Feb 13, 2011

Daniel Lende: "You can read this blog for free"

Daniel Lende over at Neuroanthropology has a new post about some of the possibilities for anthropology. He talks about some of the recent PR controversies that took place within the field, and how this is illustrative of some of the primary issues and challenges that anthropologists face these days. We are, it seems, at a bit of a crossroads. And it's probably about time to move away from some of the old models and explore new ways of not only doing anthropology, but also publishing and disseminating anthropology. My favorite part of the post is when Lende talks about the contrast between old school publishing models (which lock up information behind expensive subscriptions) and some of the new possibilities:
The Nature commentary by Adam Kuper and Jonathan Marks is behind a paywall. It costs $32 to buy, unless you have institutional access. Ulf Hannerz’s article in American Anthropologist, which Greg drew on extensively in writing about diversity as anthropology’s brand, is available either through institutional access or by joining the American Anthropological Association. The cheapest AAA membership costs $70. You can read this blog for free (my emphasis).
That last line is a beauty. The point, as I see it, isn't to do away with journals, but instead to realize that the publication models are severely limiting. If we are all about the dissemination of anthropological analysis, concepts, and ideas to wider audiences, how is that supposed to happen if all of the latest research sits behind a subscription wall? The irony of course is that there is still a fairly skeptical view among THE ACADEMY about online publishing. Many question whether or not REAL RESEARCH can be published online. I mean, is it possible? However, I have recently run a complex experiment and come to the conclusion that yes, all 26 letters of the English alphabet do show up on screen, so it is indeed possible to publish real, valuable, and important work online. The only thing stopping this is a lack of either interest or desire. So it goes. As Lende points out:
A negative view of writing online (i.e., blogging) and a closed view of knowledge production (i.e., through institutional access or society membership) is still predominant in anthropology.
It's funny, when you think about. Or, at least, when I think about it. Anthropologists are doing all sorts of cutting edge, timely, and fascinating research. So why is our publishing model and ideology so....well...stale? The good thing is that people like Lende, Greg Downey, the folks at the OAC (Open Anthropology Cooperative), Max Forte, the Savage Minds crew, John Hawks, John Postill, Colleen Morgan, and a slew of others are indeed messing with the boundaries. Who knows? Maybe, at some point, more people outside of the academic world will actually know what anthropologists are up to.

Here's another good section from Lende's post:
Online media, not just writing, is an incredible way to reach the public. Michael Wesch, a cultural anthropologist who became interested in new media and teaching after doing his doctoral work in Papua New Guinea, work with his students to create a video, A Vision of Students Today. It has been viewed 4,136,850 times. That is an incredible impact.

And open access? Take PLoS One. It was founded in 2006, and covers research in science and medicine. In five years, it became the world’s largest journal. That is incredible success. One of its more technical journals, PLoS Biology, was founded in 2003, the first of the PLoS journals. It has been the highest impact journal in biology, as ranked by the Institute for Scientific Information. Open access isn’t just viable – it is the way to reach the broadest possible audience and have the greatest scholarly impact.

On Amazon, which came to fame and financial success by selling books online, its #1 product is its Kindle e-reader. Books themselves are going digital. And not just books. Amazon recently launched Kindle Singles, which presents “a compelling idea–well researched, well argued, and well illustrated–expressed at its natural length.” Apple’s iPad offers ways to integrate multi-media features with traditional text. Digital innovation in how we present scholarly material is already happening, and will continue to grow extremely rapidly.

Anthropologists need to go digital – blogging, collaborating, creating, sharing, and disseminating the field online. Blogs, the integration of new media with text, e-publications, and open-access publishing need to be part of how we keep our borderlands discipline healthy and vibrant.

To do otherwise, is to make the field into a marginal borderland, rather than the key meeting place and vibrant area of production the anthropology is today and can be even more so in the future.

Agreed. No need to remain on the borderlands any longer. Time to go push the boundaries and go digital. What's stopping us?

Cross-posted @ Ethnografix


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