radical open access in Adema 2019


Adema
The Ethics of Emergent Creativity: Can We Move Beyond Writing as Human Enterprise, Commodity and Innovation?
2019


# 3\. The Ethics of Emergent Creativity: Can We Move Beyond Writing as Human
Enterprise, Commodity and Innovation?

Janneke Adema

© 2019 Janneke Adema, CC BY 4.0
[https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0159.03](https://doi.org/10.11647/OBP.0159.03)

In 2013, the Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society
(ALCS)[1](ch3.xhtml#footnote-152) commissioned a survey of its members to
explore writers’ earnings and contractual issues in the UK. The survey, the
results of which were published in the summary booklet ‘What Are Words Worth
Now?’, was carried out by Queen Mary, University of London. Almost 2,500
writers — from literary authors to academics and screenwriters — responded.
‘What Are Words Worth Now?’ summarises the findings of a larger study titled
‘The Business Of Being An Author: A Survey Of Authors’ Earnings And
Contracts’, carried out by Johanna Gibson, Phillip Johnson and Gaetano Dimita
and published in April 2015 by Queen Mary University of
London.[2](ch3.xhtml#footnote-151) The ALCS press release that accompanies the
study states that this ‘shocking’ new research into authors’ earnings finds a
‘dramatic fall, both in incomes, and the number of those working full-time as
writers’.[3](ch3.xhtml#footnote-150) Indeed, two of the main findings of the
study are that, first of all, the income of a professional author (which the
research defines as those who dedicate the majority of their time to writing)
has dropped 29% between 2005 and 2013, from £12,330 (£15,450 in real terms) to
just £11,000. Furthermore, the research found that in 2005 40% of professional
authors earned their incomes solely from writing, where in 2013 this figure
had dropped to just 11.5%.[4](ch3.xhtml#footnote-149)

It seems that one of the primary reasons for the ALCS to conduct this survey
was to collect ‘accurate, independent data’ on writers’ earnings and
contractual issues, in order for the ALCS to ‘make the case for authors’
rights’ — at least, that is what the ALCS Chief Executive Owen Atkinson writes
in the introduction accompanying the survey, which was sent out to all ALCS
members.[5](ch3.xhtml#footnote-148) Yet although this research was conducted
independently and the researchers did not draw conclusions based on the data
collected — in the form of policy recommendations for example — the ALCS did
frame the data and findings in a very specific way, as I will outline in what
follows; this framing includes both the introduction to the survey and the
press release that accompanies the survey’s findings. Yet to some extent this
framing, as I will argue, is already apparent in the methodology used to
produce the data underlying the research report.

First of all, let me provide an example of how the research findings have been
framed in a specific way. Chief Executive Atkinson mentions in his
introduction to the survey that the ALCS ‘exists to ensure that writers are
treated fairly and remunerated appropriately’. He continues that the ALCS
commissioned the survey to collect ‘accurate, independent data,’ in order to
‘make the case for writers’ rights’.[6](ch3.xhtml#footnote-147) Now this focus
on rights in combination with remuneration is all the more noteworthy if we
look at an earlier ALCS funded report from 2007, ‘Authors’ Earnings from
Copyright and Non-Copyright Sources: a Survey of 25,000 British and German
Writers’. This report is based on the findings of a 2006 writers’ survey,
which the 2013 survey updates. The 2007 report argues conclusively that
current copyright law has empirically failed to ensure that authors receive
appropriate reward or remuneration for the use of their
work.[7](ch3.xhtml#footnote-146) The data from the subsequent 2013 survey show
an even bleaker picture as regards the earnings of writers. Yet Atkinson
argues in the press release accompanying the findings of the 2013 survey that
‘if writers are to continue making their irreplaceable contribution to the UK
economy, they need to be paid fairly for their work. This means ensuring
clear, fair contracts with equitable terms and a copyright regime that support
creators and their ability to earn a living from their
creations’.[8](ch3.xhtml#footnote-145) Atkinson does not outline what this
copyright regime should be, nor does he draw attention to how this model could
be improved. More importantly, the fact that a copyright model is needed to
ensure fair pay stands uncontested for Atkinson and the ALCS — not surprising
perhaps, as protecting and promoting the rights of authors is the primary
mission of this member society. If there is any culprit to be held responsible
for the study’s ‘shocking’ findings, it is the elusive and further undefined
notion of ‘the digital’. According to Atkinson, digital technology is
increasingly challenging the mission of the ALCS to ensure fair remuneration
for writers, since it is ‘driving new markets and leading the copyright
debate’.[9](ch3.xhtml#footnote-144) The 2013 study is therefore, as Atkinson
states ‘the first to capture the impact of the digital revolution on writers’
working lives’.[10](ch3.xhtml#footnote-143) This statement is all the more
striking if we take into consideration that none of the questions in the 2013
survey focus specifically on digital publishing.[11](ch3.xhtml#footnote-142)
It therefore seems that — despite earlier findings — the ALCS has already
decided in advance what ‘the digital’ is and that a copyright regime is the
only way to ensure fair remuneration for writers in a digital context.

## Creative Industries

This strong uncontested link between copyright and remuneration can be traced
back to various other aspects of the 2015 report and its release. For example,
the press release draws a strong connection between the findings of the report
and the development of the creative industries in the UK. Again, Atkinson
states in the press release:

These are concerning times for writers. This rapid decline in both author
incomes and in the numbers of those writing full-time could have serious
implications for the economic success of the creative industries in the
UK.[12](ch3.xhtml#footnote-141)

This connection to the creative industries — ‘which are now worth £71.4
billion per year to the UK economy’,[13](ch3.xhtml#footnote-140) Atkinson
points out — is not surprising where the discourse around creative industries
maintains a clear bond between intellectual property rights and creative
labour. As Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter state in their MyCreativity Reader,
the creative industries consist of ‘the generation and exploitation of
intellectual property’.[14](ch3.xhtml#footnote-139) Here they refer to a
definition created as part of the UK Government’s Creative Industries Mapping
Document,[15](ch3.xhtml#footnote-138) which states that the creative
industries are ‘those industries which have their origin in individual
creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job
creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property’.
Lovink and Rossiter point out that the relationship between IP and creative
labour lies at the basis of the definition of the creative industries where,
as they argue, this model of creativity assumes people only create to produce
economic value. This is part of a larger trend Wendy Brown has described as
being quintessentially neoliberal, where ‘neoliberal rationality disseminates
the model of the market to all domains and activities’ — and this includes the
realm of politics and rights.[16](ch3.xhtml#footnote-137) In this sense the
economization of culture and the concept of creativity is something that has
become increasingly embedded and naturalised. The exploitation of intellectual
property stands at the basis of the creative industries model, in which
cultural value — which can be seen as intricate, complex and manifold —
becomes subordinated to the model of the market; it becomes economic
value.[17](ch3.xhtml#footnote-136)

This direct association of cultural value and creativity with economic value
is apparent in various other facets of the ALCS commissioned research and
report. Obviously, the title of the initial summary booklet, as a form of
wordplay, asks ‘What are words worth?’. It becomes clear from the context of
the survey that the ‘worth’ of words will only be measured in a monetary
sense, i.e. as economic value. Perhaps even more important to understand in
this context, however, is how this economic worth of words is measured and
determined by focusing on two fixed and predetermined entities in advance.
First of all, the study focuses on individual human agents of creativity (i.e.
creators contributing economic value): the value of writing is established by
collecting data and making measurements at the level of individual authorship,
addressing authors/writers as singular individuals throughout the survey.
Secondly, economic worth is further determined by focusing on the fixed and
stable creative objects authors produce, in other words the study establishes
from the outset a clear link between the worth and value of writing and
economic remuneration based on individual works of
writing.[18](ch3.xhtml#footnote-135) Therefore in this process of determining
the economic worth of words, ‘writers’ and/or ‘authors’ are described and
positioned in a certain way in this study (i.e. as the central agents and
originators of creative objects), as is the form their creativity takes in the
shape of quantifiable outputs or commodities. The value of both these units of
measurement (the creator and the creative objects) are then set off against
the growth of the creative industries in the press release.

The ALCS commissioned survey provides some important insights into how
authorship, cultural works and remuneration — and ultimately, creativity — is
currently valued, specifically in the context of the creative industries
discourse in the UK. What I have tried to point out — without wanting to
downplay the importance either of writers receiving fair remuneration for
their work or of issues related to the sustainability of creative processes —
is that the findings from this survey have both been extracted and
subsequently framed based on a very specific economic model of creativity (and
authorship). According to this model, writing and creativity are sustained
most clearly by an individual original creator (an author) who extracts value
from the work s/he creates and distributes, aided by an intellectual property
rights regime. As I will outline more in depth in what follows, the enduring
liberal and humanist presumptions that underlie this survey continuously
reinforce the links between the value of writing and established IP and
remuneration regimes, and support a vision in which authorship and creativity
are dependent on economic incentives and ownership of works. By working within
this framework and with these predetermined concepts of authorship and
creativity (and ‘the digital’) the ALCS is strongly committed to the upkeep of
a specific model and discourse of creativity connected to the creative
industries. The ALCS does not attempt to complicate this model, nor does it
search for alternatives even when, as the 2007 report already implies, the
existing IP model has empirically failed to support the remuneration of
writers appropriately.

I want to use this ALCS survey as a reference point to start problematising
existing constructions of creativity, authorship, ownership, and
sustainability in relation to the ethics of publishing. To explore what ‘words
are worth’ and to challenge the hegemonic liberal humanist model of creativity
— to which the ALCS adheres — I will examine a selection of theoretical and
practical publishing and writing alternatives, from relational and posthuman
authorship to radical open access and uncreative writing. These alternatives
do not deny the importance of fair remuneration and sustainability for the
creative process; however, they want to foreground and explore creative
relationalities that move beyond the individual author and her ownership of
creative objects as the only model to support creativity and cultural
exchange. By looking at alternatives while at the same time complicating the
values and assumptions underlying the dominant narrative for IP expansion, I
want to start imagining what more ethical, fair and emergent forms of
creativity might entail. Forms that take into consideration the various
distributed and entangled agencies involved in the creation of cultural
content — which are presently not being included in the ALCS survey on fair
remuneration, for example. As I will argue, a reconsideration of the liberal
and humanist model of creativity might actually create new possibilities to
consider the value of words, and with that perhaps new solutions to the
problems pointed out in the ALCS study.

## Relational and Distributed Authorship

One of the main critiques of the liberal humanist model of authorship concerns
how it privileges the author as the sole source and origin of creativity. Yet
the argument has been made, both from a historical perspective and in relation
to today’s networked digital environment, that authorship and creativity, and
with that the value and worth of that creativity, are heavily
distributed.[19](ch3.xhtml#footnote-134) Should we therefore think about how
we can distribute notions of authorship and creativity more ethically when
defining the worth and value of words too? Would this perhaps mean a more
thorough investigation of what and who the specific agencies involved in
creative production are? This seems all the more important given that, today,
‘the value of words’ is arguably connected not to (distributed) authors or
creative agencies, but to rights holders (or their intermediaries such as
agents).[20](ch3.xhtml#footnote-133) From this perspective, the problem with
the copyright model as it currently functions is that the creators of
copyright don’t necessarily end up benefiting from it — a point that was also
implied by the authors of the 2007 ALCS commissioned report. Copyright
benefits rights holders, and rights holders are not necessarily, and often not
at all, involved in the production of creative work.

Yet copyright and the work as object are knit tightly to the authorship
construct. In this respect, the above criticism notwithstanding, in a liberal
vision of creativity and ownership the typical unit remains either the author
or the work. This ‘solid and fundamental unit of the author and the work’ as
Foucault has qualified it, albeit challenged, still retains a privileged
position.[21](ch3.xhtml#footnote-132) As Mark Rose argues, authorship — as a
relatively recent cultural formation — can be directly connected to the
commodification of writing and to proprietorship. Even more it developed in
tandem with the societal principle of possessive individualism, in which
individual property rights are protected by the social
order.[22](ch3.xhtml#footnote-131)

Some of the more interesting recent critiques of these constructs of
authorship and proprietorship have come from critical and feminist legal
studies, where scholars such as Carys Craig have started to question these
connections further. As Craig, Turcotte and Coombe argue, IP and copyright are
premised on liberal and neoliberal assumptions and constructs, such as
ownership, private rights, self-interest and
individualism.[23](ch3.xhtml#footnote-130) In this sense copyright,
authorship, the work as object, and related discourses around creativity
continuously re-establish and strengthen each other as part of a self-
sustaining system. We have seen this with the discourse around creative
industries, as part of which economic value comes to stand in for the creative
process itself, which, according to this narrative, can only be sustained
through an IP regime. Furthermore, from a feminist new materialist position,
the current discourse on creativity is very much a material expression of
creativity rather than merely its representation, where this discourse has
been classifying, constructing, and situating creativity (and with that,
authorship) within a neoliberal framework of creative industries.

Moving away from an individual construct of creativity therefore immediately
affects the question of the value of words. In our current copyright model
emphasis lies on the individual original author, but in a more distributed
vision the value of words and of creative production can be connected to a
broader context of creative agencies. Historically there has been a great
discursive shift from a valuing of imitation or derivation to a valuing of
originality in determining what counts as creativity or creative output.
Similar to Rose, Craig, Turcotte and Coombe argue that the individuality and
originality of authorship in its modern form established a simple route
towards individual ownership and the propertisation of creative achievement:
the original work is the author’s ownership whereas the imitator or pirate is
a trespasser of thief. In this sense original authorship is
‘disproportionately valued against other forms of cultural expression and
creative play’, where copyright upholds, maintains and strengthens the binary
between imitator and creator — defined by Craig, Turcotte and Coombe as a
‘moral divide’.[24](ch3.xhtml#footnote-129) This also presupposes a notion of
creativity that sees individuals as autonomous, living in isolation from each
other, ignoring their relationality. Yet as Craig, Turcotte and Coombe argue,
‘the act of writing involves not origination, but rather the adaptation,
derivation, translation and recombination of “raw material” taken from
previously existing texts’.[25](ch3.xhtml#footnote-128) This position has also
been explored extensively from within remix studies and fan culture, where the
adaptation and remixing of cultural content stands at the basis of creativity
(what Lawrence Lessig has called Read/Write culture, opposed to Read/Only
culture).[26](ch3.xhtml#footnote-127) From the perspective of access to
culture — instead of ownership of cultural goods or objects — one could also
argue that its value would increase when we are able to freely distribute it
and with that to adapt and remix it to create new cultural content and with
that cultural and social value — this within a context in which, as Craig,
Turcotte and Coombe point out, ‘the continuous expansion of intellectual
property rights has produced legal regimes that restrict access and downstream
use of information resources far beyond what is required to encourage their
creation’[27](ch3.xhtml#footnote-126)

To move beyond Enlightenment ideals of individuation, detachment and unity of
author and work, which determine the author-owner in the copyright model,
Craig puts forward a post-structuralist vision of relational authorship. This
sees the individual as socially situated and constituted — based also on
feminist scholarship into the socially situated self — where authorship in
this vision is situated within the communities in which it exists, but also in
relation to the texts and discourses that constitute it. Here creativity takes
place from within a network of social relations and the social dimensions of
authorship are recognised, as connectivity goes hand in hand with individual
autonomy. Craig argues that copyright should not be defined out of clashing
rights and interests but should instead focus on the kinds of relationships
this right would structure; it should be understood in relational terms: ‘it
structures relationships between authors and users, allocating powers and
responsibilities amongst members of cultural communities, and establishing the
rules of communication and exchange’.[28](ch3.xhtml#footnote-125) Cultural
value is then defined within these relationships.

## Open Access and the Ethics of Care

Craig, Turcotte and Coombe draw a clear connection between relational
authorship, feminism and (the ideals of) the open access movement, where as
they state, ‘rather than adhering to the individuated form of authorship that
intellectual property laws presuppose, open access initiatives take into
account varying forms of collaboration, creativity and
development’.[29](ch3.xhtml#footnote-124) Yet as I and others have argued
elsewhere,[30](ch3.xhtml#footnote-123) open access or open access publishing
is not a solid ideological block or model; it is made up of disparate groups,
visions and ethics. In this sense there is nothing intrinsically political or
democratic about open access, practitioners of open access can just as well be
seen to support and encourage open access in connection with the neoliberal
knowledge economy, with possessive individualism — even with CC licenses,
which can be seen as strengthening individualism —[31](ch3.xhtml#footnote-122)
and with the unity of author and work.[32](ch3.xhtml#footnote-121)

Nevertheless, there are those within the loosely defined and connected
radical open access community’, that do envision their publishing outlook and
relationship towards copyright, openness and authorship within and as part of
a relational ethics of care.[33](ch3.xhtml#footnote-120) For example Mattering
Press, a scholar-led open access book publishing initiative founded in 2012
and launched in 2016, publishes in the field of Science and Technology Studies
(STS) and works with a production model based on cooperation and shared
scholarship. As part of its publishing politics, ethos and ideology, Mattering
Press is therefore keen to include various agencies involved in the production
of scholarship, including ‘authors, reviewers, editors, copy editors, proof
readers, typesetters, distributers, designers, web developers and
readers’.[34](ch3.xhtml#footnote-119) They work with two interrelated feminist
(new materialist) and STS concepts to structure and perform this ethos:
mattering[35](ch3.xhtml#footnote-118) and care.[36](ch3.xhtml#footnote-117)
Where it concerns mattering, Mattering Press is conscious of how their
experiment in knowledge production, being inherently situated, puts new
relationships and configurations into the world. What therefore matters for
them are not so much the ‘author’ or the ‘outcome’ (the object), but the
process and the relationships that make up publishing:

[…] the way academic texts are produced matters — both analytically and
politically. Dominant publishing practices work with assumptions about the
conditions of academic knowledge production that rarely reflect what goes on
in laboratories, field sites, university offices, libraries, and various
workshops and conferences. They tend to deal with almost complete manuscripts
and a small number of authors, who are greatly dependent on the politics of
the publishing industry.[37](ch3.xhtml#footnote-116)

For Mattering Press care is something that extends not only to authors but to
the many other actants involved in knowledge production, who often provide
free volunteer labour within a gift economy context. As Mattering Press
emphasises, the ethics of care ‘mark vital relations and practices whose value
cannot be calculated and thus often goes unacknowledged where logics of
calculation are dominant’.[38](ch3.xhtml#footnote-115) For Mattering Press,
care can help offset and engage with the calculative logic that permeates
academic publishing:

