I am very pleased to announce that at its May meeting, the Executive Board (EB) agreed to explore and implement a pilot open access publication. Open Anthropology, the first public, open access digital-only publication of the American Anthropological Association, is expected to launch in 2013. Alisse Waterston (John Jay College, CUNY) will serve as the first editor of this exciting pilot project. Alisse is the current chair of the Anthropology Communications Committee (ACC). She also served as the first chair of the Committee on the Future of Print and Electronic Publishing (CFPEP), and is past editor of North American Dialogue.
In making this decision, the EB considered the extensive transformations taking place in scholarly publishing, as well as the importance of sharing information as widely as possible. In keeping with the AAA Statement of Purpose, Open Anthropology will help promote anthropology and anthropologists and “the dissemination of anthropological knowledge and its use to solve human problems.” We know anthropology has much to offer in this regard. Anthropology’s four-field approach is distinctive, inviting a holistic study of humankind in all its aspects, in the past and present, across societies and cultures. Often alone among social scientists, most anthropologists do not accept cultural forms and societal structures—kinship arrangements , inequality, gender, race and racism, climate change and conflict to name but a few—as given or ‘natural’. Rather, we ask how these came to be, and ponder differences and similarities in cultural histories and social dynamics. By examining the conditions under which various practices and relationships arise, anthropologists have a great deal to say about how and why they change. It is this perspective that makes the discipline potentially applicable to addressing the pressing problems of today’s world.
The EB is also mindful of its responsibility to ensure the sustainability of our association and its diverse publication portfolio. New information technology, expectations of access to information, and shrinking library budgets will significantly complicate the continually changing environment of publishing. ACC and CFPEP are working hard to evaluate a variety of publishing models for the short and long term. We anticipate that in the future our publication program will include a combination of models. This pilot project should provide some insight into how different models function.
Envisioning Open Anthropology
Open Anthropology will be devoted to previously published AAA articles, review articles, book and audiovisual reviews, and reports and comments on topics of interest to the general public, and that may have direct or indirect public policy implications. Content in Open Anthropology will be culled from the full archive of AAA publications, curated into issues, and will be freely available on the internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search or link to the full text of these articles.
Other specific details about the publication are in the process of being worked out. Alisse is preparing the groundwork for the launch, including consulting with section leaders and editors, the AAA publishing department, and Wiley-Blackwell to determine the exact specifications for the journal. We expect Open Anthropology to be issued three times a year, and that the editorial board will include editors of publishing sections. There will be a specific policy for Open Anthropology on “ungating” and perhaps “re-gating” content after a certain period of time. We hope to make anthropological content more accessible and draw more people to anthropological data and analysis, but also ensure that AAA is able to maintain a financially viable, sustainable publishing program while serving its members and the wider public.
At its core, Open Anthropology will be directed toward bringing relevant anthropological knowledge to a broader audience. With this in mind, the articles selected will be accessible, of interest to the general public, relevant to current problems and hopefully have implications for policy and action. For example, what can anthropology’s four fields tell us about such critical issues as war and political violence; migration and transnationalism; economy, debt and reciprocity; race and inequality; family, kinship and the people we count on? These are the kinds of topics that may be covered in Open Anthropology.
The question of how anthropologists communicate their findings to research subjects, a more general public and policy makers, is a broader issue that will require a range of solutions, including reaching out to international scholars, policy makers and other publics. This past July, I attended the meetings of the Associação Brasileira de Antropologia in Sao Paulo, which was followed by an international conference on Displacement, Inequalities and Human Rights. In addition to reinforcing the importance of international scholarship, I was impressed that representatives of the Ministries of Justice and Labor attended the conference and listened closely to the papers. The experience brought home to me both the obstacles and the opportunities before us as we seek to communicate valuable anthropological knowledge. We hope that Open Anthropology will help make anthropology and anthropologists more visible outside the academy and expand our role in important social issues and policy discussions.
As one step towards engaging the broader challenges of expanding the dissemination of anthropological knowledge, applying anthropological knowledge to address human problems, and protecting the diversity and sustainability of our publishing program, Open Anthropology is an exciting initiative for our association, for anthropologists, and for the possibilities to which we aspire.