Week Two: The Unevenness of the Open Access Publishing Landscape

Over the past week, Luker’s prompt has lent structure to my thoughts during those liminal moments when I let my brain rest: in the shower; as I cook breakfast; and while watching the city from the streetcar window. Though I can’t yet say that I’ve focused my research question in the way that Luker argues for in Chapter 4, I had an “aha” moment during last week’s class that not only came as a relief, but has also helped me to make sense of my own research interests, which have sometimes felt fatally eclectic, like they don’t fit within any recognisable discipline. I realised (even before Professor Galey put it in these exact terms!) that my research interest, for years, has been research itself. When I took an economic geography course in the second year of my BA, we were tasked with writing a commodity chain analysis; while others chose to write about commodities in the usual sense, like jeans and boots and Ikea furniture, I chose to investigate an open access, scholarly geography journal. Last year, for a course on labour geographies, we had to write a reflection paper on some kind of work we had performed in the past; I didn’t write about a paid job, but instead about the unpaid work of being an undergraduate student, the kinds of value produced by our “labour,” and the anxiety and precarity that characterise cognitive labour in universities today. I’ve already written more than twice as much as we’re supposed to write here, but the point is: I’ve been shoehorning this interest of mine into assignments for years now! Often inappropriately! As grateful as I am to that wonderful geography professor who always welcomed my unconventional papers, realising that my research interest has a name—that is, research itself—feels like coming home, somehow.

So: if I could write freely, without fear of floundering, I would investigate the unevenness of the Open Access (OA) publishing landscape. What kind of unevenness? Well, I first learned about OA through the conversations about it in human geography, where it has (as far as I can tell) not only been welcomed for practical reasons (e.g. because it allows authors to retain rights to distribute their work), but has also been held up as a real, working model for the kinds of progressive (leftist) politics espoused by many in the discipline. Given that introduction to OA, it’s been strange and even confusing to slowly discover that OA has not had the same enthusiastic reception in every discipline, nor by all those who have a stake in scholarly publishing. As someone who is excited about OA (though I hope not uncritically so), I want to understand why OA, and conversations about it, look so different in some corners of the university than in others—to say nothing of how such conversations sound very different in other corners of the world. What factors—e.g. disciplinary histories and cultures, politics, and just plain fundamental differences in how research is funded and performed—make OA attractive to academics in some disciplines as opposed to others? What about the differing stakes in OA of academics who are tenured as opposed to those who have little practical hope of attaining stable, let alone tenured, work? What about researchers in India or Brazil as compared to researchers in Canada? And where do librarians, information professionals, and OA (as well as corporate) publishers fit into all of this? I want to move from the grandiose, universalist pronouncements about OA that first got me hooked—all that talk about equity, access, and the commons—and start to understand OA publishing as a landscape characterised by particularity, by unevenness in the progress of OA within various disciplines, and by negotiations among various actors, some of whom may actually have something to lose if OA gains more ground. In the process, I hope to be able to provide a more nuanced explanation of the politics of OA (is it really that progressive?), an account of the professional experiences of librarians reaching out across professional boundaries to start conversations about OA, as well as, more practically, the beginnings of a map to help librarians (etc.) to continue to work toward broader access, whether that’s through OA or some other model.

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One Comment on “Week Two: The Unevenness of the Open Access Publishing Landscape”

  1. Timothy Perry says:

    This sounds like a great topic. I am also interested in open access, but I think I was pretty naive about it before coming to the iSchool. I sort of assumed that everyone thought that it was a great idea but I’m quickly learning that it’s a little more complicated than that. It sounds like you’ve thought about it a lot more than I have though!


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