[…] the concept of care can help to engage with calculative logics, such as
those of costs, without granting them dominance. How do we calculate so that
calculations do not dominate our considerations? What would it be to care for
rather than to calculate the cost of a book? This is but one and arguably a
relatively conservative strategy for allowing other logics than those of
calculation to take centre stage in publishing.[39](ch3.xhtml#footnote-114)

This logic of care refers, in part, to making visible the ‘unseen others’ as
Joe Deville (one of Mattering Press’s editors) calls them, who exemplify the
plethora of hidden labour that goes unnoticed within this object and author-
focused (academic) publishing model. As Endre Danyi, another Mattering Press
editor, remarks, quoting Susan Leigh Star: ‘This is, in the end, a profoundly
political process, since so many forms of social control rely on the erasure
or silencing of various workers, on deleting their work from representations
of the work’.[40](ch3.xhtml#footnote-113)

## Posthuman Authorship

Authorship is also being reconsidered as a polyvocal and collaborative
endeavour by reflecting on the agentic role of technology in authoring
content. Within digital literature, hypertext and computer-generated poetry,
media studies scholars have explored the role played by technology and the
materiality of text in the creation process, where in many ways writing can be
seen as a shared act between reader, writer and computer. Lori Emerson
emphasises that machines, media or technology are not neutral in this respect,
which complicates the idea of human subjectivity. Emerson explores this
through the notion of ‘cyborg authorship’, which examines the relation between
machine and human with a focus on the potentiality of in-
betweenness.[41](ch3.xhtml#footnote-112) Dani Spinosa talks about
‘collaboration with an external force (the computer, MacProse, technology in
general)’.[42](ch3.xhtml#footnote-111) Extending from the author, the text
itself, and the reader as meaning-writer (and hence playing a part in the
author function), technology, she states, is a fourth term in this
collaborative meaning-making. As Spinosa argues, in computer-generated texts
the computer is more than a technological tool and becomes a co-producer,
where it can occur that ‘the poet herself merges with the machine in order to
place her own subjectivity in flux’.[43](ch3.xhtml#footnote-110) Emerson calls
this a ‘break from the model of the poet/writer as divinely inspired human
exemplar’, which is exemplified for her in hypertext, computer-generated
poetry, and digital poetry.[44](ch3.xhtml#footnote-109)

Yet in many ways, as Emerson and Spinosa also note, these forms of posthuman
authorship should be seen as part of a larger trend, what Rolf Hughes calls an
‘anti-authorship’ tradition focused on auto-poesis (self-making), generative
systems and automatic writing. As Hughes argues, we see this tradition in
print forms such as Oulipo and in Dada experiments and surrealist games
too.[45](ch3.xhtml#footnote-108) But there are connections here with broader
theories that focus on distributed agency too, especially where it concerns
the influence of the materiality of the text. Media theorists such as N.
Katherine Hayles and Johanna Drucker have extensively argued that the
materiality of the page is entangled with the intentionality of the author as
a further agency; Drucker conceptualises this through a focus on ‘conditional
texts’ and ‘performative materiality’ with respect to the agency of the
material medium (be it the printed page or the digital
screen).[46](ch3.xhtml#footnote-107)

Where, however, does the redistribution of value creation end in these
narratives? As Nick Montfort states with respect to the agency of technology,
‘should other important and inspirational mechanisms — my CD player, for
instance, and my bookshelves — get cut in on the action as
well?’[47](ch3.xhtml#footnote-106) These distributed forms of authorship do
not solve issues related to authorship or remuneration but further complicate
them. Nevertheless Montfort is interested in describing the processes involved
in these types of (posthuman) co-authorship, to explore the (previously
unexplored) relationships and processes involved in the authoring of texts
more clearly. As he states, this ‘can help us understand the role of the
different participants more fully’.[48](ch3.xhtml#footnote-105) In this
respect a focus on posthuman authorship and on the various distributed
agencies that play a part in creative processes is not only a means to disrupt
the hegemonic focus on a romantic single and original authorship model, but it
is also about a sensibility to (machinic) co-authorship, to the different
agencies involved in the creation of art, and playing a role in creativity
itself. As Emerson remarks in this respect: ‘we must be wary of granting a
(romantic) specialness to human intentionality — after all, the point of
dividing the responsibility for the creation of the poems between human and
machine is to disrupt the singularity of human identity, to force human
identity to intermingle with machine identity’.[49](ch3.xhtml#footnote-104)

## Emergent Creativity

This more relational notion of rights and the wider appreciation of the
various (posthuman) agencies involved in creative processes based on an ethics
of care, challenges the vision of the single individualised and original
author/owner who stands at the basis of our copyright and IP regime — a vision
that, it is worth emphasising, can be seen as a historical (and Western)
anomaly, where collaborative, anonymous, and more polyvocal models of
authorship have historically prevailed.[50](ch3.xhtml#footnote-103) The other
side of the Foucauldian double bind, i.e. the fixed cultural object that
functions as a commodity, has however been similarly critiqued from several
angles. As stated before, and as also apparent from the way the ALCS report
has been framed, currently our copyright and remuneration regime is based on
ownership of cultural objects. Yet as many have already made clear, this
regime and discourse is very much based on physical objects and on a print-
based context.[51](ch3.xhtml#footnote-102) As such the idea of ‘text’ (be it
print or digital) has not been sufficiently problematised as versioned,
processual and materially changing within an IP context. In other words, text
and works are mostly perceived as fixed and stable objects and commodities
instead of material and creative processes and entangled relationalities. As
Craig et al. state, ‘the copyright system is unfortunately employed to
reinforce the norms of the analog world’.[52](ch3.xhtml#footnote-101) In
contrast to a more relational perspective, the current copyright regime views
culture through a proprietary lens. And it is very much this discursive
positioning, or as Craig et al. argue ‘the language of “ownership,”
“property,” and “commodity”’, which ‘obfuscates the nature of copyright’s
subject matter, and cloaks the social and cultural conditions of its
production and the implications of its
protection’.[53](ch3.xhtml#footnote-100) How can we approach creativity in
context, as socially and culturally situated, and not as the free-standing,
stable product of a transcendent author, which is very much how it is being
positioned within an economic and copyright framework? This hegemonic
conception of creativity as property fails to acknowledge or take into
consideration the manifold, distributed, derivative and messy realities of
culture and creativity.

It is therefore important to put forward and promote another more emergent
vision of creativity, where creativity is seen as both processual and only
ever temporarily fixed, and where the work itself is seen as being the product
of a variety of (posthuman) agencies. Interestingly, someone who has written
very elaborately about a different form of creativity relevant to this context
is one of the authors of the ALCS commissioned report, Johanna Gibson. Similar
to Craig, who focuses on the relationality of copyright, Gibson wants to pay
more attention to the networking of creativity, moving it beyond a focus on
traditional models of producers and consumers in exchange for a ‘many-to-many’
model of creativity. For Gibson, IP as a system aligns with a corporate model
of creativity, one which oversimplifies what it means to be creative and
measures it against economic parameters alone.[54](ch3.xhtml#footnote-099) In
many ways in policy driven visions, IP has come to stand in for the creative
process itself, Gibson argues, and is assimilated within corporate models of
innovation. It has thus become a synonym for creativity, as we have seen in
the creative industries discourse. As Gibson explains, this simplified model
of creativity is very much a ‘discursive strategy’ in which the creator is
mythologised and output comes in the form of commodified
objects.[55](ch3.xhtml#footnote-098) In this sense we need to re-appropriate
creativity as an inherently fluid and uncertain concept and practice.

Yet this mimicry of creativity by IP and innovation at the same time means
that any re-appropriation of creativity from the stance of access and reuse is
targeted as anti-IP and thus as standing outside of formal creativity. Other,
more emergent forms of creativity have trouble existing within this self-
defining and sustaining hegemonic system. This is similar to what Craig
remarked with respect to remixed, counterfeit and pirated, and un-original
works, which are seen as standing outside the system. Gibson uses actor
network theory (ANT) as a framework to construct her network-based model of
creativity, where for her ANT allows for a vision that does not fix creativity
within a product, but focuses more on the material relationships and
interactions between users and producers. In this sense, she argues, a network
model allows for plural agencies to be attributed to creativity, including
those of users.[56](ch3.xhtml#footnote-097)

An interesting example of how the hegemonic object-based discourse of
creativity can be re-appropriated comes from the conceptual poet Kenneth
Goldsmith, who, in what could be seen as a direct response to this dominant
narrative, tries to emphasise that exactly what this discourse classifies as
‘uncreative’, should be seen as valuable in itself. Goldsmith points out that
appropriating is creative and that he uses it as a pedagogical method in his
classes on ‘Uncreative Writing’ (which he defines as ‘the art of managing
information and representing it as writing’[57](ch3.xhtml#footnote-096)). Here
‘uncreative writing’ is something to strive for and stealing, copying, and
patchwriting are elevated as important and valuable tools for writing. For
Goldsmith the digital environment has fostered new skills and notions of
writing beyond the print-based concepts of originality and authorship: next to
copying, editing, reusing and remixing texts, the management and manipulation
of information becomes an essential aspect of
creativity.[58](ch3.xhtml#footnote-095) Uncreative writing involves a
repurposing and appropriation of existing texts and works, which then become
materials or building blocks for further works. In this sense Goldsmith
critiques the idea of texts or works as being fixed when asking, ‘if artefacts
are always in flux, when is a historical work determined to be
“finished”?’[59](ch3.xhtml#footnote-094) At the same time, he argues, our
identities are also in flux and ever shifting, turning creative writing into a
post-identity literature.[60](ch3.xhtml#footnote-093) Machines play important
roles in uncreative writing, as active agents in the ‘managing of
information’, which is then again represented as writing, and is seen by
Goldsmith as a bridge between human-centred writing and full-blown
‘robopoetics’ (literature written by machines, for machines). Yet Goldsmith is
keen to emphasise that these forms of uncreative writing are not beholden to
the digital medium, and that pre-digital examples are plentiful in conceptual
literature and poetry. He points out — again by a discursive re-appropriation
of what creativity is or can be — that sampling, remixing and appropriation
have been the norm in other artistic and creative media for decades. The
literary world is lagging behind in this respect, where, despite the
experiments by modernist writers, it continues neatly to delineate avant-garde
from more general forms of writing. Yet as Goldsmith argues the digital has
started to disrupt this distinction again, moving beyond ‘analogue’ notions of
writing, and has fuelled with it the idea that there might be alternative
notions of writing: those currently perceived as
uncreative.[61](ch3.xhtml#footnote-092)

## Conclusion

There are two addendums to the argument I have outlined above that I would
like to include here. First of all, I would like to complicate and further
critique some of the preconceptions still inherent in the relational and
networked copyright models as put forward by Craig et al. and Gibson. Both are
in many ways reformist and ‘responsive’ models. Gibson, for example, does not
want to do away with IP rights, she wants them to develop and adapt to mirror
society more accurately according to a networked model of creativity. For her,
the law is out of tune with its public, and she wants to promote a more
inclusive networked (copy) rights model.[62](ch3.xhtml#footnote-091) For Craig
too, relationalities are established and structured by rights first and
foremost. Yet from a posthuman perspective we need to be conscious of how the
other actants involved in creativity would fall outside such a humanist and
subjective rights model.[63](ch3.xhtml#footnote-090) From texts and
technologies themselves to the wider environmental context and to other
nonhuman entities and objects: in what sense will a copyright model be able to
extend such a network beyond an individualised liberal humanist human subject?
What do these models exclude in this respect and in what sense are they still
limited by their adherence to a rights model that continues to rely on
humanist nodes in a networked or relational model? As Anna Munster has argued
in a talk about the case of the monkey selfie, copyright is based on a logic
of exclusion that does not line up with the assemblages of agentic processes
that make up creativity and creative expression.[64](ch3.xhtml#footnote-089)
How can we appreciate the relational and processual aspects of identity, which
both Craig and Gibson seem to want to promote, if we hold on to an inherently
humanist concept of subjectification, rights and creativity?

Secondly, I want to highlight that we need to remain cautious of a movement
away from copyright and the copyright industries, to a context of free culture
in which free content — and the often free labour it is based upon — ends up
servicing the content industries (i.e. Facebook, Google, Amazon). We must be
wary when access or the narrative around (open) access becomes dominated by
access to or for big business, benefitting the creative industries and the
knowledge economy. The danger of updating and adapting IP law to fit a
changing digital context and to new technologies, of making it more inclusive
in this sense — which is something both Craig and Gibson want to do as part of
their reformative models — is that this tends to be based on a very simplified
and deterministic vision of technology, as something requiring access and an
open market to foster innovation. As Sarah Kember argues, this technocratic
rationale, which is what unites pro-and anti-copyright activists in this
sense, essentially de-politicises the debate around IP; it is still a question
of determining the value of creativity through an economic perspective, based
on a calculative lobby.[65](ch3.xhtml#footnote-088) The challenge here is to
redefine the discourse in such a way that our focus moves away from a dominant
market vision, and — as Gibson and Craig have also tried to do — to emphasise
a non-calculative ethics of relations, processes and care instead.

I would like to return at this point to the ALCS report and the way its
results have been framed within a creative industries discourse.
Notwithstanding the fact that fair remuneration and incentives for literary
production and creativity in general are of the utmost importance, what I have
tried to argue here is that the ‘solution’ proposed by the ALCS does not do
justice to the complexities of creativity. When discussing remuneration of
authors, the ALCS seems to prefer a simple solution in which copyright is seen
as a given, the digital is pointed out as a generalised scapegoat, and
binaries between print and digital are maintained and strengthened.
Furthermore, fair remuneration is encapsulated by the ALCS within an economic
calculative logic and rhetoric, sustained by and connected to a creative
industries discourse, which continuously recreates the idea that creativity
and innovation are one. Instead I have tried to put forward various
alternative visions and practices, from radical open access to posthuman
authorship and uncreative writing, based on vital relationships and on an
ethics of care and responsibility. These alternatives highlight distributed
and relational authorship and/or showcase a sensibility that embraces
posthuman agencies and processual publishing as part of a more complex,
emergent vision of creativity, open to different ideas of what creativity is
and can become. In this vision creativity is thus seen as relational, fluid
and processual and only ever temporarily fixed as part of our ethical decision
making: a decision-making process that is contingent on the contexts and
relationships with which we find ourselves entangled. This involves asking
questions about what writing is and does, and how creativity expands beyond
our established, static, or given concepts, which include copyright and a
focus on the author as a ‘homo economicus’, writing as inherently an
enterprise, and culture as commodified. As I have argued, the value of words,
indeed the economic worth and sustainability of words and of the ‘creative
industries’, can and should be defined within a different narrative. Opening
up from the hegemonic creative industries discourse and the way we perform it
through our writing practices might therefore enable us to explore extended
relationalities of emergent creativity, open-ended publishing processes, and a
feminist ethics of care and responsibility.

This contribution has showcased examples of experimental, hybrid and posthuman
writing and publishing practices that are intervening in this established
discourse on creativity. How, through them, can we start to performatively
explore a new discourse and reconfigure the relationships that underlie our
writing processes? How can the worth of writing be reflected in different
ways?

## Works Cited

(2014) ‘New Research into Authors’ Earnings Released’, Authors’ Licensing and
Collecting Society,
Us/News/News/What-are-words-worth-now-not-much.aspx>

Abrahamsson, Sebastian, Uli Beisel, Endre Danyi, Joe Deville, Julien McHardy,
and Michaela Spencer (2013) ‘Mattering Press: New Forms of Care for STS
Books’, The EASST Review 32.4, volume-32-4-december-2013/mattering-press-new-forms-of-care-for-sts-books/>

Adema, Janneke (2017) ‘Cut-Up’, in Eduardo Navas (ed.), Keywords in Remix
Studies (New York and London: Routledge), pp. 104–14,


— (2014) ‘Embracing Messiness’, LSE Impact of Social Sciences,
adema-pdsc14/>

— (2015) ‘Knowledge Production Beyond The Book? Performing the Scholarly
Monograph in Contemporary Digital Culture’ (PhD dissertation, Coventry
University), f4c62c77ac86/1/ademacomb.pdf>

— (2014) ‘Open Access’, in Critical Keywords for the Digital Humanities
(Lueneburg: Centre for Digital Cultures (CDC)),


— and Gary Hall (2013) ‘The Political Nature of the Book: On Artists’ Books
and Radical Open Access’, New Formations 78.1, 138–56,


— and Samuel Moore (2018) ‘Collectivity and Collaboration: Imagining New Forms
of Communality to Create Resilience in Scholar-Led Publishing’, Insights 31.3,


ALCS, Press Release (8 July 2014) ‘What Are Words Worth Now? Not Enough’,


Barad, Karen (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the
Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham, N.C., and London: Duke University
Press).

Boon, Marcus (2010) In Praise of Copying (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press).

Brown, Wendy (2015) Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).

Chartier, Roger (1994) The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in
Europe Between the 14th and 18th Centuries, 1st ed. (Stanford, CA: Stanford
University Press).

Craig, Carys J. (2011) Copyright, Communication and Culture: Towards a
Relational Theory of Copyright Law (Cheltenham, UK, and Northampton, MA:
Edward Elgar Publishing).

— Joseph F. Turcotte, and Rosemary J. Coombe (2011) ‘What’s Feminist About
Open Access? A Relational Approach to Copyright in the Academy’, Feminists@law
1.1,

Cramer, Florian (2013) Anti-Media: Ephemera on Speculative Arts (Rotterdam and
New York, NY: nai010 publishers).

Drucker, Johanna (2015) ‘Humanist Computing at the End of the Individual Voice
and the Authoritative Text’, in Patrik Svensson and David Theo Goldberg
(eds.), Between Humanities and the Digital (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), pp.
83–94.

— (2014) ‘Distributed and Conditional Documents: Conceptualizing
Bibliographical Alterities’, MATLIT: Revista do Programa de Doutoramento em
Materialidades da Literatura 2.1, 11–29.

— (2013) ‘Performative Materiality and Theoretical Approaches to Interface’,
Digital Humanities Quarterly 7.1 [n.p.],


Ede, Lisa, and Andrea A. Lunsford (2001) ‘Collaboration and Concepts of
Authorship’, PMLA 116.2, 354–69.

Emerson, Lori (2008) ‘Materiality, Intentionality, and the Computer-Generated
Poem: Reading Walter Benn Michaels with Erin Moureacute’s Pillage Land’, ESC:
English Studies in Canada 34, 45–69.

— (2003) ‘Digital Poetry as Reflexive Embodiment’, in Markku Eskelinen, Raine
Koskimaa, Loss Pequeño Glazier and John Cayley (eds.), CyberText Yearbook
2002–2003, 88–106,

Foucault, Michel, ‘What Is an Author?’ (1998) in James D. Faubion (ed.),
Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984, Volume Two: Aesthetics, Method, and
Epistemology (New York: The New Press).

