Holmwood implies, for instance (2013b).

What I want to explore at this point are examples of experiments with openness in digital publishing that offer affirmative, practical dimensions, through their uptake, critique and experimentations with openness; experiments that work with their own, alternative value systems that cannot easily be classified as the negative side of a dialectic. Instead, they can be seen to endorse another set of values, based on a different underlying system of ethics, distinct from the motivations for open access as defined by the Finch report. Mostly academic-led and centred, these consist of experiments with making research available on an open access basis, using new formats such as liquid monographs, wiki-publications and remixed books. Additionally, with the establishment of new, alternative institutions and practices, they try to challenge and reconceptualise scholarly communication, while simultaneously experimenting with and rethinking openness itself. This approach towards openness, exploring new formats and stimulating sharing and re-use of content, can be seen as a potentially radical alternative to, and a critique of, the business ethics underlying innovations in the knowledge economy. At the same time it is an approach focused on creating strong alternatives that try to break down the commercial object-formation that has encompassed the scholarly book by envisioning open access as an ongoing critical project.

What I am calling, for shorthand, radical open access, is not one thing, however, nor is it an overarching project. It consists of various groups, peoples, institutions and projects, with their own affordances. Moreover, radical open access is also a contingent and contextual approach that cannot easily be pinned-down as, again, it is an ongoing critical project, one that endeavours to embrace its own inconsistencies, and struggles with its own conceptions of openness. Nonetheless, I want to try and point out some points of similarity that radical open access projects seem to share, not least as a way of contrasting them to the vision of open access put forward in the Finch report. I would like to mention three examples in particular of what can be seen as radical open access initiatives that have tried to experiment with progressive, counter-institutional alternatives, namely Open Humanities Press, Ted Striphas’ Differences & Repetitions wiki and Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s experiments with open peer review for her book Planned Obsolescence.

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Open Humanities Press (OHP) is an international open access publishing collective in critical and cultural theory, founded in 2006 by ‘Open Access journal editors, librarians and technologists’, experimenting with open access journal and book publishing (Jöttkandt 2007: 4). OHP focuses on countering negative perceptions that still exist concerning open access and online publishing by creating a trustworthy, reliable, high-quality system for those scholars sceptical about online modes of distribution and dissemination. Battling these negative perceptions serves two goals, they argue: first, it makes experimentation with new business models possible and can therefore work to help solve the current publishing crisis in the humanities; secondly, it paves the way for further experiments in scholarly communication—with new forms of writing and publishing; with open content and open editing, for instance—something that stands at the basis of OHP’s projects (Jöttkandt 2007: 3–4). The Differences & Repetitions wiki is a site for open source writing (along the lines of libre/read-write open access), set up by Ted Striphas, which contains fully editable projects or working papers. As a personal (though at the same time collaborative) archive of writings, Striphas explores what it means to publish scholarly findings in a different way, and to experiment with new, digital, collaborative writing practices that try to not give in to the compulsion to repeat established practices. Kathleen Fitzpatrick co-established MediaCommons, a scholarly publishing community, to build networks and collaborations among media scholars. She used MediaCommons Press, a digital text platform and publishing experiment from MediaCommons, to openly review the manuscript of Planned Obsolescence. Adopting CommentPress software—a WordPress plugin that allows comments to be made next to specific paragraphs of text—the draft was made available online in 2009 to potential reviewers and commentators (alongside a traditional peer review process by NYU Press).

First of all, then, looking at these initiatives, it becomes clear that radical open access offers a practical, affirmative engagement with open access. However, next to establishing practical and experimental (and also scholar-led) alternatives to the present scholarly publishing system, these initiatives also serve to question the system of (commercial) academic publishing as it is currently set up—a system which, as I outlined in the previous chapter, functions increasingly according to market needs. In this respect these projects aim to critique the commodification and commercialisation of research in and through academic publishing. For example, Fitzpatrick argues for the importance of establishing open access presses to save certain forms of specialised research, such as the monograph, from obsolescence in the current ‘fiscally impossible’ system of scholarly publishing. This as part of an effort to rethink our publishing practices and to ‘revitalize the academy’ (Fitzpatrick 2011: 156). Gary Hall, co-founder of OHP, has similarly noted that the current profit-driven publishing system does not allow space for works that are specialised, advanced, difficult, or avant-garde, but favours instead more marketable products, making academia as a whole ‘intellectually impoverished’ (Jӧttkandt and Hall 2007). These initiatives, in a shared critique, therefore focus on how our current publishing system increasingly serves marketisation, instead of our communication needs as academics. As Striphas claims ‘the system is functioning only too well these days—just not for the scholars it is intended to serve’ (2010).

