Tue 20 Sep 2005
Although there is a wide recognition of the usefulness of posting conference papers and supplementary materials online, there is minimal willingness to post one's own work, and there is even less willingness to submit online comments on annual meeting papers. This is true regardless of age or employment status of the respondent.
There is marked interest in annual meeting papers and abstracts being electronically accessible indefinitely, coupled with little interest in the preservation of online bulletin boards and interactive discussion forums for more than four months.
In terms of who should be permitted access to material related to AAA annual meetings, most believe that session information and abstracts should be made available in searchable format online to the general public. Yet, papers, works-in-progress and comments should be limited to session participants, and perhaps AAA members.
Results suggest that respondents value the idea of Creative Commons and the Open Access model (such as AnthroCommons); yet, only a third of the respondents who completed this survey, or roughly the number who accessed AnthroCommons, completed this question.
(Read the whole Anthropology News article)
I don't know, is there something fundamental about anthropology that makes the discipline averse to an open model? Anthropology is, after all, based on fieldnotes which are deeply personal and often private. Maybe these values extend to other forms of writing as well, such as notes, conference papers, and even online discussions. Many anthropologists were (and in some cases still are) also indoctrinated with the idea that anthropology is about the lone ethnographer, trudging off into the jungle to find his or her 'people.' If anthropologists believe that doing anthropology is a lone enterprise, and further that the product of their work is too deeply personal and individual to share, does that erect an insurmountable barrier to Open Source Anthropology, at least for the foreseeable future?
Or is it just a generational thing – the old, 'traditional' anthropologists are as stuck in the mud as they've ever been? Maybe Open Source Anthropology strikes them too much as an applied anthropology, which is, of course, the bastard stepchild of traditional academic anthropology. Maybe our only choice is to sit back and wait for the paradigm shift when the current generation of thought leaders fades away.
This issue is particularly fascinating because I'm taking a course at SIMS taught by Mitch Kapor, Steve Weber(blog), and Pam Samuelson called 'Open Source Development and Distribution of Digital Information.' One of the primary goals of the course is understanding what (if anything) makes the open source model for software unique, and how we might translate the model to work in other domains. One of the points we touched on this week is that even 'free riders' – those who take from a community of sharers without sharing themselves – contribute in a way. They provide an audience, they provide attention and momentum for a project. Often times they provide complaints or other comments which constitute valuable feedback for developers. If even one in a thousand does this, free riding becomes profitable for the enterprise because there are almost no costs to sharing.
So maybe the obstinacy of many anthropologists isn't insurmountable. The challenge is to maintain a critical mass of anthropologists who continue to contribute and share freely. If the explosion of blogging anthropologists is any indication, it's a promising future. In particular I hope more anthropologists start to feel comfortable making informal contributions and beginning exploratory discussions about their ongoing work. Don't wait for the book or the journal publication! I have gained so much by talking with my colleagues about my ongoing work – why not bring the blogging community into that discussion?