Gibson, Johanna (2007) Creating Selves: Intellectual Property and the
Narration of Culture (Aldershot, England and Burlington, VT: Routledge).

— Phillip Johnson and Gaetano Dimita (2015) The Business of Being an Author: A
Survey of Author’s Earnings and Contracts (London: Queen Mary University of
London), [https://orca.cf.ac.uk/72431/1/Final Report - For Web
Publication.pdf](https://orca.cf.ac.uk/72431/1/Final%20Report%20-%20For%20Web%20Publication.pdf)

Goldsmith, Kenneth (2011) Uncreative Writing: Managing Language in the Digital
Age (New York: Columbia University Press).

Hall, Gary (2010) ‘Radical Open Access in the Humanities’ (presented at the
Research Without Borders, Columbia University),
humanities/>

— (2008) Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open
Access Now (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press).

Hayles, N. Katherine (2004) ‘Print Is Flat, Code Is Deep: The Importance of
Media-Specific Analysis’, Poetics Today 25.1, 67–90,


Hughes, Rolf (2005) ‘Orderly Disorder: Post-Human Creativity’, in Proceedings
of the Linköping Electronic Conference (Linköpings universitet: University
Electronic Press).

Jenkins, Henry, and Owen Gallagher (2008) ‘“What Is Remix Culture?”: An
Interview with Total Recut’s Owen Gallagher’, Confessions of an Aca-Fan,


Johns, Adrian (1998) The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making
(Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).

Kember, Sarah (2016) ‘Why Publish?’, Learned Publishing 29, 348–53,


— (2014) ‘Why Write?: Feminism, Publishing and the Politics of Communication’,
New Formations: A Journal of Culture/Theory/Politics 83.1, 99–116.

Kretschmer, M., and P. Hardwick (2007) Authors’ Earnings from Copyright and
Non-Copyright Sources : A Survey of 25,000 British and German Writers (Poole,
UK: CIPPM/ALCS Bournemouth University),
[https://microsites.bournemouth.ac.uk/cippm/files/2007/07/ALCS-Full-
report.pdf](https://microsites.bournemouth.ac.uk/cippm/files/2007/07/ACLS-
Full-report.pdf)

Lessig, Lawrence (2008) Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid
Economy (New York: Penguin Press).

Lovink, Geert, and Ned Rossiter (eds.) (2007) MyCreativity Reader: A Critique
of Creative Industries (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures),


McGann, Jerome J. (1992) A Critique of Modern Textual Criticism
(Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press).

McHardy, Julien (2014) ‘Why Books Matter: There Is Value in What Cannot Be
Evaluated.’, Impact of Social Sciences [n.p.],


Mol, Annemarie (2008) The Logic of Care: Health and the Problem of Patient
Choice, 1st ed. (London and New York: Routledge).

Montfort, Nick (2003) ‘The Coding and Execution of the Author’, in Markku
Eskelinen, Raine Kosimaa, Loss Pequeño Glazier and John Cayley (eds.),
CyberText Yearbook 2002–2003, 2003, 201–17,
, pp. 201–17.

Moore, Samuel A. (2017) ‘A Genealogy of Open Access: Negotiations between
Openness and Access to Research’, Revue Française des Sciences de
l’information et de la Communication 11,

Munster, Anna (2016) ‘Techno-Animalities — the Case of the Monkey Selfie’
(presented at the Goldsmiths University, London),


Navas, Eduardo (2012) Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling (Vienna and New
York: Springer).

Parikka, Jussi, and Mercedes Bunz (11 July 2014) ‘A Mini-Interview: Mercedes
Bunz Explains Meson Press’, Machinology,
meson-press/>

Richards, Victoria (7 January 2016) ‘Monkey Selfie: Judge Rules Macaque Who
Took Grinning Photograph of Himself “Cannot Own Copyright”’, The Independent,
macaque-who-took-grinning-photograph-of-himself-cannot-own-
copyright-a6800471.html>

Robbins, Sarah (2003) ‘Distributed Authorship: A Feminist Case-Study Framework
for Studying Intellectual Property’, College English 66.2, 155–71,


Rose, Mark (1993) Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright (Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press).

Spinosa, Dani (14 May 2014) ‘“My Line (Article) Has Sighed”: Authorial
Subjectivity and Technology’, Generic Pronoun,


Star, Susan Leigh (1991) ‘The Sociology of the Invisible: The Primacy of Work
in the Writings of Anselm Strauss’, in Anselm Leonard Strauss and David R.
Maines (eds.), Social Organization and Social Process: Essays in Honor of
Anselm Strauss (New York: A. de Grutyer).

* * *

[1](ch3.xhtml#footnote-152-backlink) The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting
Society is a [British](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom)
membership organisation for writers, established in 1977 with over 87,000
members, focused on protecting and promoting authors’ rights. ALCS collects
and pays out money due to members for secondary uses of their work (copying,
broadcasting, recording etc.).

[2](ch3.xhtml#footnote-151-backlink) This survey was an update of an earlier
survey conducted in 2006 by the Centre of Intellectual Property Policy and
Management (CIPPM) at Bournemouth University.

[3](ch3.xhtml#footnote-150-backlink) ‘New Research into Authors’ Earnings
Released’, Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, 2014,
Us/News/News/What-are-words-worth-now-not-much.aspx>

[4](ch3.xhtml#footnote-149-backlink) Johanna Gibson, Phillip Johnson, and
Gaetano Dimita, The Business of Being an Author: A Survey of Author’s Earnings
and Contracts (London: Queen Mary University of London, 2015), p. 9,
[https://orca.cf.ac.uk/72431/1/Final Report - For Web Publication.pdf
](https://orca.cf.ac.uk/72431/1/Final%20Report%20-%20For%20Web%20Publication.pdf)

[5](ch3.xhtml#footnote-148-backlink) ALCS, Press Release. What Are Words Worth
Now? Not Enough, 8 July 2014, worth-now-not-enough>

[6](ch3.xhtml#footnote-147-backlink) Gibson, Johnson, and Dimita, The Business
of Being an Author, p. 35.

[7](ch3.xhtml#footnote-146-backlink) M. Kretschmer and P. Hardwick, Authors’
Earnings from Copyright and Non-Copyright Sources: A Survey of 25,000 British
and German Writers (Poole: CIPPM/ALCS Bournemouth University, 2007), p. 3,
[https://microsites.bournemouth.ac.uk/cippm/files/2007/07/ALCS-Full-
report.pdf](https://microsites.bournemouth.ac.uk/cippm/files/2007/07/ACLS-
Full-report.pdf)

[8](ch3.xhtml#footnote-145-backlink) ALCS, Press Release, 8 July 2014,
[https://www.alcs.co.uk/news/what-are-words-](https://www.alcs.co.uk/news
/what-are-words-worth-now-not-enough)
worth-now-not-enough

[9](ch3.xhtml#footnote-144-backlink) Gibson, Johnson, and Dimita, The Business
of Being an Author, p. 35.

[10](ch3.xhtml#footnote-143-backlink) Ibid.

[11](ch3.xhtml#footnote-142-backlink) In the survey, three questions that
focus on various sources of remuneration do list digital publishing and/or
online uses as an option (questions 8, 11, and 15). Yet the data tables
provided in the appendix to the report do not provide the findings for
questions 11 and 15 nor do they differentiate according to type of media for
other tables related to remuneration. The only data table we find in the
report related to digital publishing is table 3.3, which lists ‘Earnings
ranked (1 to 7) in relation to categories of work’, where digital publishing
ranks third after books and magazines/periodicals, but before newspapers,
audio/audio-visual productions and theatre. This lack of focus on the effect
of digital publishing on writers’ incomes, for a survey that is ‘the first to
capture the impact of the digital revolution on writers’ working lives’, is
quite remarkable. Gibson, Johnson, and Dimita, The Business of Being an
Author, Appendix 2.

[12](ch3.xhtml#footnote-141-backlink) Ibid., p. 35.

[13](ch3.xhtml#footnote-140-backlink) Ibid.

[14](ch3.xhtml#footnote-139-backlink) Geert Lovink and Ned Rossiter (eds.),
MyCreativity Reader: A Critique of Creative Industries (Amsterdam: Institute
of Network Cultures, 2007), p. 14,


[15](ch3.xhtml#footnote-138-backlink) See:
estimates-january-2015/creative-industries-economic-estimates-january-2015
-key-findings>

[16](ch3.xhtml#footnote-137-backlink) Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos:
Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015), p. 31.

[17](ch3.xhtml#footnote-136-backlink) Therefore Lovink and Rossiter make a
plea to, ‘redefine creative industries outside of IP generation’. Lovink and
Rossiter, MyCreativity Reader, p. 14.

[18](ch3.xhtml#footnote-135-backlink) Next to earnings made from writing more
in general, the survey on various occasions asks questions about earnings
arising from specific categories of works and related to the amount of works
exploited (published/broadcast) during certain periods. Gibson, Johnson, and
Dimita, The Business of Being an Author, Appendix 2.

[19](ch3.xhtml#footnote-134-backlink) Roger Chartier, The Order of Books:
Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe Between the 14th and 18th Centuries,
1st ed. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994); Lisa Ede and Andrea A.
Lunsford, ‘Collaboration and Concepts of Authorship’, PMLA 116.2 (2001),
354–69; Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the
Making (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998); Jerome J. McGann, A
Critique of Modern Textual Criticism (Charlottesville, VA, University of
Virginia Press, 1992); Sarah Robbins, ‘Distributed Authorship: A Feminist
Case-Study Framework for Studying Intellectual Property’, College English 66.2
(2003), 155–71,

[20](ch3.xhtml#footnote-133-backlink) The ALCS survey addresses this problem,
of course, and tries to lobby on behalf of its authors for fair contracts with
publishers and intermediaries. That said, the survey findings show that only
42% of writers always retain their copyright. Gibson, Johnson, and Dimita, The
Business of Being an Author, p. 12.

[21](ch3.xhtml#footnote-132-backlink) Michel Foucault, ‘What Is an Author?’,
in James D. Faubion (ed.), Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984, Volume Two:
Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology (New York: The New Press, 1998), p. 205.

[22](ch3.xhtml#footnote-131-backlink) Mark Rose, Authors and Owners: The
Invention of Copyright (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993).

[23](ch3.xhtml#footnote-130-backlink) Carys J. Craig, Joseph F. Turcotte, and
Rosemary J. Coombe, ‘What’s Feminist About Open Access? A Relational Approach
to Copyright in the Academy’, Feminists@law 1.1 (2011),


[24](ch3.xhtml#footnote-129-backlink) Ibid., p. 8.

[25](ch3.xhtml#footnote-128-backlink) Ibid., p. 9.

[26](ch3.xhtml#footnote-127-backlink) Lawrence Lessig, Remix: Making Art and
Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (New York: Penguin Press, 2008); Eduardo
Navas, Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling (Vienna and New York:
Springer, 2012); Henry Jenkins and Owen Gallagher, ‘“What Is Remix Culture?”:
An Interview with Total Recut’s Owen Gallagher’, Confessions of an Aca-Fan,
2008,

[27](ch3.xhtml#footnote-126-backlink) Craig, Turcotte, and Coombe, ‘What’s
Feminist About Open Access?, p. 27.

[28](ch3.xhtml#footnote-125-backlink) Ibid., p. 14.

[29](ch3.xhtml#footnote-124-backlink) Ibid., p. 26.

[30](ch3.xhtml#footnote-123-backlink) Janneke Adema, ‘Open Access’, in
Critical Keywords for the Digital Humanities (Lueneburg: Centre for Digital
Cultures (CDC), 2014), ; Janneke Adema,
‘Embracing Messiness’, LSE Impact of Social Sciences, 2014,
adema-pdsc14/>; Gary Hall, Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or
Why We Need Open Access Now (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press,
2008), p. 197; Sarah Kember, ‘Why Write?: Feminism, Publishing and the
Politics of Communication’, New Formations: A Journal of
Culture/Theory/Politics 83.1 (2014), 99–116; Samuel A. Moore, ‘A Genealogy of
Open Access: Negotiations between Openness and Access to Research’, Revue
Française des Sciences de l’information et de la Communication, 2017,


[31](ch3.xhtml#footnote-122-backlink) Florian Cramer, Anti-Media: Ephemera on
Speculative Arts (Rotterdam and New York: nai010 publishers, 2013).

[32](ch3.xhtml#footnote-121-backlink) Especially within humanities publishing
there is a reluctance to allow derivative uses of one’s work in an open access
setting.

[33](ch3.xhtml#footnote-120-backlink) In 2015 the Radical Open Access
Conference took place at Coventry University, which brought together a large
array of presses and publishing initiatives (often academic-led) in support of
an ‘alternative’ vision of open access and scholarly communication.
Participants in this conference subsequently formed the loosely allied Radical
Open Access Collective: [radicaloa.co.uk](https://radicaloa.co.uk/). As the
conference concept outlines, radical open access entails ‘a vision of open
access that is characterised by a spirit of on-going creative experimentation,
and a willingness to subject some of our most established scholarly
communication and publishing practices, together with the institutions that
sustain them (the library, publishing house etc.), to rigorous critique.
Included in the latter will be the asking of important questions about our
notions of authorship, authority, originality, quality, credibility,
sustainability, intellectual property, fixity and the book — questions that
lie at the heart of what scholarship is and what the university can be in the
21st century’. Janneke Adema and Gary Hall, ‘The Political Nature of the Book:
On Artists’ Books and Radical Open Access’, New Formations 78.1 (2013),
138–56, ; Janneke Adema and Samuel
Moore, ‘Collectivity and Collaboration: Imagining New Forms of Communality to
Create Resilience In Scholar-Led Publishing’, Insights 31.3 (2018),
; Gary Hall, ‘Radical Open Access in the
Humanities’ (presented at the Research Without Borders, Columbia University,
2010), humanities/>; Janneke Adema, ‘Knowledge Production Beyond The Book? Performing
the Scholarly Monograph in Contemporary Digital Culture’ (PhD dissertation,
Coventry University, 2015),
f4c62c77ac86/1/ademacomb.pdf>

[34](ch3.xhtml#footnote-119-backlink) Julien McHardy, ‘Why Books Matter: There
Is Value in What Cannot Be Evaluated’, Impact of Social Sciences, 2014, n.p.,
[http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocial sciences/2014/09/30/why-books-
matter/](http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/09/30/why-books-
matter/)

[35](ch3.xhtml#footnote-118-backlink) Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe
Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning (Durham,
N.C. and London: Duke University Press, 2007).

[36](ch3.xhtml#footnote-117-backlink) Annemarie Mol, The Logic of Care: Health
and the Problem of Patient Choice, 1st ed. (London and New York: Routledge,
2008).

[37](ch3.xhtml#footnote-116-backlink) Sebastian Abrahamsson and others,
‘Mattering Press: New Forms of Care for STS Books’, The EASST Review 32.4
(2013), press-new-forms-of-care-for-sts-books/>

[38](ch3.xhtml#footnote-115-backlink) McHardy, ‘Why Books Matter’.

[39](ch3.xhtml#footnote-114-backlink) Ibid.

[40](ch3.xhtml#footnote-113-backlink) Susan Leigh Star, ‘The Sociology of the
Invisible: The Primacy of Work in the Writings of Anselm Strauss’, in Anselm
Leonard Strauss and David R. Maines (eds.), Social Organization and Social
Process: Essays in Honor of Anselm Strauss (New York: A. de Gruyter, 1991).
Mattering Press is not alone in exploring an ethics of care in relation to
(academic) publishing. Sarah Kember, director of Goldsmiths Press is also
adamant in her desire to make the underlying processes of publishing (i.e.
peer review, citation practices) more transparent and accountable Sarah
Kember, ‘Why Publish?’, Learned Publishing 29 (2016), 348–53,
. Mercedes Bunz, one of the editors running
Meson Press, argues that a sociology of the invisible would incorporate
‘infrastructure work’, the work of accounting for, and literally crediting
everybody involved in producing a book: ‘A book isn’t just a product that
starts a dialogue between author and reader. It is accompanied by lots of
other academic conversations — peer review, co-authors, copy editors — and
these conversations deserve to be taken more serious’. Jussi Parikka and
Mercedes Bunz, ‘A Mini-Interview: Mercedes Bunz Explains Meson Press’,
Machinology, 2014, mercedes-bunz-explains-meson-press/>. For Open Humanities Press authorship is
collaborative and even often anonymous: for example, they are experimenting
with research published in wikis to further complicate the focus on single
authorship and a static marketable book object within academia (see their
living and liquid books series).

[41](ch3.xhtml#footnote-112-backlink) Lori Emerson, ‘Digital Poetry as
Reflexive Embodiment’, in Markku Eskelinen, Raine Koskimaa, Loss Pequeño
Glazier and John Cayley (eds.), CyberText Yearbook 2002–2003, 2003, 88–106,


[42](ch3.xhtml#footnote-111-backlink) Dani Spinosa, ‘“My Line (Article) Has
Sighed”: Authorial Subjectivity and Technology’, Generic Pronoun, 2014,


[43](ch3.xhtml#footnote-110-backlink) Spinosa, ‘My Line (Article) Has Sighed’.

[44](ch3.xhtml#footnote-109-backlink) Emerson, ‘Digital Poetry as Reflexive
Embodiment’, p. 89.

[45](ch3.xhtml#footnote-108-backlink) Rolf Hughes, ‘Orderly Disorder: Post-
Human Creativity’, in Proceedings of the Linköping Electronic Conference
(Linköpings universitet: University Electronic Press, 2005).

[46](ch3.xhtml#footnote-107-backlink) N. Katherine Hayles, ‘Print Is Flat,
Code Is Deep: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis’, Poetics Today 25.1
(2004), 67–90, ; Johanna Drucker,
‘Performative Materiality and Theoretical Approaches to Interface’, Digital
Humanities Quarterly 7.1 (2013),
; Johanna
Drucker, ‘Distributed and Conditional Documents: Conceptualizing
Bibliographical Alterities’, MATLIT: Revista do Programa de Doutoramento em
Materialidades da Literatura 2.1 (2014), 11–29.

[47](ch3.xhtml#footnote-106-backlink) Nick Montfort, ‘The Coding and Execution
of the Author’, in Markku Eskelinen, Raine Kosimaa, Loss Pequeño Glazier and
John Cayley (eds.), CyberText Yearbook 2002–2003, 2003, 201–17 (p. 201),


[48](ch3.xhtml#footnote-105-backlink) Montfort, ‘The Coding and Execution of
the Author’, p. 202.

