In a recent article in Cultural Anthropology, Marcel LaFlamme (University of Washington) and Dominic Boyer (Rice University) argue that open access publishing has the potential to facilitate a more revolutionary anthropology, despite the discipline’s reluctance to embrace the movement:
Yet the open-access movement has never really caught fire in anthropology beyond a fervent corps of true believers. Why, we wonder, might that be so? People, of course, are busy, and the intricacies of different publishing models are enough to deter anyone save the most bloody-minded. Beyond that, though, we speculate that, for many, open access seems to be a technical problem rather than a basis for political mobilization. From the perspective of those thirsting for radical change in the academy and beyond, there is surely something a bit precious about the open-access movement’s preoccupation with how articles get downloaded. So, for those of us who do see a more broadly revolutionary potential in open-access initiatives, it’s up to us to make the case for how it could be unlocked.
As the fiery reckonings of #HAUtalk have insisted (e.g., Mahi Tahi 2018; Todd 2018; West 2018), the open-access movement in anthropology needs to open itself more fully to decolonizing, antiracist, and feminist currents within the discipline. We are writing in this spirit, in the hope that open access can serve as an accelerant for more radical kinds of social change (and in recognition of all that open-access advocates can learn from those who are already bringing such change about). Thus, rather than foregrounding liberal formulations of freedom and property on which discussions of open access so often rely, we propose to approach open access as a kind of “revolutionary infrastructure” (Boyer 2017) that redirects energies presently locked into the status quo toward fissures of breakthrough and transformation.
The authors offer some suggestions to would-be journal editors (including working with library-based presses) and exhort senior faculty to become open access advocates. They conclude by asking that faculty consider withholding their labor from paywalled publications.