What’s more, we can see how experiments in radical open access not only aim to stimulate access and re-use of scholarly content by critiquing the economics and excessive commercialisation of the current scholarly publishing system, and by setting up their own alternative publishing institutions. For these initiatives open access also forms the starting point for a further interrogation of our institutions, practices, notions of academic authorship, the book, content creation, copyright and publication, among other things. Here the focus is on exploring the kind of ethical and responsible questions that, according to Hall ‘we really should have been asking all along’ (2011: 13). This questioning of institutions also focuses on the hegemonic print-on-paper paradigm that, as Hall and Jӧttkandt from OHP argue, still structures our current (digital) scholarly practices, including our standards for reviewing and certifying academic work (2007). We also need to keep in mind, as Striphas notes, the specific historical context in which our currently dominant structures were forged, according to circumstances which might not apply anymore today (2010). In this respect there seems to be a combined aim to, as Fitzpatrick argues, ensure our interrogations not only explore our scholarly institutions but also our own scholarly practices of doing research, writing and reviewing in a digital context (2011: 10). As Hall and Jӧttkandt point out, this might involve exploring ‘a new knowledge, a new grammar, a new language and literacy, a new visual/aural/linguistic code of the digital that is capable of responding to the singularity and inventiveness of such [digital] texts with an answering singularity and inventiveness?’ (2007).

The practical aspects of these interrogations of our scholarly forms of communication come to the fore in some of these radical open access projects too. For instance, Fitzpatrick’s experiment with peer-to-peer review very much focussed on re-envisioning peer review and quality control in a digital context, pushing it towards a more community-oriented system. Furthermore, her experiment aimed to change the way we think about academic publishing and peer review away from ‘a system focused on the production and dissemination of individual products to imagining it as a system focused more broadly on facilitating the processes of scholarly work’ (Fitzpatrick 2011: 11). Striphas similarly argues that we need to engage with peer review—as a specific fixture of scholarly communication—more creatively in order to explore its future. His wiki, functioning as a form of pre-publication review, is a good example of that, as well as comprising an investigation into more communal forms of writing, questioning the individual author (Striphas 2011). Hall and his colleagues explored the rethinking of the book, authorship and authority in OHP’s Liquid and Living Books series, which are books published using wikis that are available on a read/write basis. With this open, collaborative, and distributed way of publishing OHP endeavours to raise ‘all sorts of interesting questions for ideas of academic authorship, fair use, quality control, accreditation, peer-review, copyright, Intellectual Property, and content creation’ (Hall 2008b).

dsc00680-mediumBut radical open access also involves the critique of openness as a concept and the practices of openness themselves. This is of course something that Tkacz, as I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, sees as missing in open projects, where he feels there has been too little reflection on the concept of openness and on its specific projects. What radical open access projects share, however, is a common aim to emphasise that there are ways for open access not to be simply a neoliberal or even an economic issue. Instead, they explore open access as a concept and practice based on experimentation, sharing and community, among other things. We can see this in Fitzpatrick’s aim to shift the discourse on the way we perceive open access away from a focus on costs to a focus on values (2012a); but we can also see this in Striphas ongoing critical exploration of the drawbacks and benefits of his own open research projects, where he sees his Differences & Repetitions wiki not as ‘a model’ but as a ‘thing to think with’ (2011). In this respect the engagement of radical open access with openness is very similar to a specific vision of open politics where politics can and needs to be rethought in an ongoing manner, adapting to new contexts and conditions, functioning as a floating signifier. According to Étienne Balibar, for instance, a more interesting and radical notion of politics involves focusing on the process of the democratisation of democracy itself, thus turning democracy into a form of continuous struggle or critical self-reflection. Democracy is not an established reality, nor is it a mere ideal; it is rather a permanent struggle for democratisation (Balibar 2008). And in this respect open access can and should be understood in similar terms: not as a homogeneous project striving to become a dominating model or force; not as a thing, an object, or a model with pre-described meaning or ideology, but as a project with an unknown outcome, as an ongoing series of critical struggles. And this is exactly why we cannot pin down open (nor radical open access) as a concept, but instead need to leave it open: open to otherness and difference, and open to adapt to different circumstances. To explore this idea of open politics in relation to open access more in depth, it will be helpful to look at the work of Gary Hall, who has written extensively on this subject.

