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intellectual labour, open access, and scholarly communication

For whatever reason I was thinking about open access on my way to work. Well, ok, on a walk with my br0 yesterday, I again wondered whether or not I could actually get into a phd program with a research proposal that explicitly states that I’d only use and cite open access material. Which, of course, to some extent is hypocritical of me since most of my writing isn’t, in fact, open access. So I was thinking about ‘open’ and then bumped into April Hathcock’s post, “Open but Not Equal: Open Scholarship for Social Justice.

Her talk about open scholarship is mainly focused on discoverability, which is cool, but I was mainly struck by the use of ‘open scholarship’ rather than open access. To me, these two terms don’t bring forth the same notions within my head. Open access is a more narrowly focused movement on licensing, copyright, and all that. Open scholarship, however? Well. Perhaps more broad than that.

Especially when she writes, “the truth is that not all open scholarship is treated equally”. This is most certainly a True Fact. However, what is hitting my brain is also re-evaluating what ‘access’ means when we talk about ‘open access’.

As I note above: this blog, my essays, and my books are not open access. And they are unlikely to ever be. However, as many of my readers know, even as I try to make some amount of money via my writing, I love blogging (more than I like writing books, btw). Books, yes, do make an amount of money, bc, well, ppl have to pay for them.

I like blogging bc I like to share my ideas. Because I wan’t people to read them. And I like that they are about as accessible as anything can get. None of it is stuck behind a paywall. This blog has around 1700 posts for people to poke around in. I just did a word count, its around 600k words freely available for anyone to read.

I also have a content policy. This policy literally just asks (begs really) people to follow their relevant copyright laws. Why? Well because like many other marginalized bloggers, writers, artists, etc (esp those of us of colour), my work is frequently plagiarized. People have a great habit of not citing me. And this is with the full ‘protection’ of copyright.

In general, we also know that ‘blogging’ still isn’t really considered ‘scholarship’ or ‘research’ in the that my own employer defines it (ie, anything you could put in a tenure package). So in this way, my blogging cannot be considered ‘open scholarship’. It also isn’t open access.

And yet… Anyone with an internet connection can freely access my writing and work (other than the more mainstream publications and, tbh? I’m planning on making free web versions of those too). This is the most minimal requirement of ‘openness’. In what sense, then, is this non-scholarship non-open?

Well, sure. A person can’t take one of my blog posts or essays and stuff it into an anthology they’ll sell without asking for my express permission. People can’t repost my posts on their own blogs with just a small citation/attribution (not even a link necessarily to the original location). Etc and so on. So, no, its not ‘open’ in this sense of the word.

What is also true: I hate copyright and the system of capital that justifies it and all other private property. I’ve gone repeatedly on record that I absolutely loathe the idea of ‘owning’ ideas. That I don’t consider many of the ideas I discuss ‘mine’ in any sense beyond my place within a larger community/discourse which creates it. True, my articulation and expression of my ideas is ‘mine’.

Moreover, I hate thinking like a capitalist. I hate looking at my writing and thinking about all the ways I can maximize my profits. I hate thinking about shit like brands and marketing and all the rest of it. Which is why I’m planning to stop, even though I am far from meeting my patreon goal of supporting myself via my writing1. Soon there’ll be web versions of all of my writing that any can read for free.

My non-scholarship also seems to occupy this really strange place (one mirrored by my strange internet presence). A lot of this might seem, idk, extreme especially considering that I am relatively obscure. Between tumblr and twitter, I have fewer than 3000 followers. This blog maybe gets around 100 hits per day on average. Not really all that much, eh?

And yet…. My books have been used in college classes. My blog has appeared on course syllabi. Both my defunct professional blog and this one have made real, serious contributions to their respective discourses. But in ways not easily tracked by the usual metrics.

I’m not widely cited even as my ideas are widely circulated. People know my ideas but don’t know that they are ‘mine’ – or at least that certain articulations of these ideas are mine. I’m not popular but I’m influential. So even if blogging were to suddenly become ~real~ scholarship, it’d be hard for me to make a case that my own blog is important to a tenure committee.

I say all of this bc this is too part of my motivation for retaining full copyright and not licensing my writing. This flimsy protection is all I have. And it is illusory because you’ll never see me going to the court system for copyright infringement. Never. I want to dismantle the carceral ‘justice’ system, not participate in it.

And, yes, I’m circling back to the original framing of this blog post. Not all open scholarship is treated equally. In part because not all scholarship itself is treated equally. But also because the narrow definitions of scholarship ends up excluding some of the most brilliant people I know.

There are some twitter feeds that are more insightful and educational than entire books I’ve read. But how do you cite that? Especially when it isn’t necessarily a specific tweet, but the network and web of ideas expressed over time in many tweets. When the ‘learning’ requires active participation, not passive observation and ‘reading’.

One of the things I rarely see discussed in the open access movement is how, for some of us, copyright can be the only way to resist being exploited. As noted above: even with copyright my labour is exploited and my writing stolen. All because I purposefully choose a medium that isn’t well-respected or recognized and that is easily accessible (in the sense of access barriers). Because I like sharing, I’m continually vulnerable to exploitation.

Essentially either I capitalize on my labour or someone else does.

All of this is compounded when you’re a multiply marginalized person. Its not accidental that most of the plagiarism I see online tends to be of women of colour (often Black women/femmes). Its also not accidental that a disabled transpinay like myself needs to start my own printing press if I want to access mainstream publishing methods.

Social media is praised for democratizing ‘publishing’ in various ways. Sure. It absolutely has given a platform to many people who are intentionally and purposefully excluded from the mainstream ones that actually pay money. And its a super interesting coincidence that these platforms that opened up for marginalized people are all owned by private companies but also are designed for you to provide free labour (sorry, ~content~) in order to keep those companies alive.

Taking us to this point, where the people still in control of the mainstream (paying) platforms simply have a smorgasbord of content and labour to mine. Which they then process and turn this labour into capital by taking this ‘raw material’ and refining it for the mainstream. While still systematically excluded those they exploit from participating.

This is long been my issue with open access source scholarship. Bc it fundamentally fails to address certain questions I have about labour and exploitation. And now that it is generally seen as ‘virtuous’ to make your writing open access and ‘shameful’ if you don’t… it puts an interesting pressure on someone like me who generally believes in the concepts and principles but cannot actually benefit from this – or rather that participation might cost me more than being seen as a miserly philosopher.
  1. Heck, once I leave patreon, I may not even be making enough money to feed myself.