[49](ch3.xhtml#footnote-104-backlink) Lori Emerson, ‘Materiality,
Intentionality, and the Computer-Generated Poem: Reading Walter Benn Michaels
with Erin Moureacute’s Pillage Land’, ESC: English Studies in Canada 34
(2008), 66.

[50](ch3.xhtml#footnote-103-backlink) Marcus Boon, In Praise of Copying
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); Johanna Drucker, ‘Humanist
Computing at the End of the Individual Voice and the Authoritative Text’, in
Patrik Svensson and David Theo Goldberg (eds.), Between Humanities and the
Digital (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015), pp. 83–94.

[51](ch3.xhtml#footnote-102-backlink) We have to take into consideration here
that print-based cultural products were never fixed or static; the dominant
discourses constructed around them just perceive them to be so.

[52](ch3.xhtml#footnote-101-backlink) Craig, Turcotte, and Coombe, ‘What’s
Feminist About Open Access?’, p. 2.

[53](ch3.xhtml#footnote-100-backlink) Ibid.

[54](ch3.xhtml#footnote-099-backlink) Johanna Gibson, Creating Selves:
Intellectual Property and the Narration of Culture (Aldershot, UK, and
Burlington: Routledge, 2007), p. 7.

[55](ch3.xhtml#footnote-098-backlink) Gibson, Creating Selves, p. 7.

[56](ch3.xhtml#footnote-097-backlink) Ibid.

[57](ch3.xhtml#footnote-096-backlink) Kenneth Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing:
Managing Language in the Digital Age (New York: Columbia University Press,
2011), p. 227.

[58](ch3.xhtml#footnote-095-backlink) Ibid., p. 15.

[59](ch3.xhtml#footnote-094-backlink) Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing, p. 81.

[60](ch3.xhtml#footnote-093-backlink) Ibid.

[61](ch3.xhtml#footnote-092-backlink) It is worth emphasising that what
Goldsmith perceives as ‘uncreative’ notions of writing (including
appropriation, pastiche, and copying), have a prehistory that can be traced
back to antiquity (thanks go out to this chapter’s reviewer for pointing this
out). One example of this, which uses the method of cutting and pasting —
something I have outlined more in depth elsewhere — concerns the early modern
commonplace book. Commonplacing as ‘a method or approach to reading and
writing involved the gathering and repurposing of meaningful quotes, passages
or other clippings from published books by copying and/or pasting them into a
blank book.’ Janneke Adema, ‘Cut-Up’, in Eduardo Navas (ed.), Keywords in
Remix Studies (New York and London: Routledge, 2017), pp. 104–14,


[62](ch3.xhtml#footnote-091-backlink) Gibson, Creating Selves, p. 27.

[63](ch3.xhtml#footnote-090-backlink) For example, animals cannot own
copyright. See the case of Naruto, the macaque monkey that took a ‘selfie’
photograph of itself. Victoria Richards, ‘Monkey Selfie: Judge Rules Macaque
Who Took Grinning Photograph of Himself “Cannot Own Copyright”’, The
Independent, 7 January 2016, /monkey-selfie-judge-rules-macaque-who-took-grinning-photograph-of-himself-
cannot-own-copyright-a6800471.html>

[64](ch3.xhtml#footnote-089-backlink) Anna Munster, ‘Techno-Animalities — the
Case of the Monkey Selfie’ (presented at the Goldsmiths University, London,
2016),

[65](ch3.xhtml#footnote-088-backlink) Sarah Kember, ‘Why Write?: Feminism,
Publishing and the Politics of Communication’, New Formations: A Journal of
Culture/Theory/Politics 83.1 (2014), 99–116.


radical open access in Adema & Hall 2013


Adema & Hall
The political nature of the book: on artists' books and radical open access
2013


The political nature of the book: on artists' books and radical open access
Adema, J. and Hall, G.

Author post-print (accepted) deposited in CURVE September 2013

Original citation & hyperlink:
Adema, J. and Hall, G. (2013). The political nature of the book: on artists' books and radical
open access. New Formations, volume 78 (1): 138-156

http://dx.doi.org/10.3898/NewF.78.07.2013

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/), which permits
unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
work is properly cited.
This document is the author’s post-print version of the journal article, incorporating any
revisions agreed during the peer-review process. Some differences between the published
version and this version may remain and you are advised to consult the published version
if you wish to cite from it.

CURVE is the Institutional Repository for Coventry University
http://curve.coventry.ac.uk/open

Abstract
In this article we argue that the medium of the book can be a material and
conceptual means, both of criticising capitalism’s commodification of knowledge (for
example, in the form of the commercial incorporation of open access by feral and
predatory publishers), and of opening up a space for thinking about politics. The
book, then, is a political medium. As the history of the artist’s book shows, it can be
used to question, intervene in and disturb existing practices and institutions, and even
offer radical, counter-institutional alternatives. If the book’s potential to question and
disturb existing practices and institutions includes those associated with liberal
democracy and the neoliberal knowledge economy (as is apparent from some of the
more radical interventions occurring today under the name of open access), it also
includes politics and with it the very idea of democracy. In other words, the book is a
medium that can (and should) be ‘rethought to serve new ends’; a medium through
which politics itself can be rethought in an ongoing manner.

Keywords: Artists’ books, Academic Publishing, Radical Open Access, Politics,
Democracy, Materiality

Janneke Adema is a PhD student at Coventry University, writing a dissertation on the
future of the scholarly monograph. She is the author of the OAPEN report Overview
of Open Access Models for eBooks in the Humanities and Social Sciences (2010) and
has published in The International Journal of Cultural Studies, New Media & Society,
New Review of Academic Librarianship; Krisis: Journal for Contemporary
Philosophy; Scholarly and Research Communication; and LOGOS; and co-edited a
living book on Symbiosis (Open Humanities Press, 2011). Her research can be
followed on www.openreflections.wordpress.com.

Gary Hall is Professor of Media and Performing Arts and Director of the Centre for
Disruptive Media at Coventry University, UK. He is author of Culture in Bits
(Continuum, 2002) and Digitize This Book! (Minnesota UP, 2008). His work has
appeared in numerous journals, including Angelaki, Cultural Studies, The Oxford
Literary Review, Parallax and Radical Philosophy. He is also founding co-editor of
the open access journal Culture Machine (http://www.culturemachine.net), and co-

1

founder of Open Humanities Press (http://www.openhumanitiespress.org). More
details are available on his website http://www.garyhall.info.

THE POLITICAL NATURE OF THE BOOK: ON ARTISTS’ BOOKS AND
RADICAL OPEN ACCESS

Janneke Adema and Gary Hall

INTRODUCTION

The medium of the book plays a double role in art and academia, functioning not only
as a material object but also as a concept-laden metaphor. Since it is a medium
through which an alternative future for art, academia and even society can be enacted
and imagined, materially and conceptually, we can even go so far as to say that, in its
ontological instability with regard to what it is and what it conveys, the book serves a
political function. In short, the book can be ‘rethought to serve new ends’. 1 At the
same time, the medium of the book remains subject to a number of constraints: in
terms of its material form, structure, characteristics and dimensions; and also in terms
of the political economies, institutions and practices in which it is historically
embedded. Consequently, if it is to continue to be able to serve ‘new ends’ as a
medium through which politics itself can be rethought – although this is still a big if –
then the material and cultural constitution of the book needs to be continually
1

Johanna Drucker, The Century of Artists’ Books, 2nd ed., Granary Books, New York, 2004,
p49.

2

reviewed, reevaluated and reconceived. In order to explore critically this ‘political
nature of the book’, as we propose to think of it, along with many of the fundamental
ideas on which the book as both a concept and a material object is based, this essay
endeavours to demonstrate how developments undergone by the artist’s book in the
1960s and 1970s can help us to understand some of the changes the scholarly
monograph is experiencing now, at a time when its mode of production, distribution,
organisation and consumption is shifting from analogue to digital and from codex to
net. In what follows we will thus argue that a reading of the history of the artist’s
book can be generative for reimagining the future of the scholarly monograph, both
with respect to the latter’s potential form and materiality in the digital age, and with
respect to its relation to the economic system in which book production, distribution,
organisation and consumption takes place. Issues of access and experimentation are
crucial to any such future, we will suggest, if the critical potentiality of the book is to
remain open to new political, economic and intellectual contingencies.

THE HISTORY OF THE ARTIST’S BOOK

With the rise to prominence of digital publishing today, the material conditions of
book production, distribution, organisation and consumption are undergoing a rapid
and potentially profound transformation. The academic world is one arena in which
digital publishing is having a particularly strong impact. Here, the transition from
print to digital, along with the rise of self-publishing (Blurb, Scribd) and the use of
social media and social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Academia.edu) to communicate
and share scholarly research, has lead to the development of a whole host of
alternative publication and circulation systems for academic thought and knowledge.

3

Nowhere have such changes to the material conditions of the academic book been
rendered more powerfully apparent than in the emergence and continuing rise to
prominence of the open access movement. With its exploration of different ways of
publishing, circulating and consuming academic work (specifically, more open,
Gratis, Libre ways of doing so), and of different systems for governing, reviewing,
accrediting and legitimising that work, open access is frequently held as offering a
radical challenge to the more established academic publishing industry. Witness the
recent positioning in the mainstream media of the boycott of those publishers of
scholarly journals – Elsevier in particular – who charge extremely high subscription
prices and who refuse to allow authors to make their work freely available online on
an open access basis, in terms of an ‘Academic Spring’. Yet more potentially radical
still is the occupation of the new material conditions of academic book production,
distribution, organization and consumption by those open access advocates who are
currently experimenting with the form and concept of the book, with a view to both
circumventing and placing in question the very print-based system of scholarly
communication – complete with its ideas of quality, stability and authority – on
which so much of the academic institution rests.

In the light of the above, our argument in this essay is that some of these more
potentially radical, experimental developments in open access book publishing can be
related on the level of political and cultural significance to transformations undergone
in a previous era by the artist’s book. As a consequence, the history of the latter can
help us to explore in more depth and detail than would otherwise be possible the
relation in open access between experimenting with the medium of the book on a

4

material and conceptual level on the one hand, and enacting political alternatives in a
broader sense on the other. Within the specific context of 1960s and 1970s
counterculture, the artist’s book was arguably able to fill a certain political void,
providing a means of democratising and subverting existing institutions by
distributing an increasingly cheap and accessible medium (the book), and in the
process using this medium in order to reimagine what art is and how it can be
accessed and viewed. While artists grasped and worked through that relation between
the political, conceptual and material aspects of the book several decades ago, thanks
to the emergence of open access online journals, archives, blogs, wikis and free textsharing networks one of the main places in which this relation is being explored today
is indeed in the realm of academic publishing. 2

In order to begin thinking through some of the developments in publishing that are
currently being delved into under the banner of open access, then, let us pause for a
moment to reflect on some of the general characteristics of those earlier experiments
with the medium of the book that were performed by artists. Listed below are six key
areas in which artists’ books can be said to offer guidance for academic publishing in
the digital age, not just on a pragmatic level but on a conceptual and political level
too.

1) The Circumvention of Established Institutions

2

The relation in academic publishing between the political, conceptual and material aspects
of the book has of course been investigated at certain points in the past, albeit to varying
degrees and extents. For one example, see the ‘Working Papers’ and other forms of stencilled
gray literature that were produced and distributed by the Birmingham Centre for
Contemporary Cultural Studies in the 1960s and 1970s, as discussed by Ted Striphas and
Mark Hayward in their contribution to this issue.

5

According to the art theorist Lucy Lippard, the main reason the book has proved to be
so attractive as an artistic medium has to do with the fact that artists’ books are
‘considered by many the easiest way out of the art world and into the hearth of a
broader audience.’ 3 Books certainly became an increasingly popular medium of
artistic expression in Europe and the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. This was
largely due to their perceived potential to subvert the (commercial, profit-driven)
gallery system and to politicise artistic practice - to briefly introduce some of the
different yet as we can see clearly related arguments that follow - with the book
becoming a ‘democratic multiple’ that breached the walls held to be separating socalled high and low culture. Many artist-led and artist-controlled initiatives, such as
US-based Franklin Furnace, Printed Matter and Something Else Press, were
established during this period to provide a forum for artists excluded from the
traditional institutions of the gallery and the museum. Artists’ books played an
extremely important part in the rise of these independent art structures and publishing
ventures. 4 Indeed, for many artists such books embodied the ideal of being able to
control all aspects of their work.

Yet this movement toward liberating themselves from the gallery system by
publishing and exhibiting in artists’ books was by no means an easy transition for
many artists to make. It required them to come to terms with the idea that publishing
their own work did not amount to mere vanity self-publishing, in particular. Moore
and Hendricks describe this state of affairs in terms of the power and potential of ‘the

3

Lucy R. Lippard, ‘The Artist’s Book Goes Public’, in Joan Lyons (ed), Artists’ Books: a
Critical Anthology and Sourcebook, Rochester, New York: Visual Studies Workshop Press,
1993, p45.
4
Joan Lyons, ‘Introduction’, in Lyons (ed), Artists’ Books, p7.

6

page as an alternative space’. 5 From this perspective, producing, publishing and
distributing one’s own artist’s book was a sign of autonomy and independence; it was
nothing less than a way of being able to affect society directly. 6 The political potential
associated with the book by artists should therefore not be underestimated..
Accordingly, many artists created their own publishing imprints or worked together
with newly founded artist’s book publishers and printers (just as some academics are
today challenging the increasingly profit-driven publishing industry by establishing
not-for-profit, scholar-led, open access journals and presses). The main goal of these
independent (and often non-commercial) publisher-printer-artist collectives was to
make experimental, innovative work (rather than generate a profit), and to promote
ephemeral art works, which were often ignored by mainstream, mostly marketorientated institutions. 7 Artists’ books thus fitted in well with the mythology Johanna
Drucker describes as surrounding ‘activist artists’, and especially with the idea of the
book as a tool of independent activist thought. 8

2) The Relationship with Conceptual and Processual Art
In the context of this history of the artist’s book, one particularly significant
conceptual challenge to the gallery system came with the use of the book as a
platform for exhibiting original work (itself an extension of André Malraux’s idea of
the museum without walls). Curator Seth Siegelaub was among the first to publish his
artists – as opposed to exhibiting them – thus becoming, according to Germano

5

Hendricks and Moore, ‘The Page as Alternative Space: 1950 to 1969’, in Lyons (ed),
Artists’ Books, p87.
6
Pavel Büchler, ‘Books as Books’, in Jane Rolo and Ian Hunt (eds), Book Works: a Partial
History and Sourcebook, London: Book Works, 1996.
7
Clive Phillpot, ‘Some Contemporary Artists and Their Books’, in Cornelia Lauf and Clive
Phillpot (eds), Artist/Author: Contemporary Artists’ Books, New York, Distributed Art
Publishers, 1998, pp128-9.
8
Drucker, The Century of Artists’ Books, pp7-8.

7

Celant, ‘the first to allow complete operative and informative liberty to artists’. 9 The
Xerox Book and March 1-31, 1969, featuring work by Sol LeWitt, Robert Barry,
Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner and other international artists, are
both examples of artists’ books where the book (or the catalogue) itself is the
exhibition. As Moore and Hendricks point out, this offered all kinds of benefits when
compared with traditional exhibitions: ‘This book is the exhibition, easily
transportable without the need for expensive physical space, insurance, endless
technical problems or other impediments. In this form it is relatively permanent and,
fifteen years later, is still being seen by the public.’ 10 Artists’ books thus served here
as an alternative space in themselves and at the same time functioned within a
network of alternative spaces, such as the above-mentioned Franklin Furnace
and Printed Matter.. Next to publishing and supporting artists’ books, such venues
offered a space for staging often highly politicised, critical, experimental and
performance art. 11 It is important to emphasise this aspect of artist book publishing, as
it shows that the book was used as a specific medium to exhibit works that could not
otherwise readily find a place within mainstream exhibition venues (a situation which,
as we will show, has been one of the main driving forces behind open access book
publishing). This focus on the book as a place for continual experimentation – be it on
the level of content or form – can thus be seen as underpinning what we are referring
to here as the ‘political nature of the book’ (playing on the title of Adrian Johns’
classic work of book history). 12

9

Germano Celant, Book as Artwork 1960-1972, New York, 6 Decades Books, 2011, p40.
Hendricks and Moore, ‘The Page as Alternative Space. 1950 to 1969’, p94.
11
Brian Wallis, ‘The Artist’s Book and Postmodernism’, in Cornelia Lauf and Clive Phillpot,
(eds), Artist/Author, 1998.
12
Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making, Chicago,
University of Chicago Press, 1998.
10

8

3) The Use of Accessible Technologies
As is the case with the current changes to the scholarly monograph, the rise of artists’
books can be perceived to have been underpinned (though by no means determined)
by developments in technology, with the revolution in mimeograph and offset
printing helping to take artists’ books out of the realm of expensive and rare
commodities by providing direct access to quick and inexpensive printing
methods. 13 Due to its unique characteristics – low production costs, portability,
accessibility and endurance – the artist’s book was regarded as having the potential to
communicate with a wider audience beyond the traditional art world. In particular, it
was seen as having the power to break down the barriers between so-called high and
low culture, using the techniques of mass media to enable artists to argue for their
own,

alternative

goals,

something

that

presented

all

kinds

of

political

possibilities.14 The artist’s book thus conveyed a high degree of artistic autonomy,
while also offering a far greater role to the reader or viewer, who was now able to
interact with the art object directly (eluding the intermediaries of the gallery and
museum system). Indeed, Lippard even went so far as to envision a future where
artists’ books would be readily available as part of mass consumer culture, at
‘supermarkets, drugstores and airports’. 15

4) The Politics of the Democratic Multiple

13

Hendricks and Moore, ‘The Page as Alternative Space’, pp94-95.
Joan Lyons, ‘Introduction’, in Lyons (ed), Artists’ Books, p7.
15
Lippard, ‘The Artist’s Book Goes Public’, p48; Lippard, ‘Conspicuous Consumption: New
Artists’ Books’, in Lyons (ed), Artists’ Books, p100. Is there a contradiction here between a
politics of artists’ books that is directed against commercial profit-driven galleries and
institutions, but which nevertheless uses the tools of mass consumer culture to reach a wider
audience (see also the critique Lippard offers in the next section)? And can a similar point be
made with respect to the politics of some open access initiatives and their use of social media
and (commercial, profit-driven) platforms such as Google Books and Amazon?
14

9

The idea of the book as a real democratic multiple came into being only after 1945, a
state of events that has been facilitated by a number of technological innovations,
including those detailed above. Yet the concept of the democratic multiple itself
developed in what was already a climate of political activism and social
consciousness. In this respect, the democratic multiple was part of both the overall
trend toward the dematerialization of art and the newly emergent emphasis on cultural
and artistic processes rather than ready-made objects. 16

Artists’ desire for

independence from established institutions and for the wider availability of their
works thus resonated with the democratising and anti-institutional potential of the
book as a medium. What is more, the book offered artists a space in which they were
able to experiment with the materiality of the medium itself and with the practices
that comprised it, and thus ultimately with the question of what constituted art and an
art object. This reflexivity of the book with regard to its own nature is one of the key
characteristics that make a book an artist’s book, and enable it to have political
potential in that it can be ‘rethought to serve new ends’. Much the same can be said
with respect to the relation between the book and scholarly communication: witness
the way reflection on the material nature of the book in the digital age has led to
questions being raised regarding how we structure scholarly communication and
practice scholarship more generally.