5.2.2.5 Radical Open Politics

Hall, in his always already contingent conception of open politics, engages with the work of media theorist Mark Poster, to think through what (an open) politics might be, which he formulates in the context of this theoretical exchange as a ‘hypercyberdemocracy’. Similar to Balibar, Hall’s conception of openness and open politics is not one that should be conceptualised as a project or a model. He warns, for instance, that when it comes to politics on the Internet, we should be cautious about forms of predetermined politics in which ‘politics would be reduced to just the rolling out of a political plan, project, or program that is already known and decided upon in advance’ (Hall 2008a: 36). This would close down what politics is, and what it means to be political, without giving space to the potential of the new and the experimental. As Hall states, in such a scenario ‘there would be no responsible or ethical opening to the future, the unknown, uncertain, unseen, and unexpected’ (2008a: 36). Hall thus argues for the development of new, specific and singular theories of politics—especially concerning the politics of digital media; theories in which politics is responsive to the context and developments it encounters (such as those described in Poster’s account of cyberdemocracy), where these have the potential to alter both our politics and our understanding and analysis of digital culture (2008a: 158–159). Hall points out that in Poster’s essay, this contextual connection comes to the fore in, among other things, his argument toward the intrinsic connection between humans and technology. Hall extends this argumentation—referring to Stiegler’s idea of originary technology and Derrida’s concept of the technological condition—by explaining that political subjects are continuously constituted by the political networks in which they interact and vice versa. Since ‘the human is always already constituted in and by a relation with technology’ (Hall 2008a: 178), this means we are already cyborgs before we interact with Internet politics. For Hall, cyberdemocracy emerges as a potential space for new, ‘unthought’ forms of democracy, where ‘in order to understand the politics of the Internet we need to remain open to the possibility of a form of politics that is “something other than democracy” as we can currently conceive it’ (2008a: 179–180).

image_miniSuch a conception of open politics runs into a number of challenges as for many embracing such a position or way of thinking and practicing might be to risk too much, not least because it has the potential ultimately to place in question what we have come to understand as democracy. In this sense, as Hall claims, many critics hold on to conventional conceptions of (Internet) politics and democracy, ‘including ideas that view it in terms of technological determinism, citizenship, the public sphere, and democracy’ (2008a: 182). In this sense Hall and Poster go further than Balibar. For Balibar, rethinking politics as a process is still seen as a ‘democratisation of democracy’, where we can end being caught up in a framework of change that necessarily needs to be more democratic, instead of thinking out of the democratic box. Hall eventually argues, beyond, but at the same time with, Poster (whilst pointing to the ‘modernistic’ aspects that remain part of Poster’s politics), that we need to be open to both politics and hyperpolitics—which are not easily disconnected—where hyperpolitics ‘names a refusal to consider the question of politics as closed or decided in advance, and a concomitant willingness to open up an unconditional space for thinking about politics and the political “beyond” the way in which they have been conventionally conceived—a thinking of politics which is more than politics, while still being political’ (2008a: 197–198).

