The matter of openness is highly contested: what is openness even supposed to mean? It can refer to quite opposing concepts depending on who is being asked in the diversity of stakeholders involved in the making of scholarly communication.

Some may call it a potential for radical change of the means of production, taking back power from the capitalist owners of high impact brands (the likes of Nature, Cell, and Science; or: NCS). But what does this mean in the humanities? Also: others may claim radical demands for openness are changing scholarly communication for the worse, disrupting well-established infrastructures while introducing unforeseen contingencies.

Openness in the Hands of Philistine Management

All the while, it may well be accounted for the fact that demands for openness in the hands of philistine (New Public Management) administrators has resulted in a somewhat exclusive openness. Prices for opening up your research—making it more visible, more citable by letting it shine in the lights of excellence even more brightly—are soaring. How does this align with socialist envisioning of radical change and communicative equality? Is equality in the access to scholarly discourse possible in the global production of knowledge and if so, what may equality mean? And as the claims for quicker output and more citations reverberate in the natural and life sciences, what may openness mean in the humanities and how does it evolve there? These are questions I try to find answers to.

These are mostly conceptual questions, to be sure. I’m usually not looking at issues of implementation in my research. I’m rather interested in determining more fundamental issues that question justifications or critique larger developments. That is, I’m not researching openness as such—may it be open access, open humanities, or open scholarship more generally. Since my research focus is on the rationalities of scholarly discourse—a more abstract, conceptual level, so to say—I work on issues of openness mostly as it touches such more abstract levels. However, my work with publishers and other organisations has led me to insights also on the ground level of implementation so that I continue to work on rather more practical consulting projects as well besides the more abstract research.

Research on Open Access and Open Humanities

Three works best exemplify my research on open access and open humanities. All of them are published open access, of course. (Though, would it be a contradiction if not?)

In The Democratisation Myth: Open Access and the Solidification of Epistemic Injustices, published in 2021 in Science & Technology Studies, I critique major developments of open access in Europe and North America as it seems to solidify inequities rather than providing the basis for radical change:

Open access (OA) in the Global North is considered to solve an accessibility problem in scholarly communication. But this accessibility is restricted to the consumption of knowledge. Epistemic injustices inhering in the scholarly communication of a global production of knowledge remain unchanged. This underscores that the commercial or big deal OA dominating Europe and North America have little revolutionary potential to democratise knowledge. Academia in the Global North, driven by politics of progressive neoliberalism, can even reinforce its hegemonic power by solidifying and legitimating contemporary hierarchies of scholarly communication through OA. In a critique of the notion of a democratisation of knowledge, I showcase manifestations of OA as either allowing consumption of existing discourse or as active participation of discourse in the making. The latter comes closer to being the basis for a democratisation of knowledge. I discuss this as I issue a threefold conceptualisation of epistemic injustices comprising of testimonial injustice, hermeneutical injustice, and epistemic objectification. As these injustices prevail, the notion of a democratisation of knowledge through OA is but another form of technological determinism that neglects the intricacies of culture and hegemony.

On the Transformativity of Transformative Agreements

In System-Immanence and Transformation: The Library of the Future as Local Administrator?, I write about the impact of large-scale—so called transformative—open access agreements in Germany. This is a German-language article published in the library sciences journal Bibliothek Forschung und Praxis in 2021. The English abstract reads:

Germany as a unified site for science and scholarship aims to enlarge its share of open access publications by means of transformative agreements with large publishers. This, however, is but a transformation in the sense of a soft evolution within the existing system. It prohibits the notion of equity that was once foundational for open access. The future of the library seems to be reduced to the role of the local administrator instead of it being an integrative institution with the ability to change the system.

Who is Shaping the Future of Openness in the Humanities?

In an earlier article, Open Science in the Humanities, or: Open Humanities?, published in Publications in 2019, I discuss matters of openness in the humanities, criticising that this cluster of disciplines lacks an integrated discourse on the matter. Open science is insufficient as a discourse in regard to the humanities. The digital humanities seem to be so as well: more often than not, the “traditional” and the “digital” humanities are talking at cross purposes. So, who is shaping the future of openness in the humanities?

Open science refers to both the practices and norms of more open and transparent communication and research in scientific disciplines and the discourse on these practices and norms. There is no such discourse dedicated to the humanities. Though the humanities appear to be less coherent as a cluster of scholarship than the sciences are, they do share unique characteristics which lead to distinct scholarly communication and research practices. A discourse on making these practices more open and transparent needs to take account of these characteristics. The prevalent scientific perspective in the discourse on more open practices does not do so, which confirms that the discourse’s name, open science, indeed excludes the humanities so that talking about open science in the humanities is incoherent. In this paper, I argue that there needs to be a dedicated discourse for more open research and communication practices in the humanities, one that integrates several elements currently fragmented into smaller, unconnected discourses (such as on open access, preprints, or peer review). I discuss three essential elements of open science—preprints, open peer review practices, and liberal open licences—in the realm of the humanities to demonstrate why a dedicated open humanities discourse is required.

Collaborate and Discuss Openness

Reach out for collaborations. I also give talks and keynotes on the topics, usually with a critical tone.

marcel.knochelmann.15[at]ucl.ac.uk

 

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