Okune, Angela. 2018. "'Openness' and Academic Infrastructures." In PhD Orals Document: Decolonizing the African University. University of California, Irvine. October.
Over fifteen years ago, the authors of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) agreed upon a text outlining the importance of Open Access to scholarly materials. They asserted: “By “Open Access" to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.” Since the text was published in 2002, the idea of Open Access has taken root and spread widely around the world.
In this final section of the essay, I include work looking at the notion of "openness" as it relates to scholarly knowledge and infrastructures. The concept of openness has been increasingly taken up by development agencies and funders including the same tech philanthropists mentioned earlier in the essay (e.g. Gates Foundation). The concept of openness and how it is leveraged by different agents working in technology, development and research in Africa is of relevant for my dissertation project.
Over the last few years, a body of literature has been growing that notes that while increasing access is an important start, it may not be enough. For example, mobile for development (M4D) researcher and practitioner, Jonathan Donner published a book entitled “After Access” (2015) highlighting that while the boom in mobile phone coverage around the world has improved access to the Internet, it has brought about new forms of digital stratification. In other words, power inequalities continue, even in an “after access” world where more people have access to the Internet (and other online resources). Donner debunks the proposition that the “digital divide” has been closed because more people have mobile devices. Rather, as Donner highlights, mobile access has brought about both new spatial-temporal potentialities as well as new forms of digital stratifications.
Another strand of growing critical work raises concerns that Open Access is increasingly being co-opted by multinational publishing companies like Elsevier and Sage for private profit. Posada and Chen (2017) argue that as big publishers move towards openness they have also been redirecting their business strategies towards the acquisition of scholarly infrastructure as part of processes of profit maximization. They provocatively ask if our attention on the access paywall has distracted scholar activists from paying attention to the strategic takeover of infrastructure by the publishers. This work is important to consider as we think about what the implications might be for the African university (and university systems more broadly).
This essay is part of a broader orals doc on Decolonizing the African University.
AO: This interview, conducted by email in February of 2014 among Christopher Kelty (CK), Anne Allison, Charlie Piot (AA/CP), Ali Kenner (AK), and Timothy Elfenbein (TE) highlights various insights gained by observing discussions about open access from an anthropologist's perspective. CK writes...Read more
Angela Okune: This 2015 paper by Lariviere et al. analyzes the consolidation of the scientific publishing industry to assess the share of scientific output published in the journals of these major publishers as well as its evolution over time and across various disciplines. The authors...Read more
AO: In this 2016 article by Fecher and Wagner, they argue that academia, in its quest for transforming scientific publication system, has forgetten that sustainable OA requires more than changing publishers’ business models. They argue that academia is once again running the risk of...Read more
AO: This 2017 paper by Bezuidenhout et al. uses qualitative empirical data from a study of lab-based research in Africa to highlight the limitations of a framing of online inequalities and access to ICTs as a "digital divide." They adapt Sen’s ‘capabilities approach’ to...Read more
AO: This 2017 article by Bezuidenhout et al. present empirical material from fieldwork undertaken in (bio)chemistry laboratories in Kenya and South Africa to examine the extent to which the ideals of the growing Open Science (OS) movement can be...Read more
Angela Okune: This 2017 paper by Brooke Erin Duffy and Jefferson Pooley looks at branding of academics and why Academia.edu has had astonishing uptake. The author argues that Academia.edu reflects and amplifies the self-branding imperatives that many academics experience. The paper highlights...Read more
Angela Okune: In November 2017, Gates Foundation launched its open research publishing platform. This email announcement highlights how Gates Foundation seeks to "enable researchers to take control of the publishing process without barriers" by making work funded by the foundation...Read more
Angela Okune: This 2017 blog post by Alejandro Posada and George Chen was received with great surprise and shock by many activist scholars who did not realize how academic publishing companies' business strategies have leveraged the increasing widespread uptake and investment into Open Access...Read more
Bezuidenhout, Louise, Ann H. Kelly, Sabina Leonelli, and Brian Rappert. 2017. “‘$100 Is Not Much To You’: Open Science and Neglected Accessibilities for Scientific Research in Africa.” Critical Public Health 27 (1): 39–49. https://doi.org/10.1080/09581596.2016.1252832.
Bezuidenhout, Louise M., Sabina Leonelli, Ann H. Kelly, and Brian Rappert. 2017. “Beyond the Digital Divide: Towards a Situated Approach to Open Data.” Science and Public Policy 44 (4): 464–75. https://doi.org/10.1093/scipol/scw036.
Duffy, Brooke Erin, and Jefferson D. Pooley. 2017. “‘Facebook for Academics’: The Convergence of Self-Branding and Social Media Logic on Academia.Edu.” Social Media + Society 3 (1): 205630511769652. https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305117696523.
Fecher, Benedikt, and Gert G. Wagner. 2016. “Open Access, Innovation, and Research Infrastructure.” Publications 4 (2): 17. https://doi.org/10.3390/publications4020017.
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. 2011. Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. New York: NYU Press.
Gates Open Research. 2017. “GATES FOUNDATION’S OPEN RESEARCH LAUNCHED,” November 8, 2017. http://worldpece.org/content/2017-gates-foundations-open-research-launched.
Kelty, Christopher. 2014. “Beyond Copyright and Technology: What Open Access Can Tell Us about Precarity, Authority, Innovation, and Automation in the University Today.” Cultural Anthropology 29 (2): 203–15. https://doi.org/10.14506/ca29.2.02.
Larivière, Vincent, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon. 2015. “The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era.” PLOS ONE 10 (6): e0127502. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0127502.
Posada, Alejandro, and George Chen. 2017. “Preliminary Findings: Rent Seeking by Elsevier.” The Knowledge G.A.P. (blog). September 20, 2017. http://knowledgegap.org/index.php/sub-projects/rent-seeking-and-financialization-of-the-academic-publishing-industry/preliminary-findings/.