Applying this argumentation to the specific politics of open access publishing and archiving, Hall states that it is too easy to see open access as merely an extension of neoliberalism, which it necessarily is or can be, when it can also be conceived as a progressive cyberutopian democratic concept. However, Hall is not interested in exploring open access along either of these lines as the two sides of the digital debate, which as we argued before, are not so easily distinguished in the form of a dialectic. He is concerned, not so much with attaching pre-existing political labels to open access publishing, as in the potential of open access and of Internet politics ‘to resist and reconfigure the very nature of politics as we currently understand it, its basis in notions of citizenship, the public sphere, democracy, and so on’ (Hall 2008a: 195). This focus on a ‘politics of undecidability’ doesn’t mean though that we do not need to make decisions, or don’t need to cut – and this is where the opposition of openness versus closure again becomes untenable as they are intrinsically two sides of the same coin. By the same token, while Hall does not offer a fully-fledged politics, he nonetheless insists that we need to be political, as we still need to make affirmative, practical and ethical political decisions (2008a: 196–197). And through these decisions we need to imagine, invent and experiment with new forms of politics, by asking questions and remaining open towards, our notions of politics, scholarship, authorship and, in this context specifically, with the book. As Hall concludes, with respect to a cultural studies politics, ‘as such, digitization and open access represent an opportunity, a chance, a risk, for the (re)politicization—or, better, hyperpoliticization—of cultural studies; a reactivization of the antagonistic dimension that is precisely what cultural studies’ politics is’ (2008a: 203).

Hall is not the only one who is exploring such ideas of openness and experimentation in relation to the political in an academic context. In his influential book The University in Ruins, Readings formulated a similarly forceful argument focused on openness (though not specifically on open access) and experimentation in his exploration of the ideal type of the University of Thought, which he envisions as an alternative to the University of Excellence. As he puts it, ‘What I would like to suggest is that we recognise that, with the decline of the nation-state, the University has become an open and flexible system and that we should try to replace the empty idea of excellence with the empty name of Thought’ (Readings 1996: 3). Readings argues that the original cultural mission that determined the logic of the university in the past has been declining, producing a situation where from a connection to the nation state (producing and sustaining an idea of national culture) it has become a transnational bureaucratic company following the discourse of excellence and accountability (1996: 11). From this position Readings points out that we should let go of the idea that the university has a social mission connected to cultural identity, when ‘the notion of culture ceases to mean anything vital for the University as a whole’ and ‘culture no longer matters as an idea for the institution’ (1996: 90–91). As he states, introducing new referents won’t do the university any good; rather it is important that the university provides a context where judgement towards cultural value as well as to the value and meaning of the university itself is left open. In this de-referentialised space that the university then becomes, Readings suggests we can start to think notions of community and communication differently, and thus begin to envision them as places for radical dissensus (1996: 167). We need a community without a common identity, which consists of singularities, not of subjects. In this respect we can’t refer to an idea outside of ourselves and the university for a community’s justification; instead, we need to take responsibility for our immediate actions here, in relation to our present contextualized practices. Readings thus reiterates that we need to keep the question of evaluation open. However, just as in the thinking of Hall (and Barad), this does not absolve us from the responsibility of making cuts, a necessity Readings formulates as the need to make judgments about issues of values. At the same time, Readings does not see these judgments as final, as they themselves are part of an ongoing critique and discussion: ‘Value is a question of judgment, a question whose answers must continually be discussed’ (1996: 134). Knowledge for Readings then becomes a permanent question, where ‘Thought does not function as an answer but as a question’ (Readings 1996: 159–160). He is thus interested in conditions of openness and decidedness in higher education that enable agonism and heteronomous communities of dissent. This comes to the fore when he argues that disciplinary structures should be rethought and reconfigured periodically; they should remain open to ensure disciplinarity remains a permanent question (Readings 1996: 177). In Readings’ vision these communities of dissent are also non-humanist in their basic outlook, where they profess an obligation to nonhuman otherness. As he states: ‘to speak of obligation is to engage with an ethics in which the human subject is no longer a unique point of reference. The obligation is not to other humans but to the condition of things, ta pragmata’ (Readings 1996: 187).