5) Conceptual Experimentation: Problematising the Concept and Form of the Book
Another key to understanding artists’ books and their history lies with the way the
radical change in printing technologies after World War II led to the reassessment of
the book form itself, and in particular, of the specific nature of the book’s materiality,

16

Drucker, The Century of Artists’ Books, p72.

10

of the very idea of the book, and of the notions and practices underlying the book’s
various uses.

When it came to reevaluating the materiality of the book, many experiments with
artists’ books tried to escape the linearity brought about by the codex form’s
(sequential) constraints, something which had long conditioned both writing and
reading practices. Undoubtedly, one of the most important theorists as far as
rethinking the materiality of the book in the period after 1945 is concerned is Ulises
Carrión. He defines the book as a specific set of conditions that should be (or need to
be) responded to. 17 Instead of seeing it as just a text, Carrión positions the book as an
object, a container and a sequence of spaces. For him, the codex is a form that needs
to be responded to in what he prefers to call ‘bookworks’. These are ‘books in which
the book form, as a coherent sequence of pages, determines conditions of reading that
are intrinsic to the work.’ 18 From this perspective, artists’ books interrogate the
structure and the meaning of the book’s form. 19

Yet the book is also a metaphor, a symbol and an icon to be responded to. 20 Indeed, it
is difficult to establish a precise definition or set of characteristics for artists’ books as
their very nature keeps changing. As Sowden and Bodman put it, ‘What a book is can
be challenged’. 21 Drucker, meanwhile, is at pains to point out that the book is open
for innovation, although the latter has its limits: ‘The convention of the book is both
its constrained meanings (as literacy, the law, text and so forth) and the space of new
17

James Langdon (ed), Book, Birmingham, Eastside Projects, 2010.
Ulises Carrión, ‘Bookworks Revisited’, in James Langdon (ed), Book, Birmingham,
Eastside Projects, 2010.
19
Drucker, The Century of Artists’ Books, pp3-4.
20
Ibid., p360.
21
Tom Sowden and Sarah Bodman, A Manifesto for the Book, Impact Press, 2010, p9.
18

11

work (the blank page, the void, the empty place).’ Books here ‘mutate, expand,
transform’. Accordingly, Drucker regards the transformed book as an intervention,
something that reflects the inherent critique that book experiments embody with
respect to their own constitution.22 One way of examining reflexively the structures
that make up the book is precisely by disturbing those structures. In certain respects
the page can be thought of as being finite (e.g. physically, materially), but it can also
be understood to be infinite, not least as a result of being potentially different on each
respective viewing/reading. This allows the book to be perceived as a self-reflexive
medium that is extremely well-suited to formal experiments. At the same time, it
allows it to be positioned as a potentially political medium, in the sense that it can be
used to intervene in and disturb existing practices and institutions.

6) The Problematisation of Reading and Authorship
As part of their constitution, artists’ books can be said to have brought into question
certain notions and practices relating to the book that had previously been taken too
much for granted – and perhaps still are. For instance, Brian Wallis shows how, ‘in
place of the omnipotent author’, postmodern artists’ books ‘acknowledge a
collectivity of voices and active participation of the reader’. 23 Carrión, for one, was
very concerned with the thought that readers might consume books passively, while
being unaware of their specificity as a medium. 24 The relationship between the book
and reading, and the way in which the physical aspect of the book can change how we
read, was certainly an important topic for artists throughout this period. Many
experiments with artists’ books focused on the interaction between author, reader and
22

Drucker, The Century of Artists’ Books.
Lucy Lippard and John Chandler, ‘The Dematerialization of Art’, Art International, 12, 2
(1968).
24
Langdon, Book.
23

12

book, offering an alternative, and not necessarily linear, reading experience. 25 Such
readerly interventions often represented a critical engagement with ideas of the author
as original creative genius derived from the cultural tradition of European
Romanticism. Joan Lyons describes this potential of the artist’s book very clearly:
‘The best of the bookworks are multinotational. Within them, words, images, colors,
marks, and silences become plastic organisms that play across the pages in variable
linear sequence. Their importance lies in the formulation of a new perceptual
literature whose content alters the concept of authorship and challenges the reader to a
new discourse with the printed page.’ 26 Carrión thus writes about how in the books of
the new art, as he calls them, words no longer transmit an author’s intention. Instead,
authors can use other people’s words as an element of the book as a whole – so much
so that he positions plagiarism as lying at the very basis of creativity. As far as artists’
books are concerned, it is not the artist’s intention that is at stake, according to
Carrión, but rather the process of testing the meaning of language. It is the reader who
creates the meaning and understanding of a book for Carrión, through his or her
specific meaning-extraction. Every book requires a different reading and opens up
possibilities to the reader. 27

THE INHIBITIONS OF MEDIATIC CHANGE

We can thus see that the very ‘nature’ of the book is particularly well suited to
experimentation and to reading against the grain. As a medium, the book has the
25

This has been one of the focal points of the books published and commissioned by UK
artist book publisher Book Works, for instance. Jane Rolo and Ian Hunt, ‘Introduction’, in
Book Works: A Partial History and Sourcebook, op. cit.
26
Joan Lyons, ‘Introduction’, p7.
27
Ulises Carrión, ‘The New Art of Making Books’, in James Langdon (ed), Book,
Birmingham, Eastside Projects, 2010.

13

potential to raise questions for some of the established practices and institutions
surrounding the production, distribution and consumption of printed matter. This
potential notwithstanding, it gradually became apparent (for some this realisation
occurred during the 1960s and 1970s, for others it only came about later) that the
ability of artists’ books to bring about institutional change in the art world, and to
question both the concept of the book and that of art as the singular aesthetic artefact
bolstered by institutional structures, was not particularly long-lasting. With respect to
the democratization of the artist’s book, for example, Lippard notes that, by losing its
distance, there was also a chance of the book losing its critical function. Here, says
Lippard, the ‘danger is that, with an expanding audience and an increased popularity
with collectors, the artist’s book will fall back into its edition de luxe or coffee table
origin … transformed into glossy, pricey products.’ For Lippard there is a discrepancy
between the characteristics of the medium which had the potential to break down
walls, and the actual content and form of most artists’ books which was highly
experimental and avant-garde, and thus inaccessible to readers/consumers outside of
the art world. 28

PROCESSES OF INCORPORATION AND COMMERCIALISATION

Interestingly, Carrión was one of the sharpest critics of the idea that artists’ books
should be somehow able to subvert the gallery system. In his ‘Bookworks Revisited’,
he showed how the hope surrounding this supposedly revolutionary potential of the
book as a medium was based on a gross misunderstanding of the mechanisms
underlying the art world. In particular, Carrión attacked the idea that the artist’s book

28

Lippard, ‘The Artist’s Book Goes Public’ pp47-48.

14

could do without any intermediaries. Instead of circumventing the gallery system, he
saw book artists as merely adopting an alternative set of intermediaries, namely book
publishers and critics. 29

Ten years later Stewart Cauley updated Carrión’s criticisms, arguing that as an art
form and medium, the artist’s book had not been able to avoid market mechanisms
and the celebrity cult of the art system. In fact, by the end of the 1980s the field of
artists’ publications had lost most of its experimental impetus and had become
something of an institution itself, imitating the gallery and museum system it was
initially designed to subvert. 30 Those interested in artists’ books initially found it
difficult to set up an alternative system, as they had to manage without organized
distribution, review mechanisms or funding schemes. When they were eventually able
to do so in the 1970s, the resulting structures in many ways mirrored the very
institutions they were supposed to be criticizing and providing an alternative to.31
Cauley points the finger of blame at the book community itself, especially at the fact
that artists at the time focused more on the concept and structure of the book than on
using the book form to make any kind of critical political statement. The idea that
artists’ books were disconnected from mainstream institutional systems has also been
debunked as a myth. As Drucker makes clear, many artists’ books were developed in
cooperation with museums or galleries, where they were perceived not as subversive
artefacts but rather as low-cost tools for gathering additional publicity for those
institutions and their activities. 32
29

Carrión, ‘Bookworks Revisited’; Johanna Drucker, ‘Artists’ Books and the Cultural Status
of the Book’, Journal of Communication, 44 (1994).
30
Stewart Cauley, ‘Bookworks for the ’90s’, Afterimage, 25, 6, May/June (1998).
31
Stefan Klima, Artists Books: A Critical Survey of the Literature, Granary Books, New
York, 1998, pp54-60.
32
Drucker, The Century of Artists’ Books, p78.

15

Following Abigail Solomon-Godeau, this process of commercialisation and
incorporation – or, as she calls it, ‘the near-total assimilation’ of art practice
(Solomon-Godeau focuses specifically on postmodern photography) and critique into
the discourses it professed to challenge – can be positioned as part of a general
tendency in conceptual and postmodern ‘critical art practices’. It is a development that
can be connected to the changing art markets of the time and viewed in terms of a
broader social and cultural shift to Reaganomics. For Solomon-Godeau, however, the
problem lay not only in changes to the art market, but in critical art practices and art
critique too, which in many ways were not robust enough to keep on reinventing
themselves. Nonetheless, even if they have become incorporated into the art market
and the commodity system, Solomon-Godeau argues that it is still possible for art
practices and institutional critiques to develop some (new) forms of sustainable
challenge from within these systems. As far as she is concerned, ‘a position of
resistance can never be established once and for all, but must be perpetually
refashioned and renewed to address adequately those shifting conditions and
circumstances that are its ground.’ 33

THE PROMISE OF OPEN ACCESS

At first sight many of the changes that have occurred recently in the world of
academic book publishing seem to resemble those charted above with respect to the
artist’s book. As was the case with the publishing of artists’ books, digital publishing
has provided interested parties with an opportunity to counter the existing
33

Abigail Solomon-Godeau, ‘Living with Contradictions: Critical Practices in the Age of
Supply-Side Aesthetics’, Social Text, 21 (1989).

16

(publishing) system and its institutions, to experiment with using contemporary and
emergent media to publish (in this case academic) books in new ways and forms, and
in the process to challenge established ideas of the printed codex book, together with
the material practices of production, distribution and consumption that surround it.
This has resulted in a new wave of scholar-led publishing initiatives in academia, both
formal (with scholars either becoming publishers themselves, or setting up crossinstitutional publishing infrastructures with libraries, IT departments and research
groups) and informal (using self-publishing and social media platforms such as blogs
and wikis). 34 The phenomenon of open access book publishing can be located within
this broader context – a context which, it is worth noting, also includes the closing of
many book shops due to fierce rivalry from the large supermarkets at one end of the
market, and online e-book traders such as Amazon at the other; the fact that the major
high-street book chains are increasingly loath to take academic titles - not just
journals but books too; and the handing over (either in part or in whole) to for-profit
corporations of many publishing organisations designed to serve charitable aims and
the public good: scholarly associations, learned societies, university presses, nonprofit and not-for-profit publishers.

From the early 1990s onwards, open access was pioneered and developed most
extensively in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields,
where much of the attention was focused on the online self-archiving by scholars of
pre-publication (i.e. pre-print) versions of their research papers in central, subject or
institutionally-based repositories. This is known as the Green Road to open access, as

34

See, for example, Janneke Adema and Birgit Schmidt, ‘From Service Providers to Content
Producers: New Opportunities For Libraries in Collaborative Open Access Book Publishing’,
New Review of Academic Librarianship, 16 (2010).

17

distinct from the Gold Road, which refers to the publishing of articles in online, open
access journals. Of particular interest in this respect is the philosophy that lies behind
the rise of the open access movement, as it can be seen to share a number of
characteristics with the thinking behind artists’ books discussed earlier. The former
was primarily an initiative established by academic researchers, librarians, managers
and administrators, who had concluded that the traditional publishing system – thanks
in no small part to the rapid (and, as we shall see, ongoing) process of aggressive forprofit commercialisation it was experiencing – was no longer willing or able to meet
all of their communication needs. Accordingly, those behind this initiative wanted to
take advantage of the opportunities they saw as being presented by the new digital
publishing and distribution mechanisms to make research more widely and easily
available in a far faster, cheaper and more efficient manner than was offered by
conventional print-on-paper academic publishing. They had various motivations for
doing so. These include wanting to extend the circulation of research to all those who
were interested in it, rather than restricting access to merely those who could afford to
pay for it in the form of journal subscriptions, etc; 35 and a desire to promote the
emergence of a global information commons, and, through this, help to produce a
renewed democratic public sphere of the kind Jürgen Habermas propounds. From the
latter point of view (as distinct from the more radical democratic philosophy we
proceed to develop in what follows), open access was seen as working toward the
creation of a healthy liberal democracy, through its alleged breaking down of the
barriers between the academic community and the rest of society, and its perceived
consequent ability to supply the public with the information they need to make
knowledgeable decisions and actively contribute to political debate. Without doubt,
35

John Willinsky, The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Research and
Scholarship, Cambridge, Mass., The MIT Press, 2009, p5.

18

though, another motivating factor behind the development of open access was a desire
on the part of some of those involved to enhance the transparency, accountability,
discoverability, usability, efficiency and (cost) effectivity not just of scholarship and
research but of higher education itself. From the latter perspective (and as can again
be distinguished from the radical open access philosophy advocated below), making
research available on an open access basis was regarded by many as a means of
promoting and stimulating the neoliberal knowledge economy both nationally and
internationally. Open access is supposed to achieve these goals by making it easier for
business and industry to capitalise on academic knowledge - companies can build new
businesses based on its use and exploitation, for example - thus increasing the impact
of higher education on society and helping the UK, Europe and the West (and North)
to be more competitive globally. 36

To date, the open access movement has progressed much further toward its goal of
making all journal articles available open access than it has toward making all
academic books available in this fashion. There are a number of reasons why this is
the case. First, since the open access movement was developed and promoted most
extensively in the STEMs, it has tended to concentrate on the most valued mode of
publication in those fields: the peer-reviewed journal article. Interestingly, the recent

36

Gary Hall, Digitize This Book! The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access
Now, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2008; Janneke Adema, Open Access
Business Models for Books in the Humanities and Social Sciences: An Overview of Initiatives
and Experiments, OAPEN Project Report, Amsterdam, 2010. David Willetts, the UK Science
Minister, is currently promoting ‘author-pays’ open access for just these reasons. See David
Willetts, ‘Public Access to Publicly-Funded Research’, BIS: Department for Business,
Innovation and Skills, May 2, 2012: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/public-accessto-publicly-funded-research--2

19

arguments around the ‘Academic Spring’ and ‘feral’ publishers such as Informa plc
are no exception to this general rule. 37

Second, restrictions to making research available open access associated with
publishers’ copyright and licensing agreements can in most cases be legally
circumvented when it comes to journal articles. If all other options fail, authors can
self-archive a pre-refereed pre-print of their article in a central, subject or
institutionally-based repository such as PubMed Central. However, it is not so easy to
elude such restrictions when it comes to the publication of academic books. In the
latter case, since the author is often paid royalties in exchange for their text, copyright
tends to be transferred by the author to the publisher. The text remains the intellectual
property of the author, but the exclusive right to put copies of that text up for sale, or
give them away for free, then rests with the publisher. 38

Another reason the open access movement has focused on journal articles is because
of the expense involved in publishing books in this fashion, since one of the main
models of funding open access in the STEMs, author-side fees, 39 is not easily
transferable either to book publishing or to the Humanities and Social Sciences
(HSS). In contrast to the STMs, the HSS feature a large number of disciplines in
which it is books (monographs in particular) published with esteemed international
37

David Harvie, Geoff Lightfoot, Simon Lilley and Kenneth Weir, ‘What Are We To Do
With Feral Publishers?’, submitted for publication in Organization, and accessible through
the Leicester Research Archive: http://hdl.handle.net/2381/9689.
38
See the Budapest Open Access Initiative, ‘Self-Archiving FAQ, written for the Budapest
Open Access Initiative (BOAI)’, 2002-4: http://www.eprints.org/self-faq/.
39
Although ‘author-pays’ is often positioned as the main model of funding open access
publication in the STEMs, a lot of research has disputed this fact. See, for example, Stuart
Shieber, ‘What Percentage of Open-Access Journals Charge Publication Fees’, The
Occasional Pamphlet on Scholarly Publishing, May 9, 2009:
http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/pamphlet/2009/05/29/what-percentage-of-open-access-journalscharge-publication-fees/.

20

presses, rather than articles in high-ranking journals, that are considered as the most
significant and valued means of scholarly communication. Authors in many fields in
the HSS are simply not accustomed to paying to have their work published. What is
more, many authors associate doing so with vanity publishing. 40 They are also less
likely to acquire the grants from either funding bodies or their institutions that are
needed to cover the cost of publishing ‘author-pays’. That the HSS in many Western
countries receive only a fraction of the amount of government funding the STEMs do
only compounds the problem, 41 as does the fact that higher rejection rates in the HSS,
as compared to the STEMs, mean that any grants would have to be significantly
larger, as the time spent on reviewing articles, and hence the amount of human labour
used, makes it a much more intensive process. 42 And that is just to publish journal
articles. Publishing books on an author-pays basis would be more expensive still.

