Monday, October 1, 2007

academic stuff: publishing and the flows of knowledge and capitalism

When I was attending the University of West Indies as part overseas institutional visit for my PhD I was struck by the lack of journals subscriptions the institution had. Of course, this has a lot to do with the limited funds available. It was one of those experiences that allowed me to realise how rich a lot of North American and Western European universities are.

However, I felt the larger point was the form of censorship and exclusion money plays in academia. Money = knowledge, and if you don't have money then no knowledge! all is not lost though; why is the capabilities of the Internet not used?
Take the example of introduction books for disciplines, whose twofold purpose is to introduce the discipline and (hopefully) serve as a nice little money earner. I am sure lecturers at universities could produced various chapters and publish them on a joint website. Why could there not be, for example, a website dedicated to 'introductions to International Relations: Main theories and Concepts'. I don't think it would suffer in quality if it did not go through the traditional flows of publishing as academics could review each other. There could also be a discussion forum for both students and academics (and even the non-academic world).

There also needs to be a lot more free quality online journals that do not have subscriptions. From my reading I concentrate more on 'The International Journal of Baudrillard Studies' and 'The International Journal of Zizek Studies'. Both of these are free to access and peer reviewed. Why do we need the press machines (Blackwell; Routledge; Macmillan...) to flow information in the age of the web? Could academics not use the web more productively to free the interconnections of knowledge/information and capital(ism)?

I know this probably sounds Utopian, but I do feel traditional modes of publishing are too ingrained in academia. Maybe this, in the UK, has something to do with how the RAE rate/judge academics.


The Brooks Blog said...

This is a very interesting post and I have at least strong sympathy for many of the positions you hold. First, there are a number of free and online teaching resources for politics and other subjects readily available on the web. The problem is not a lack of access to any materials, but access to certain materials.

The problem then is perhaps books and journals not online and/or subscription-based. I take your point that many of these items should be free. There are several reasons why they are not free. For one thing, academics do not generally write for the money: very little is earned by authors these days anyway. But money is needed for much else. Copy-editors do not work for free. Typesetters need to paid as well. The largest costs are creating the online website: a large capacity needs to become available so that an online forum can ensure the journal will be able to take submissions over the next 10, 20, 30 or more years. These take up space and space is not free. A webmaster will spend countless hours each year uploading files and answering queries. Of course, all these costs do not include the time of the editor (who must coordinate these affairs) and the referees and editorial board (who all work for free).

It would be great in many ways if information were freely available to all. This is not possible for plenty of reasons, not least the many costs in maintaining a journal. These are costs that may seem invisible, but very substantial as I know from many a conversation with various publishers.

Thus, I don't think the publishers are to 'blame'. We may complain that costs are too high, but anyone watching the academic publishing market is aware of mergers (Wily-Blackwell recently) and financial problems (Continuum recently and elsewhere). All is not as rosy as it may seem once you look beneath the surface.

Although, again, I am very sympathetic with the plea for free online everything even if I know it is not possible for sometime.

Kishore Budha said...

I disagree with these comments. Academics are paid to do research by taxpayers -- in the form of wages + research grants + research leave. Very rarely does one come across academics who do research entirely on their own with no support at all. Thus, they have a moral responsibility to share this knowledge with the rest of the world.