What these two readings of openness in an academic context by Hall and Readings show is the importance of remaining open to, and affirmatively exploring new forms of, open politics, while still taking responsibility for the decisions and value judgments we need to make as part of these experiments. Experimentation in this respect can be seen as a form of ongoing critique. This is also the way experimentation is being explored in forms of radical open access, I would argue, where it serves as a means to re-perform our existing institutions and scholarly practices in a more ethical and responsible way. Experimentation thus stands at the basis of a rethinking of scholarly communication and the university in general, and can even potentially be seen as a means to rethink politics itself too. For instance, by experimenting in an open way with the idea and the concept of the book, but also with the materiality and the system of material production surrounding it—which includes our ideas of the material and materiality—we can ask important questions concerning authorship, the fixity of the text, quality, authority and responsibility; issues that lie at the basis of what scholarship is and what the functions of the university should be. Radical open access, as an affirmative and experimental practice, can therefore be seen as an effort towards the deconstruction of the object-formation and commodification of the book, which is maintained by the print-based institutions of material production as well as by our own repetitive and consolidating scholarly communication practices. It can be seen as a political and ethical effort to re-perform these stabilisations (Derrida et al. 2003: 86, Hall 2008a: 76).[4]

In the previous passages I have explored open access, and in specific forms of radical open access book publishing, as affirmative and continuous strategies directed toward rethinking our market-based publishing institutions and our own academic research practices, as well as the object formation that takes part through forms of academic capitalism. Although open access, in its neoliberal guise, also has the potential to contribute to this object formation, this chapter has made a plea for reclaiming open access by focusing: on its potential to critically re-perform our print-based institutions and practices; and on its potential to experiment with new ideas of politics, scholarly communication, the university, and the book. Now is precisely the time to focus on a different discourse of openness—similar to reframing the historical discourse on the book as an object, as discussed in the previous chapter—to emphasise these other aspects of openness, and the potential for change it also inhibits, and to encourage a diversity of experiments with open access books.

Experimentation is essential here, not only as an integral aspect of forms of radical open access, but also as a strategy on its own to break-through the material structures and practices surrounding the object-formation of the book. As Kember has written, ‘Experimenting with academic writing and publishing is a form of political intervention, a direct engagement with the underlying issues of privatization and marketization in academia’ (2014). To explore this concept of experimentation in more depth, however, I want to distinguish it from neoliberal notions of innovation. I want to do so because, as with open access, the motives, values, as well as the goals that lie behind these two concepts differ fundamentally. (For instance, the undecidedness (or openness) towards its outcomes can be seen as an important aspect of experiments with radical open access.) In what follows I therefore want to differentiate the business rhetoric of innovation that accompanies the university of excellence and more neoliberal visions of openness, from the vision of experimentation as promoted from within cultural studies, among other fields. The latter vision that will be illustrated by a selection of research and publishing efforts that specifically explore experimentation as a discourse and practice of critique, especially with respect to the current system of scholarly object-formation.


[1] For instance, the protest of diverse groups of humanities scholars in the UK, such as The Council for the Defence of British Universities, The Royal Historical Society, The Political Studies Association, and the editors of 21 history journals attached to the Institute of Historical Research, is directly connected to the implementation of open access in the UK, as set out in the Finch Report, among other places (Boffey 2013, Sabaratnam and Kirby 2012). Also see: http://www.history.ac.uk/news/2012-12-10/statement-position-relation-open-access

[2] For instance, Holmwood sees this as being imminent in the CC-BY license promoted by RCUK (and Finch), where for him an alternative would be a ‘non-commercial share-alike’ license (2013a).

[3] It does not have to be this way. The OAPEN-NL project, for instance, was heavily involved in experimenting with an author-pays model for books. However, their attempts were accompanied by an extensive study on the costs of monographs, in order to make these prices more transparent and to distinguish costs from profits, to promote a fairer subsidy system (Ferwerda et al. 2013).

[4] As Derrida argues, with respect to deconstruction: ‘If there were continual stability, there would be no need for politics, and it is to the extent that stability is not natural, essential or substantial, that politics exists and ethics is possible. Chaos is at once a risk and a chance, and it is here that the possible and the impossible cross each other’ (2003: 86).


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’. New Formations 78 (1), 138–156

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

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

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

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

  4. Pingback: On Liquid Books and Fluid Humanities (part II) | OPEN REFLECTIONS

  5. Pingback: On Liquid Books and Fluid Humanities (part III) | OPEN REFLECTIONS

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