Yet even though the open access movement initially focused more on journal articles
than on monographs, things have begun to change in this respect in recent years.
Undoubtedly, one of the major factors behind this change has been the fact that the

40

Maria Bonn, ‘Free Exchange of Ideas: Experimenting with the Open Access Monograph’,
College and Research Libraries News, 71, 8, September (2010) pp436-439:
http://crln.acrl.org/content/71/8/436.full.
41
Patrick Alexander, director of the Pennsylvania State University Press, provides the
following example: ‘Open Access STEM publishing is often funded with tax-payer dollars,
with publication costs built into researchers’ grant request… the proposed NIH budget for
2013 is $31 billion. NSF’s request for 2013 is around $7.3 billion. Compare those amounts to
the NEH ($154 million) and NEA ($154 million) and you can get a feel for why researchers
in the the arts and humanities face challenges in funding their publication costs.’ (Adeline
Koh, ‘Is Open Access a Moral or a Business Issue? A Conversation with The Pennsylvania
State University Press, The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 10, 2012:
http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/is-open-access-a-moral-or-a-business-issue-aconversation-with-the-pennsylvania-state-university-press/41267)
42
See Mary Waltham’s 2009 report for the National Humanities Alliance, ‘The Future of
Scholarly Journals Publishing among Social Sciences and Humanities Associations’:
http://www.nhalliance.org/research/scholarly_communication/index.shtml; and Peter Suber,
‘Promoting Open Access in the Humanities’, 2004:
http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/writing/apa.htm. ‘On average, humanities journals have
higher rejection rates (70-90%) than STEM journals (20-40%)’, Suber writes.

21

publication of books on an open access basis has been perceived as one possible
answer to the ‘monograph crisis’. This phrase refers to the way in which the already
feeble sustainability of the print monograph is being endangered even further by the
ever-declining sales of academic books. 43 It is a situation that has in turn been brought
about by ‘the so-called “serials crisis”, a term used to designate the vertiginous rise of
the subscription to STEM journals since the mid-80s which… strangled libraries and
led to fewer and fewer purchases of books/monographs.’ 44 This drop in library
demand for monographs has led many presses to produce smaller print runs; focus on
more commercial, marketable titles; or even move away from monographs to
concentrate on text books, readers, and reference works instead. In short, conventional
academic publishers are now having to make decisions about what to publish more on
the basis of the market and a given text’s potential value as a commodity, and less on
the basis of its quality as a piece of scholarship. This last factor is making it difficult
for early career academics to publish the kind of research-led monographs that are
often needed to acquire that all important first full-time position. This in turn means
the HSS is, in effect, allowing publishers to make decisions on its future and on who
gets to have a long-term career on an economic basis, according to the needs of the
market – or what they believe those needs to be. But it is also making it hard for

43

Greco and Wharton estimate that the average number of library purchases of monographs
has dropped from 1500 in the 1970s to 200-300 at present. Thompson estimates that print
runs and sales have declined from 2000-3000 (print runs and sales) in the 1970s to print runs
of between 600-1000 and sales of between 400-500 nowadays. Albert N. Greco and Robert
Michael Wharton, ‘Should University Presses Adopt an Open Access [electronic publishing]
Business Model for all of their Scholarly Books?’, ELPUB. Open Scholarship: Authority,
Community, and Sustainability in the Age of Web 2.0 – Proceedings of the 12th
International Conference on Electronic Publishing held in Toronto, Canada 25-27 June
2008; John B. Thompson, Books in the Digital Age: The Transformation of Academic and
Higher Education Publishing in Britain and the United States, Cambridge, Polity Press, 2005.
44
Jean Kempf, ‘Social Sciences and Humanities Publishing and the Digital “Revolution”’
unpublished manuscript, 2010: http://perso.univlyon2.fr/~jkempf/Digital_SHS_Publishing.pdf; Thompson, Books in the Digital Age, pp. 9394.

22

authors in the HSS generally to publish monographs that are perceived as being
difficult, advanced, specialized, obscure, radical, experimental or avant-garde - a
situation reminiscent of the earlier state of events which led to the rise of artists’
books, with the latter emerging in the context of a perceived lack of exhibition space
for experimental and critical (conceptual) work within mainstream commercial
galleries.

Partly in response to this ‘monograph crisis’, a steadily increasing number of
initiatives have now been set up to enable authors in the HSS in particular to bring out
books open access – not just introductions, reference works and text books, but
research monographs and edited collections too. These initiatives include scholar-led
presses such as Open Humanities Press, re.press, and Open Book Publishers;
commercial presses such as Bloomsbury Academic; university presses, including
ANU E Press and Firenze University Press; and presses established by or working
with libraries, such as Athabasca University’s AU Press. 45

Yet important though the widespread aspiration amongst academics, librarians and
presses to find a solution to the monograph crisis has been, the reasons behind the
development of open access book publishing in the HSS are actually a lot more
diverse than is often suggested. For instance, to the previously detailed motivating
factors that inspired the rise of the open access movement can be added the desire,
shared by many scholars, to increase accessibility to (specialized) HSS research, with
a view to heightening its reputation, influence, impact and esteem. This is seen as

45

A list of publishers experimenting with business models for OA books is available at:
http://oad.simmons.edu/oadwiki/Publishers_of_OA_books. See also Adema, Open Access
Business Models.

23

being especially significant at a time when the UK government, to take just one
example, is emphasizing the importance of the STEMs while withdrawing support
and funding for the HSS. Many scholars in the HSS are thus now willing to stand up
against, and even offer a counter-institutional alternative to, the large, established,
profit-led, commercial firms that have come to dominate academic publishing – and,
in so doing, liberate the long-form argument from market constraints through the
ability to publish books that often lack a clear commercial market.

TWO STRATEGIES: ACCESSIBILITY AND EXPERIMENTATION

That said, all of these reasons and motivating factors behind the recent changes in
publishing models are still very much focused on making more scholarly research
more accessible. Yet for at least some of those involved in the creation and
dissemination of open access books, doing so also constitutes an important stage in
the development of what might be considered more ‘experimental’ forms of research
and publication; forms for which commercial and heavily print-based systems of
production and distribution have barely provided space. Such academic experiments
are thus perhaps capable of adopting a role akin to, if not the exact equivalent of, that
we identified artists’ books as having played in the countercultural context of the
1960s and 1970s: in terms of questioning the concept and material form of the book;
promoting alternative ways of reading and communicating via books; and
interrogating modern, romantic notions of authorship. We are thinking in particular of
projects that employ open peer-review procedures (such as Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s
Planned Obsolescence, which uses the CommentPress Wordpress plugin to enable
comments to appear alongside the main body of the text), wikis (e.g. Open

24

Humanities Press’ two series of Liquid and Living Books) and blogs (such as those
created using the Anthologize app developed at George Mason University). 46 These
enable varying degrees of what Peter Suber calls ‘author-side openness’ when it
comes to reviewing, editing, changing, updating and re-using content, including
creating derivative works. Such practices pose a conceptual challenge to some of the
more limited interpretations of open access (what has at times been dubbed ‘weak
open access’), 47 and can on occasion even constitute a radical test of the integrity and
identity of a given work, not least by enabling different versions to exist
simultaneously. In an academic context this raises questions of both a practical and
theoretical nature that have the potential to open up a space for reimagining what
counts as scholarship and research, and of how it can be responded to and accessed:
not just which version of a work is to be cited and preserved, and who is to have
ultimate responsibility for the text and its content; but also what an author, a text, and
a work actually is, and where any authority and stability that might be associated with
such concepts can now be said to reside.

It is interesting then that, although they can be positioned as constituting two of the
major driving forces behind the recent upsurge in the current interest in open access
book publishing, as ‘projects’, the at times more obviously or overtly ‘political’ (be it
liberal-democratic, neoliberal or otherwise) project of using digital media and the
Internet to create wider access to book-based research on the one hand, and
experimenting—as part of the more conceptual, experimental aspects of open access
book publishing—with the form of the book (a combination of which we identified as
46

See http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/mcpress/plannedobsolescence;
http://liquidbooks.pbwiki.com/; http://www.livingbooksaboutlife.org/; http://anthologize.org/.
47
See Peter Suber, SPARC OA newsletter, issue 155, March 2, 2011:
http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/newsletter/03-02-11.htm

25

being essential components of the experimental and political potential of artists’
books) and the way our dominant system of scholarly communication currently
operates on the other, often seem to be rather disconnected. Again, a useful
comparison can be made to the situation described by Lippard, where more
(conceptually or materially) experimental artists’ books were seen as being less
accessible to a broader public and, in some cases, as going against the strategy of
democratic multiples, promoting exclusivity instead.

It is certainly the case that, in order to further the promotion of open access and
achieve higher rates of adoption and compliance among the academic community, a
number of strategic alliances have been forged between the various proponents of the
open access movement. Some of these alliances (those associated with Green open
access, for instance) have taken making the majority if not indeed all of the research
accessible online without a paywall (Gratis open access) 48 as their priority, perhaps
with the intention of moving on to the exploration of other possibilities, including
those concerned with experimenting with the form of the book, once critical mass has
been attained – but perhaps not. Hence Stevan Harnad’s insistence that ‘it’s time to
stop letting the best get in the way of the better: Let’s forget about Libre and Gold OA
until we have managed to mandate Green Gratis OA universally.’ 49 Although they
cannot be simply contrasted and opposed to the former (often featuring many of the
same participants), other strategic alliances have focused more on gaining the trust of
the academic community. Accordingly, they have prioritized allaying many of the

48

For an overview of the development of these terms, see:
http://www.arl.org/sparc/publications/articles/gratisandlibre.shtml
49
Stevan Harnad, Open Access: Gratis and Libre, Open Access Archivangelism,
Thursday, May 3, 2012.

26

anxieties with regard to open access publications – including concerns regarding their
quality, stability, authority, sustainability and status with regard to publishers’
copyright licenses and agreements – that have been generated as a result of the
transition toward the digital mode of reproduction and distribution. More often than
not, such alliances have endeavoured to do so by replicating in an online context
many of the scholarly practices associated with the world of print-on-paper
publishing. Witness the way in which the majority of open access book publishers
continue to employ more or less the same quality control procedures, preservation
structures and textual forms as their print counterparts: pre-publication peer review
conducted by scholars who have already established their reputations in the paper
world; preservation carried out by academic libraries; monographs consisting of
numbered pages and chapters arranged in a linear, sequential order and narrative, and
so on. As Sigi Jöttkandt puts it with regard to the strategy of Open Humanities Press
in this respect:

We’re intending OHP as a tangible demonstration to our still generally
sceptical colleagues in the humanities that there is no reason why OA
publishing cannot have the same professional standards as print. We aim to
show that OA is not only academically credible but is in fact being actively
advanced by leading figures in our fields, as evidenced by our editorial
advisory board. Our hope is that OHP will contribute to OA rapidly becoming
standard practice for scholarly publishing in the humanities. 50

50

Sigi Jöttkandt, 'No-fee OA Journals in the Humanities, Three Case Studies: A Presentation
by Open Humanities Press', presented at the Berlin 5 Open Access Conference: From Practice
to Impact: Consequences of Knowledge Dissemination, Padua, September 19, 2007:
http://openhumanitiespress.org/Jottkandt-Berlin5.pdf

27

Relatively few open access publishers, however, have displayed much interest in
combining such an emphasis on achieving universal, free, online access to research
and/or the gaining of trust, with a rigorous critical exploration of the form of the book
itself. 51 And this despite the fact that the ability to re-use material is actually an
essential feature of what has become known as the Budapest-Bethesda-Berlin (BBB)
definition of open access, which is one of the major agreements underlying the
movement. 52 It therefore seems significant that, of the books presently available open
access, only a minority have a license where price and permission barriers to research
are removed, with the result that the research is available under both Gratis and Libre
(re-use) conditions. 53

REIMAGINING THE BOOK, OR RADICAL OPEN ACCESS

Admittedly, there are many in the open access community who regard the more
radical experiments conducted with and on books as highly detrimental to the
strategies of large-scale accessibility and trust respectively. From this perspective,
efforts designed to make open access material available for others to (re)use, copy,
51

Open Humanities Press (http://openhumanitiespress.org/) and Media Commons Press
(http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/mcpress/) remain the most notable exceptions on
the formal side of the publishing scale, the majority of experiments with the form of the book
taking place in the informal sphere (e.g. blogbooks self-published by Anthologize, and
crowd-sourced, ‘sprint’ generated books such as Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt’s Hacking
the Academy: http://hackingtheacademy.org/).
52
See Peter Suber on the BBB definition here:
http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/newsletter/09-02-04.htm, where he also states that two
of the three BBB component definitions (the Bethesda and Berlin statements) require
removing barriers to derivative works.
53
An examination of the licenses used on two of the largest open access book publishing
platforms or directories to date, the OAPEN (Open Access Publishing in Academic
Networks) platform and the DOAB (Directory of Open Access Books), reveals that on the
OAPEN platform (accessed May 6th 2012) 2 of the 966 books are licensed with a CC-BY
license, and 153 with a CC-BY-NC license (which still restricts commercial re-use). On the
DOAB (accessed May 6th 2012) 5 of the 778 books are licensed with a CC-BY license, 215
with CC-BY-NC.

28

reproduce and distribute in any medium, as well as make and distribute derivative
works, coupled with experiments with the form of the book, are seen as being very
much secondary objectives (and even by some as unnecessarily complicating and
diluting open access’s primary goal of making all of the research accessible online
without a paywall). 54 And, indeed, although in many of the more formal open access
definitions (including the important Bethesda and Berlin definitions of open access,
which require removing barriers to derivative works), the right to re-use and reappropriate a scholarly work is acknowledged and recommended, in both theory and
practice a difference between ‘author-side openness’ and ‘reader-side openness’ tends
to be upheld—leaving not much space for the ‘readerly interventions’ that were so
important in opening up the kind of possibilities for ‘reading against the grain’ that
the artist’s book promoted, something we feel (open access) scholarly works should
also strive to encourage and support. 55 This is especially the case with regard to the
publication of books, where a more conservative vision frequently holds sway. For
instance, it is intriguing that in an era in which online texts are generally connected to
a network of other information, data and mobile media environments, the open access
book should for the most part still find itself presented as having definite limits and a
clear, distinct materiality.

But if the ability to re-use material is an essential feature of open access – as, let us
repeat, it is according to the Budapest-Bethesda-Berlin and many of other influential
definitions of the term – then is working toward making all of the research accessible

54

See, for example, Stevan Harnad, Open Access: Gratis and Libre, Open Access
Archivangelism, Thursday, May 3, 2012.
55
For more on author-side and reader-side openness respectively, see Peter Suber, SPARC
OA newsletter: http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/newsletter/03-02-11.htm

29

online on a Gratis basis and/or gaining the trust of the academic community the best
way for the open access movement (including open access book publishing) to
proceed, always and everywhere? If we do indeed wait until we have gained a critical
mass of open access content before taking advantage of the chance the shift from
analogue to digital creates, might it not by then be too late? Does this shift not offer
us the opportunity, through its loosening of much of the stability, authority, and
‘fixity’ of texts, to rethink scholarly publishing, and in the process raise the kind of
fundamental questions for our ideas of authorship, authority, legitimacy, originality,
permanence, copyright, and with them the text and the book, that we really should
have been raising all along? If we miss this opportunity, might we not find ourselves
in a similar situation to that many book artists and publishers have been in since the
1970s, namely, that of merely reiterating and reinforcing established structures and
practices?

Granted, following a Libre open access strategy may on occasion risk coming into
conflict with those more commonly accepted and approved open access strategies (i.e.
those concerned with achieving accessibility and the gaining of trust on a large-scale).
Nevertheless, should open access advocates on occasion not be more open to adopting
and promoting forms of open access that are designed to make material available for
others to (re)use, copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, translate, modify, remix and
build upon? In particular, should they not be more open to doing so right here, right
now, before things begin to settle down and solidify again and we arrive at a situation
where we have succeeded merely in pushing the movement even further toward rather
weak, watered-down and commercial versions of open access?

30

CONCLUSION

We began by looking at how, in an art world context, the idea and form of the book
have been used to engage critically many of the established cultural institutions, along
with some of the underlying philosophies that inform them. Of particular interest in
this respect is the way in which, with the rise of offset printing and cheaper
production methods and printing techniques in the 1960s, there was a corresponding
increase in access to the means of production and distribution of books. This in turn
led to the emergence of new possibilities and roles that the book could be put to in an
art context, which included democratizing art and critiquing the status quo of the
gallery system. But these changes to the materiality and distribution of the codex
book in particular – as an artistic product as well as a medium – were integrally linked
with questions concerning the nature of both art and the book as such. Book artists
and theorists thus became more and more engaged in the conceptual and practical
exploration of the materiality of the book. In the end, however, the promise of
technological innovation which underpinned the changes with respect to the
production and distribution of artists’ books in the 1960s and 1970s was not enough
to generate any kind of sustainable (albeit repeatedly reviewed, refashioned and
renewed) challenge within the art world over the longer term.

The artist’s book of the 1960s and 1970s therefore clearly had the potential to bring
about a degree of transformation, yet it was unable to elude the cultural practices,
institutions and the market mechanisms that enveloped it for long (including those
developments in financialisation and the art market Solomon-Godeau connects to the
shift to Reaganomics). Consequently, instead of criticising or subverting the

31

established systems of publication and distribution, the artist’s book ended up being
largely integrated into them. 56 Throughout the course of this article we have argued
that its conceptual and material promise notwithstanding, there is a danger of
something similar happening to open access publishing today. Take the way open
access has increasingly come to be adopted by commercial publishers. If one of the
motivating factors behind at least some aspects of the open access movement – not
just the aforementioned open access book publishers in the HSS, but the likes of
PLoS, too – has been to stand up against, and even offer an alternative to, the large,
profit-led firms that have come to dominate the field of academic publishing, recent
years have seen many such commercial publishers experimenting with open access
themselves, even if such experiments have so far been confined largely to journals.57
Most commonly, this situation has resulted in the trialling of ‘author-side’ fees for the
open access publishing of journals, a strategy seen as protecting the interests of the
established publishers, and one which has recently found support in the Finch Report
from a group of representatives of the research, library and publishing communities
convened by David Willetts, the UK Science Minister. 58 But the idea that open access
56

That said, there is currently something of a revival of print, craft and artist's book
publishing taking place in which the paperbound book is being re-imagined in offline
environments. In this post-digital print culture, paper publishing is being used as a new form
of avant-garde social networking that, thanks to its analog nature, is not so easily controlled
by the digital data-gathering commercial hegemonies of Google, Amazon, Facebook et al. For
more, see Alessandro Ludovico, Post-Digital Print - the Mutation of Publishing Since 1984,
Onomatopee, 2012; and Florian Cramer, `Post-Digital Writing', Electronic Book Review,
December, 2012: http://electronicbookreview.com/thread/electropoetics/postal.
57
For more details, see Wilhelm Peekhaus, ‘The Enclosure and Alienation of Academic
Publishing: Lessons for the Professoriate’, tripleC, 10(2), 2012: http://www.triplec.at/index.php/tripleC/article/view/395
58
‘Accessibility, Sustainability, Excellence: How to Expand Access to Research Publications,
Report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings’, June
18, 2012: http://www.researchinfonet.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Finch-Group-reportFINAL-VERSION.pdf. For one overview of some of the problems that can be identified from
an HSS perspective in the policy direction adopted by Finch and Willetts, see Lucinda
Matthews-Jones, ‘Open Access and the Future of Academic Journals’, Journal of Victorian
Culture Online, November 21, 2012: http://myblogs.informa.com/jvc/2012/11/21/openaccess-and-the-future-of-academic-journals/

32

may represent a commercially viable publishing model has attracted a large amount of
so-called predatory publishers, too, 59 who (like Finch and Willetts) have propagated a
number of misleading and often quite mistaken accounts of open access. 60 The
question is thus raised as to whether the desire to offer a counter-institutional
alternative to the large, established, commercial firms is likely to become somewhat
marginalised and neutralised as a result of open access publishing being seen more
and more by such commercial publishers as just another means of generating a profit.
Will the economic as well as material practices transferred from the printing press
continue to inform and shape our communication systems? As Nick Knouf argues, to
raise this question, ‘is not to damn open access publishing by any means; rather, it is
to say that open access publishing, without a concurrent interrogation of the economic
underpinnings of the scholarly communication system, will only reform the situation
rather than provide a radical alternative.’ 61

With this idea of providing a radical challenge to the current scholarly communication
system in mind, and drawing once again on the brief history of artists’ books as
presented above, might it not be helpful to think of open access less as a project and
model to be implemented, and more as a process of continuous struggle and critical
resistance? Here an analogy can be drawn with the idea of democracy as a process. In
‘Historical Dilemmas of Democracy and Their Contemporary Relevance for
Citizenship’, the political philosopher Etiènne Balibar develops an interesting analysis
of democracy based on a concept of the ‘democratisation of democracy’ he derives
59

For a list of predatory OA publishers see: http://scholarlyoa.com/publishers/
This list has increased from 23 predatory publishers in 2011, to 225 in 2012.
60
See the reference to the research of Peter Murray Rust in Sigi Jöttkandt, ‘No-fee OA
Journals in the Humanities’.
61
Nicholas Knouf, ‘The JJPS Extension: Presenting Academic Performance Information’,
Journal of Journal Performance Studies, 1 (2010).

