AAA Open Access: Good, but Not “Historic,” Not “Unique,” Not “Among the First”

The American Anthropological Association announced today that it was partially opening access (for content published from 1888 to 1973) to just two of its publications, American Anthropologist and Anthropology News. That is good news. However, as is becoming the norm in American  anthropological venues that talk about open access, there seems to be a determined effort to persistently ignore some basic facts about open access journal publishing in anthropology, that puts the AAA at the end of a line, and whose recent move is far from unique and  certainly not historic. As I have already detailed here, there is already an abundance of journals all of whose content is open access, and always has been. The information on which I based that post is freely available to any persons who care to take the time to inform themselves on this issue. Perhaps the AAA thinks that its journals are the only “real” ones?

The problem is a little more significant than trumpeting one’s efforts in language that is a little too excessive. The problem has to do with a lingering Eurocentrism in a discipline whose practitioners ought to know enough by now not to take an insular view of themselves and their society, or to boast about their groundbreaking efforts when they are standing in heavily plowed fields. There is nothing to be gained in dismissing the extensive efforts of others that precede your own, and more to be lost by showing either unwitting ignorance or willful dismissal. When it comes to open access journal publishing, the AAA has already been sidelined by the so-called periphery. It now has to play catch up, and to make matters more complicated, we all have to reconsider the euphoria of a technological determinism that would literally put the cart before the horse and begin to consider the limitations and dangers of open access publishing (see this for example).

There is some irony here too: the AAA’s journals would almost never agree to publish an article without extensive referencing and lists of sources that reach biblio-maniacal extremes. As individual instructors, they would caution their students about thinking their projects are so unique, when they just might be reinventing the wheel; they would demand that students situate themselves within established literature. And yet here is the AAA speaking in a bubble.

If this were an isolated instance where anthropologists display such insularity, I would not have bothered to post this. However, given the co-incidence of this with both vapid approval and suspiciously timid questioning of the Human Terrain System (check today’s anthropology blogs for examples), the persistent state of denial of the white and middle-class constitution of the discipline, the quietly cautious way that some try to accommodate dominant right wing opinion, and the continuing tendency to preside over the definition of indigenous and African others (to the extent that they form their own studies programs because anthropology is less than worthless, it is an adversary), then one would hope to see anthropologists become a lot more circumspect and at least modest. I think self-criticism beyond the established limits might be a little too much to ask for.

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2 thoughts on “AAA Open Access: Good, but Not “Historic,” Not “Unique,” Not “Among the First”

  1. enkerli

    In terms of access, what’s so “good” about the AAA’s scheme?
    Seems to me, it’s a step in a direction opposite that of true Open Access.

    As for the established limits of self-criticism, much of it has to do with the navel-gazing period which began in the mid-1980s and which still has some effects on those people who use “anthropology” as an exclusionary label.

    Simply put: what’s the purpose of the AAA, at this point?

  2. Maximilian Forte

    What’s good about it? I don’t know, I was trying to be forgiving for a change :) I suppose it’s good for allowing that tiny fraction of openness — tiny because it is only one journal and a newsletter (who the heck locks down a newsletter to begin with), and only rather old material.

    What’s the purpose of the AAA? That is also a good question, and this time I don’t mean “good” as we just discussed above. It’s a good question at least in part because it forces us to reexamine why it emerged, how it has been maintained and developed, whose interests it serves, and how it has (not) renewed itself. Professional associations seem to do very little for us in everyday terms, they tend to serve more as symbolic banners facing the outside world, while providing a minimum of services to its members.

    I very much liked your second point above about the limits of self-criticism.

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