33

from a reading of Hannah Arendt and Jacques Rancière. For Balibar, the problem
with much of the discourse surrounding democracy is that it perceives the latter as a
model that can be implemented in different contexts (in China or the Middle East, for
instance). He sees discourses of this kind as running two risks in particular. First of
all, in conceptualizing democracy as a model there is a danger of it becoming a
homogenizing force, masking differences and inequalities. Second, when positioned
as a model or a project, democracy also runs the risk of becoming a dominating force
– yet another political regime that takes control and power. According to Balibar, a
more interesting and radical notion of democracy involves focusing on the process of
the democratisation of democracy itself, thus turning democracy into a form of
continuous struggle (or struggles) – or, perhaps better, continuous critical selfreflection. Democracy here is not an established reality, then, nor is it a mere ideal; it
is rather a permanent struggle for democratisation. 62

Can open access be understood in similar terms: less as a homogeneous project
striving to become a dominating model or force, and more as an ongoing critical
struggle, or series of struggles? And can we perhaps locate what some perceive as the
failure of artists’ books to contribute significantly to such a critical struggle after the
1970s to the fact that ultimately they became (incorporated in) dominant institutional
settings themselves – a state of affairs brought about in part by their inability to
address issues of access, experimentation and self-reflexivity in an ongoing critical
manner?

62

Etienne Balibar, ‘Historical Dilemmas of Democracy and Their Contemporary Relevance
for Citizenship’, Rethinking Marxism, 20 (2008).

34

Certainly, one of the advantages of conceptualizing open access as a process of
struggle rather than as a model to be implemented would be that doing so would
create more space for radically different, conflicting, even incommensurable positions
within the larger movement, including those that are concerned with experimenting
critically with the form of the book and the way our system of scholarly
communication currently operates. As we have shown, such radical differences are
often played down in the interests of strategy. To be sure, open access can experience
what Richard Poynder refers to as a ‘bad tempered wrangles’ over relatively ‘minor
issues’ such as ‘metadata, copyright, and distributed versus central archives’. 63 Still,
much of the emphasis has been on the importance of trying to maintain a more or less
unified front (within certain limits, of course) in the face of criticisms from
publishers, governments, lobbyists and so forth, lest its opponents be provided with
further ammunition with which to attack the open access movement, and dilute or
misinterpret its message, or otherwise distract advocates from what they are all
supposed to agree are the main tasks at hand (e.g. achieving universal, free, online
access to research and/or the gaining of trust). Yet it is important not to see the
presence of such differences and conflicts within the open access movement in purely
negative terms – the way they are often perceived by those working in the liberal
tradition, with its ‘rationalist belief in the availability of a universal consensus based
on reason’. 64 (This emphasis on the ‘universal’ is also apparent in fantasies of having
not just universal open access, but one single, fully integrated and indexed global
archive.) In fact if, as we have seen, one of the impulses behind open access is to
make knowledge and research – and with it society – more open and democratic, it

63

Richard Poynder, ‘Time to Walk the Walk’, Open and Shut?, 17 March, 2005:
http://poynder.blogspot.com/2005/03/time-to-walk-talk.html.
64
Chantal Mouffe, On the Political, London, Routledge, 2005, p11.

35

can be argued that the existence of such dissensus will help achieve this ambition.
After all, and as we know from another political philosopher, Chantal Mouffe, far
from placing democracy at risk, a certain degree of conflict and antagonism actually
constitutes the very possibility of democracy. 65 It seems to us that such a critical, selfreflexive, processual, non-goal oriented way of thinking about academic publishing
shares much with the mode of working of the artist - which is why we have argued
that open access today can draw productively on the kind of conceptual openness and
political energy that characterised experimentation with the medium of the book in
the art world of the 1960s and 1970s.

65

Mouffe, On the Political, p30.

36



radical open access in Giorgetta, Nicoletti & Adema 2015


Giorgetta, Nicoletti & Adema
A Conversation on Digital Archiving Practices
2015


# A Conversation on Digital Archiving Practices

A couple of months ago Davide Giorgetta and Valerio Nicoletti (both ISIA
Urbino) did an interview with me for their MA in Design of Publishing. Silvio
Lorusso, was so kind to publish the interview on the fantastic
[p-dpa.net](http://p-dpa.net/a-conversation-on-digital-archiving-practices-
with-janneke-adema/). I am reblogging it here.

* * *

[Davide Giorgetta](http://p-dpa.net/creator/davide-giorgetta/) and [Valerio
Nicoletti](http://p-dpa.net/creator/valerio-nicoletti/) are both students from
[ISIA Urbino](http://www.isiaurbino.net/home/), where they attend the Master
Course in Design for Publishing. They are currently investigating the
independent side of digital archiving practices within the scope of the
publishing world.

As part of their research, they asked some questions to Janneke Adema, who is
Research Fellow in Digital Media at Coventry University, with a PhD in Media
(Coventry University) and a background in History (MA) and Philosophy (MA)
(both University of Groningen) and Book and Digital Media Studies (MA) (Leiden
University). Janneke’s PhD thesis focuses on the future of the scholarly book
in the humanities. She has been conducting research for the
[OAPEN](http://project.oapen.org/index.php/about-oapen) project, and
subsequently the OAPEN foundation, from 2008 until 2013 (including research
for OAPEN-NL and DOAB). Her research for OAPEN focused on user needs and
publishing models concerning Open Access books in the Humanities and Social
Sciences.

**Davide Giorgetta & Valerio Nicoletti: Does a way out from the debate between
publishers and digital independent libraries (Monoskop Log, Ubuweb,
Aaaarg.org) exist, in terms of copyright? An alternative solution able to
solve the issue and to provide equal opportunities to everyone? Would the fear
of publishers of a possible reduction of incomes be legitimized if the access
to their digital publications was open and free?**

Janneke Adema: This is an interesting question, since for many academics this
‘way out’ (at least in so far it concerns scholarly publications) has been
envisioned in or through the open access movement and the use of Creative
Commons licenses. However, the open access movement, a rather plural and
loosely defined group of people, institutions and networks, in its more
moderate instantiations tends to distance itself from piracy and copyright
infringement or copy(far)left practices. Through its use of and favoring of
Creative Commons licenses one could even argue that it has been mainly
concerned with a reform of copyright rather than a radical critique of and
rethinking of the common and the right to copy (Cramer 2013, Hall
2014).1(http://p-dpa.net/a-conversation-on-digital-archiving-practices-
with-janneke-adema/#fn:1 "see footnote") Nonetheless, in its more radical
guises open access can be more closely aligned with the practices associated
with digital pirate libraries such as the ones listed above, for instance
through Aaron Swartz’s notion of [Guerilla Open
Access](https://archive.org/stream/GuerillaOpenAccessManifesto/Goamjuly2008_djvu.txt):

> We need to take information, wherever it is stored, make our copies and
share them with the world. We need to take stuff that’s out of copyright and
add it to the archive. We need to buy secret databases and put them on the
Web. We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file sharing
networks. We need to fight for Guerilla Open Access. (Swartz 2008)

However whatever form or vision of open access you prefer, I do not think it
is a ‘solution’ to any problem—such as copyright/fight—, but I would rather
see it, as I have written
[elsewhere](http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/11/18
/embracing-messiness-adema-pdsc14/), ‘as an ongoing processual and critical
engagement with changes in the publishing system, in our scholarly
communication practices and in our media and technologies of communication.’
And in this sense open access practices offer us the possibility to critically
reflect upon the politics of knowledge production, including copyright and
piracy, openness and the commons, indeed, even upon the nature of the book
itself.

With respect to the second part of your question, again, where it concerns
scholarly books, [research by Ronald
Snijder](https://scholar.google.com/citations?view_op=view_citation&hl=en&user=PuDczakAAAAJ&citation_for_view=PuDczakAAAAJ:u-x6o8ySG0sC)
shows no decline in sales or income for publishers once they release their
scholarly books in open access. The open availability does however lead to
more discovery and online consultation, meaning that it actually might lead to
more ‘impact’ for scholarly books (Snijder 2010).

**DG, VN: In which way, if any, are digital archiving practices stimulating
new publishing phenomenons? Are there any innovative outcomes, apart the
obvious relation to p.o.d. tools? (or interesting new projects in this
field)**

JA: Beyond extending access, I am mostly interested in how digital archiving
practices have the potential to stimulate the following practices or phenomena
(which in no way are specific to digital archiving or publishing practices, as
they have always been a potential part of print publications too): reuse and
remix; processual research and iterative publishing; and collaborative forms
of knowledge production. These practices interest me mainly as they have the
potential to critique the way the (printed) book has been commodified and
essentialised over the centuries, in a bound, linear and fixed format, a
practice which is currently being replicated in a digital context. Indeed, the
book has been fixed in this way both discursively and through a system of
material production within publishing and academia—which includes our
institutions and practices of scholarly communication—that prefers book
objects as quantifiable and auditable performance indicators and as marketable
commodities and objects of symbolic value exchange. The practices and
phenomena mentioned above, i.e. remix, versioning and collaboration, have the
potential to help us to reimagine the bound nature of the book and to explore
both a spatial and temporal critique of the book as a fixed object; they can
aid us to examine and experiment with various different incisions that can be
made in our scholarship as part of the informal and formal publishing and
communication of our research that goes beyond the final research commodity.
In this sense I am interested in how these specific digital archiving,
research and publishing practices offer us the possibility to imagine a
different, perhaps more ethical humanities, a humanities that is processual,
contingent, unbound and unfinished. How can these practices aid us in how to
cut well in the ongoing unfolding of our research, how can they help us
explore how to make potentially better interventions? How can we take
responsibility as scholars for our entangled becoming with our research and
publications? (Barad 2007, Kember and Zylinska 2012)

Examples that I find interesting in the realm of the humanities in this
respect include projects that experiment with such a critique of our fixed,
print-based practices and institutions in an affirmative way: for example Mark
Amerika’s [remixthebook](http://www.remixthebook.com/) project; Open
Humanities’ [Living Books about Life](http://www.livingbooksaboutlife.org/)
series; projects such as
[Vectors](http://vectors.usc.edu/issues/index.php?issue=7) and
[Scalar](http://scalar.usc.edu/); and collaborative knowledge production,
archiving and creation projects, from wiki-based research projects to AAAARG.

**DG, VN: In which way does a digital container influence its content? Does
the same book — if archived on different platforms, such as _Internet Archive_
, _The Pirate Bay_ , _Monoskop Log_ — still remain the same cultural item?**

JA: In short my answer to this question would be ‘no’. Books are embodied
entities, which are materially established through their specific affordances
in relationship to their production, dissemination, reception and
preservation. This means that the specific materiality of the (digital) book
is partly an outcome of these ongoing processes. Katherine Hayles has argued
in this respect that materiality is an emergent property:

> In this view of materiality, it is not merely an inert collection of
physical properties but a dynamic quality that emerges from the interplay
between the text as a physical artifact, its conceptual content, and the
interpretive activities of readers and writers. Materiality thus cannot be
specified in advance; rather, it occupies a borderland— or better, performs as
connective tissue—joining the physical and mental, the artifact and the user.
(2004: 72)

Similarly, Matthew Kirschenbaum points out that the preservation of digital
objects is:

> _logically inseparable_ from the act of their creation’ (…) ‘The lag between
creation and preservation collapses completely, since a digital object may
only ever be said to be preserved _if_ it is accessible, and each individual
access creates the object anew. One can, in a very literal sense, _never_
access the “same” electronic file twice, since each and every access
constitutes a distinct instance of the file that will be addressed and stored
in a unique location in computer memory. (Kirschenbaum 2013)

Every time we access a digital object, we thus duplicate it, we copy it and we
instantiate it. And this is exactly why, in our strategies of conservation,
every time we access a file we also (re)create these objects anew over and
over again. The agency of the archive, of the software and hardware, are also
apparent here, where archives are themselves ‘active ‘‘archaeologists’’ of
knowledge’ (Ernst 2011: 239) and, as Kirschenbaum puts it, ‘the archive writes
itself’ (2013).

In this sense a book can be seen as an apparatus, consisting of an
entanglement of relationships between, among other things, authors, books, the
outside world, readers, the material production and political economy of book
publishing, its preservation and material instantiations, and the discursive
formation of scholarship. Books as apparatuses are thus reality shaping, they
are performative. This relates to Johanna Drucker’s notion of ‘performative
materiality’, where Drucker argues for an extension of what a book _is_ (i.e.
from a focus on its specific properties and affordances), to what a book
_does_ : ‘Performative materiality suggests that what something _is_ has to be
understood in terms of what it _does_ , how it works within machinic,
systemic, and cultural domains.’ For, as Drucker argues, ‘no matter how
detailed a description of material substrates or systems we have, their use is
performative whether this is a reading by an individual, the processing of
code, the transmission of signals through a system, the viewing of a film,
performance of a play, or a musical work and so on. Material conditions
provide an inscriptional base, a score, a point of departure, a provocation,
from which a work is produced as an event’ (Drucker 2013).

So, to come back to your question, these specific digital platforms (Monoskop,
The Pirate Bay etc.) become integral aspects of the apparatus of the book and
each in their own different way participates in the performance and
instantiation of the books in their archives. Not only does a digital book
therefore differ as a material or cultural object from a printed book, a
digital object also has materially distinct properties related to the platform
on which it is made available. Indeed, building further on the theories
described above, a book is a different object every time it is instantiated or
read, be it by a human or machinic entity; they become part of the apparatus
of the book, a performative apparatus. Therefore, as Silvio Lorusso has
stated:

[![The-Post-Digital-Publishing-Archive-An-Inventory-of-Speculative-Strategies
-----Coventry-University-----June-11th-2014-21](https://i2.wp.com/p-dpa.net
/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/The-Post-Digital-Publishing-Archive-An-Inventory-
of-Speculative-Strategies-Coventry-University-June-
11th-2014-21.png)](http://p-dpa.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/The-Post-
Digital-Publishing-Archive-An-Inventory-of-Speculative-Strategies-Coventry-
University-June-11th-2014-21.png)

**DG, VN: In your opinion, can scholarly publishing, in particular self-
archiving practices, constitute a bridge covering the gap between authors and
users in terms of access to knowledge? Could we hope that these practices will
find a broader use, moving from very specific fields (academic papers) to book
publishing in general?**

JA: On the one hand, yes. Self-archiving, or the ‘green road’ to open access,
offers a way for academics to make their research available in a preprint form
via open access repositories in a relatively simple and straightforward way,
making it easily accessible to other academics and more general audiences.
However, it can be argued that as a strategy, the green road doesn’t seem to
be very subversive, where it doesn’t actively rethink, re-imagine, or
experiment with the system of scholarly knowledge production in a more
substantial way, including peer-review and the print-based publication forms
this system continues to promote. With its emphasis on achieving universal,
free, online access to research, a rigorous critical exploration of the form
of the book itself doesn’t seem to be a main priority of green open access
activists. Stevan Harnad, one of the main proponents of green open access and
self-archiving has for instance stated that ‘it’s time to stop letting the
best get in the way of the better: Let’s forget about Libre and Gold OA until
we have managed to mandate Green Gratis OA universally’ (Harnad 2012). This is
where the self-archiving strategy in its current implementation falls short I
think with respect to the ‘breaking-down’ of barriers between authors and
users, where it isn’t necessarily committed to following a libre open access
strategy, which, one could argue, would be more open to adopting and promoting
forms of open access that are designed to make material available for others
to (re) use, copy, reproduce, distribute, transmit, translate, modify, remix
and build upon? Surely this would be a more substantial strategy to bridge the
gap between authors and users with respect to the production, dissemination
and consumption of knowledge?

With respect to the second part of your question, could these practices find a
broader use? I am not sure, mainly because of the specific characteristics of
academia and scholarly publishing, where scholars are directly employed and
paid by their institutions for the research work they do. Hence, self-
archiving this work would not directly lead to any or much loss of income for
academics. In other fields, such as literary publishing for example, this
issue of remuneration can become quite urgent however, even though many [free
culture](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_culture_movement) activists (such
as Lawrence Lessig and Cory Doctorow) have argued that freely sharing cultural
goods online, or even self-publishing, doesn’t necessarily need to lead to any
loss of income for cultural producers. So in this respect I don’t think we can
lift something like open access self-archiving out of its specific context and
apply it to other contexts all that easily, although we should certainly
experiment with this of course in different domains of digital culture.

**DG, VN: After your answers, we would also receive suggestions from you. Do
you notice any unresolved or raising questions in the contemporary context of
digital archiving practices and their relation to the publishing realm?**

JA: So many :). Just to name a few: the politics of search and filtering
related to information overload; the ethics and politics of publishing in
relationship to when, where, how and why we decide to publish our research,
for what reasons and with what underlying motivations; the continued text- and
object-based focus of our archiving and publishing practices and platforms,
where there is a lack of space to publish and develop more multimodal,
iterative, diagrammatic and speculative forms of scholarship; issues of free
labor and the problem or remuneration of intellectual labor in sharing
economies etc.

**Bibliography**

* Adema, J. (2014) ‘Embracing Messiness’. [17 November 2014] available from [17 November 2014]
* Adema, J. and Hall, G. (2013) ‘The Political Nature of the Book: On Artists’ Books and Radical Open Access’. _New Formations_ 78 (1), 138–156
* Barad, K. (2007) _Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning_. Duke University Press
* Cramer, F. (2013) _Anti-Media: Ephemera on Speculative Arts_. Rotterdam : New York, NY: nai010 publishers
* Drucker, J. (2013) _Performative Materiality and Theoretical Approaches to Interface_. [online] 7 (1). available from [4 April 2014]
* Ernst, W. (2011) ‘Media Archaeography: Method and Machine versus History and Narrative of Media’. in _Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications_. ed. by Huhtamo, E. and Parikka, J. University of California Press
* Hall, G. (2014) ‘Copyfight’. in _Critical Keywords for the Digital Humanities_ , [online] Lueneburg: Centre for Digital Cultures (CDC). available from [5 December 2014]
* Harnad, S. (2012) ‘Open Access: Gratis and Libre’. [3 May 2012] available from [4 March 2014]
* Hayles, N.K. (2004) ‘Print Is Flat, Code Is Deep: The Importance of Media-Specific Analysis’. _Poetics Today_ 25 (1), 67–90
* Kember, S. and Zylinska, J. (2012) _Life After New Media: Mediation as a Vital Process_. MIT Press
* Kirschenbaum, M. (2013) ‘The .txtual Condition: Digital Humanities, Born-Digital Archives, and the Future Literary’. _DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly_ [online] 7 (1). available from [20 July 2014]
* Lorusso, S. (2014) _The Post-Digital Publishing Archive: An Inventory of Speculative Strategies_. in ‘The Aesthetics of the Humanities: Towards a Poetic Knowledge Production’ [online] held 11 June 2014 at Coventry University. available from [31 May 2015]
* Snijder, R. (2010) ‘The Profits of Free Books: An Experiment to Measure the Impact of Open Access Publishing’. _Learned Publishing_ 23 (4), 293–301
* Swartz, A. (2008) _Guerilla Open Access Manifesto_ [online] available from [31 May 2015]



radical open access in Kelty, Bodo & Allen 2018


Kelty, Bodo & Allen
Guerrilla Open Access
2018


Memory
of the
World

Edited by

Guerrilla
Open Access
Christopher
Kelty

Balazs
Bodo

Laurie
Allen

Published by Post Office Press,
Rope Press and Memory of the
World. Coventry, 2018.
© Memory of the World, papers by
respective Authors.
Freely available at:
http://radicaloa.co.uk/
conferences/ROA2
This is an open access pamphlet,
licensed under a Creative
Commons Attribution-ShareAlike
4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)
license.
Read more about the license at:
https://creativecommons.org/
licenses/by-sa/4.0/
Figures and other media included
with this pamphlet may be under
different copyright restrictions.
Design by: Mihai Toma, Nick White
and Sean Worley
Printed by: Rope Press,
Birmingham

This pamphlet is published in a series
of 7 as part of the Radical Open
Access II – The Ethics of Care
conference, which took place June
26-27 at Coventry University. More
information about this conference
and about the contributors to this
pamphlet can be found at:
http://radicaloa.co.uk/conferences/
ROA2
This pamphlet was made possible due
to generous funding from the arts
and humanities research studio, The
Post Office, a project of Coventry
University’s Centre for Postdigital
Cultures and due to the combined
efforts of authors, editors, designers
and printers.

Table of Contents

Guerrilla Open Access:
Terms Of Struggle
Memory of the World
Page 4

Recursive Publics and Open Access
Christopher Kelty
Page 6

Own Nothing
Balazs Bodo
Page 16

What if We Aren't the Only
Guerrillas Out There?
Laurie Allen
Page 26

Guerilla
Open
Access:
Terms Of
Struggle

In the 1990s, the Internet offered a horizon from which to imagine what society
could become, promising autonomy and self-organization next to redistribution of
wealth and collectivized means of production. While the former was in line with the
dominant ideology of freedom, the latter ran contrary to the expanding enclosures
in capitalist globalization. This antagonism has led to epochal copyfights, where free
software and piracy kept the promise of radical commoning alive.
Free software, as Christopher Kelty writes in this pamphlet, provided a model ‘of a
shared, collective, process of making software, hardware and infrastructures that
cannot be appropriated by others’. Well into the 2000s, it served as an inspiration
for global free culture and open access movements who were speculating that
distributed infrastructures of knowledge production could be built, as the Internet
was, on top of free software.
For a moment, the hybrid world of ad-financed Internet giants—sharing code,
advocating open standards and interoperability—and users empowered by these
services, convinced almost everyone that a new reading/writing culture was
possible. Not long after the crash of 2008, these disruptors, now wary monopolists,
began to ingest smaller disruptors and close off their platforms. There was still
free software somewhere underneath, but without the ‘original sense of shared,
collective, process’. So, as Kelty suggests, it was hard to imagine that for-profit
academic publishers wouldn't try the same with open access.
Heeding Aaron Swartz’s call to civil disobedience, Guerrilla Open Access has
emerged out of the outrage over digitally-enabled enclosure of knowledge that
has allowed these for-profit academic publishers to appropriate extreme profits
that stand in stark contrast to the cuts, precarity, student debt and asymmetries
of access in education. Shadow libraries stood in for the access denied to public
libraries, drastically reducing global asymmetries in the process.

4

This radicalization of access has changed how publications
travel across time and space. Digital archiving, cataloging and
sharing is transforming what we once considered as private
libraries. Amateur librarianship is becoming public shadow
librarianship. Hybrid use, as poetically unpacked in Balazs
Bodo's reflection on his own personal library, is now entangling
print and digital in novel ways. And, as he warns, the terrain
of antagonism is shifting. While for-profit publishers are
seemingly conceding to Guerrilla Open Access, they are
opening new territories: platforms centralizing data, metrics
and workflows, subsuming academic autonomy into new
processes of value extraction.
The 2010s brought us hope and then realization how little
digital networks could help revolutionary movements. The
redistribution toward the wealthy, assisted by digitization, has
eroded institutions of solidarity. The embrace of privilege—
marked by misogyny, racism and xenophobia—this has catalyzed
is nowhere more evident than in the climate denialism of the
Trump administration. Guerrilla archiving of US government
climate change datasets, as recounted by Laurie Allen,
indicates that more technological innovation simply won't do
away with the 'post-truth' and that our institutions might be in
need of revision, replacement and repair.
As the contributions to this pamphlet indicate, the terms
of struggle have shifted: not only do we have to continue
defending our shadow libraries, but we need to take back the
autonomy of knowledge production and rebuild institutional
grounds of solidarity.

Memory of the World
http://memoryoftheworld.org

5

Recursive
Publics and
Open Access

Christopher
Kelty

Ten years ago, I published a book calledTwo Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free
Software (Kelty 2008).1 Duke University Press and my editor Ken Wissoker were
enthusiastically accommodating of my demands to make the book freely and openly
available. They also played along with my desire to release the 'source code' of the
book (i.e. HTML files of the chapters), and to compare the data on readers of the
open version to print customers. It was a moment of exploration for both scholarly
presses and for me. At the time, few authors were doing this other than Yochai Benkler
(2007) and Cory Doctorow2, both activists and advocates for free software and open
access (OA), much as I have been. We all shared, I think, a certain fanaticism of the
convert that came from recognizing free software as an historically new, and radically
different mode of organizing economic and political activity. Two Bits gave me a way
to talk not only about free software, but about OA and the politics of the university
(Kelty et al. 2008; Kelty 2014). Ten years later, I admit to a certain pessimism at the
way things have turned out. The promise of free software has foundered, though not
disappeared, and the question of what it means to achieve the goals of OA has been
swamped by concerns about costs, arcane details of repositories and versioning, and
ritual offerings to the metrics God.
When I wrote Two Bits, it was obvious to me that the collectives who built free
software were essential to the very structure and operation of a standardized
Internet. Today, free software and 'open source' refer to dramatically different
constellations of practice and people. Free software gathers around itself those
committed to the original sense of a shared, collective, process of making software,
hardware and infrastructures that cannot be appropriated by others. In political
terms, I have always identified free software with a very specific, updated, version
of classical Millian liberalism. It sustains a belief in the capacity for collective action
and rational thought as aids to establishing a flourishing human livelihood. Yet it
also preserves an outdated blind faith in the automatic functioning of meritorious
speech, that the best ideas will inevitably rise to the top. It is an updated classical
liberalism that saw in software and networks a new place to resist the tyranny of the
conventional and the taken for granted.

6

Christopher Kelty

By contrast, open source has come to mean something quite different: an ecosystem
controlled by an oligopoly of firms which maintains a shared pool of components and
frameworks that lower the costs of education, training, and software creation in the
service of establishing winner-take-all platforms. These are built on open source, but
they do not carry the principles of freedom or openness all the way through to the
platforms themselves.3 What open source has become is now almost the opposite of
free software—it is authoritarian, plutocratic, and nepotistic, everything liberalism
wanted to resist. For example, precarious labor and platforms such as Uber or Task
Rabbit are built upon and rely on the fruits of the labor of 'open source', but the
platforms that result do not follow the same principles—they are not open or free
in any meaningful sense—to say nothing of the Uber drivers or task rabbits who live
by the platforms.
Does OA face the same problem? In part, my desire to 'free the source' of my book
grew out of the unfinished business of digitizing the scholarly record. It is an irony
that much of the work that went into designing the Internet at its outset in the
1980s, such as gopher, WAIS, and the HTML of CERN, was conducted in the name
of the digital transformation of the library. But by 2007, these aims were swamped
by attempts to transform the Internet into a giant factory of data extraction. Even
in 2006-7 it was clear that this unfinished business of digitizing the scholarly record
was going to become a problem—both because it was being overshadowed by other
concerns, and because of the danger it would eventually be subjected to the very
platformization underway in other realms.
Because if the platform capitalism of today has ended up being parasitic on the
free software that enabled it, then why would this not also be true of scholarship
more generally? Are we not witnessing a transition to a world where scholarship
is directed—in its very content and organization—towards the profitability of the
platforms that ostensibly serve it?4 Is it not possible that the platforms created to
'serve science'—Elsevier's increasing acquisition of tools to control the entire lifecycle of research, or ResearchGate's ambition to become the single source for all
academics to network and share research—that these platforms might actually end up
warping the very content of scholarly production in the service of their profitability?
To put this even more clearly: OA has come to exist and scholarship is more available
and more widely distributed than ever before. But, scholars now have less control,
and have taken less responsibility for the means of production of scientific research,
its circulation, and perhaps even the content of that science.

Recursive Publics and Open Access

7

The Method of Modulation
When I wrote Two Bits I organized the argument around the idea of modulation:
free software is simply one assemblage of technologies, practices, and people
aimed at resolving certain problems regarding the relationship between knowledge
(or software tools related to knowledge) and power (Hacking 2004; Rabinow
2003). Free software as such was and still is changing as each of its elements
evolve or are recombined. Because OA derives some of its practices directly from
free software, it is possible to observe how these different elements have been
worked over in the recent past, as well as how new and surprising elements are
combined with OA to transform it. Looking back on the elements I identified as
central to free software, one can ask: how is OA different, and what new elements
are modulating it into something possibly unrecognizable?

Sharing source code
Shareable source code was a concrete and necessary achievement for free
software to be possible. Similarly, the necessary ability to circulate digital texts
is a significant achievement—but such texts are shareable in a much different way.
For source code, computable streams of text are everything—anything else is a
'blob' like an image, a video or any binary file. But scholarly texts are blobs: Word or
Portable Document Format (PDF) files. What's more, while software programmers
may love 'source code', academics generally hate it—anything less than the final,
typeset version is considered unfinished (see e.g. the endless disputes over
'author's final versions' plaguing OA).5 Finality is important. Modifiability of a text,
especially in the humanities and social sciences, is acceptable only when it is an
experiment of some kind.
In a sense, the source code of science is not a code at all, but a more abstract set
of relations between concepts, theories, tools, methods, and the disciplines and
networks of people who operate with them, critique them, extend them and try to
maintain control over them even as they are shared within these communities.

avoid the waste of 'reinventing the wheel' and of pathological
competition, allowing instead modular, reusable parts that
could be modified and recombined to build better things in an
upward spiral of innovation. The 1980s ideas of modularity,
modifiability, abstraction barriers, interchangeable units
have been essential to the creation of digital infrastructures.
To propose an 'open science' thus modulates this definition—
and the idea works in some sciences better than others.
Aside from the obviously different commercial contexts,
philosophers and literary theorists just don't think about
openness this way—theories and arguments may be used
as building blocks, but they are not modular in quite the
same way. Only the free circulation of the work, whether
for recombination or for reference and critique, remains a
sine qua non of the theory of openness proposed there. It
is opposed to a system where it is explicit that only certain
people have access to the texts (whether that be through
limitations of secrecy, or limitations on intellectual property,
or an implicit elitism).

Writing and using copyright licenses
Of all the components of free software that I analyzed, this
is the one practice that remains the least transformed—OA
texts use the same CC licenses pioneered in 2001, which
were a direct descendant of free software licenses.

For free software to make sense as a solution, those involved first had to
characterize the problem it solved—and they did so by identifying a pathology in
the worlds of corporate capitalism and engineering in the 1980s: that computer
corporations were closed organizations who re-invented basic tools and
infrastructures in a race to dominate a market. An 'open system,' by contrast, would

A novel modulation of these licenses is the OA policies (the
embrace of OA in Brazil for instance, or the spread of OA
Policies starting with Harvard and the University of California,
and extending to the EU Mandate from 2008 forward). Today
the ability to control the circulation of a text with IP rights is
far less economically central to the strategies of publishers
than it was in 2007, even if they persist in attempting to do
so. At the same time, funders, states, and universities have all
adopted patchwork policies intended to both sustain green
OA, and push publishers to innovate their own business
models in gold and hybrid OA. While green OA is a significant
success on paper, the actual use of it to circulate work pales

8

Recursive Publics and Open Access

Defining openness

Christopher Kelty

9

in comparison to the commercial control of circulation on the
one hand, and the increasing success of shadow libraries on
the other. Repositories have sprung up in every shape and
form, but they remain largely ad hoc, poorly coordinated, and
underfunded solutions to the problem of OA.

Coordinating collaborations
The collective activity of free software is ultimately the
most significant of its achievements—marrying a form of
intensive small-scale interaction amongst programmers,
with sophisticated software for managing complex objects
(version control and GitHub-like sites). There has been
constant innovation in these tools for controlling, measuring,
testing, and maintaining software.
By contrast, the collective activity of scholarship is still
largely a pre-modern affair. It is coordinated largely by the
idea of 'writing an article together' and not by working
to maintain some larger map of what a research topic,
community, or discipline has explored—what has worked and
what has not.
This focus on the coordination of collaboration seemed to
me to be one of the key advantages of free software, but it
has turned out to be almost totally absent from the practice
or discussion of OA. Collaboration and the recombination of
elements of scholarly practice obviously happens, but it does
not depend on OA in any systematic way: there is only the
counterfactual that without it, many different kinds of people
are excluded from collaboration or even simple participation
in, scholarship, something that most active scholars are
willfully ignorant of.

Fomenting a movement
I demoted the idea of a social movement to merely one
component of the success of free software, rather than let
it be—as most social scientists would have it—the principal
container for free software. They are not the whole story.

10

Christopher Kelty

Is there an OA movement? Yes and no. Librarians remain
the most activist and organized. The handful of academics
who care about it have shifted to caring about it in primarily
a bureaucratic sense, forsaking the cross-organizational
aspects of a movement in favor of activism within universities
(to which I plead guilty). But this transformation forsakes
the need for addressing the collective, collaborative
responsibility for scholarship in favor of letting individual
academics, departments, and disciplines be the focus for
such debates.
By contrast, the publishing industry works with a
phantasmatic idea of both an OA 'movement' and of the actual
practices of scholarship—they too defer, in speech if not in
practice, to the academics themselves, but at the same time
must create tools, innovate processes, establish procedures,
acquire tools and companies and so on in an effort to capture
these phantasms and to prevent academics from collectively
doing so on their own.
And what new components? The five above were central to
free software, but OA has other components that are arguably
more important to its organization and transformation.

Money, i.e. library budgets
Central to almost all of the politics and debates about OA
is the political economy of publication. From the 'bundles'
debates of the 1990s to the gold/green debates of the 2010s,
the sole source of money for publication long ago shifted into
the library budget. The relationship that library budgets
have to other parts of the political economy of research
(funding for research itself, debates about tenured/nontenured, adjunct and other temporary salary structures) has
shifted as a result of the demand for OA, leading libraries
to re-conceptualize themselves as potential publishers, and
publishers to re-conceptualize themselves as serving 'life
cycles' or 'pipeline' of research, not just its dissemination.

Recursive Publics and Open Access

11

Metrics
More than anything, OA is promoted as a way to continue
to feed the metrics God. OA means more citations, more
easily computable data, and more visible uses and re-uses of
publications (as well as 'open data' itself, when conceived of
as product and not measure). The innovations in the world
of metrics—from the quiet expansion of the platforms of the
publishers, to the invention of 'alt metrics', to the enthusiasm
of 'open science' for metrics-driven scientific methods—forms
a core feature of what 'OA' is today, in a way that was not true
of free software before it, where metrics concerning users,
downloads, commits, or lines of code were always after-thefact measures of quality, and not constitutive ones.
Other components of this sort might be proposed, but the
main point is to resist to clutch OA as if it were the beating
heart of a social transformation in science, as if it were a
thing that must exist, rather than a configuration of elements
at a moment in time. OA was a solution—but it is too easy to
lose sight of the problem.
Open Access without Recursive Publics
When we no longer have any commons, but only platforms,
will we still have knowledge as we know it? This is a question
at the heart of research in the philosophy and sociology
of knowledge—not just a concern for activism or social
movements. If knowledge is socially produced and maintained,
then the nature of the social bond surely matters to the
nature of that knowledge. This is not so different than asking
whether we will still have labor or work, as we have long known
it, in an age of precarity? What is the knowledge equivalent of
precarity (i.e. not just the existence of precarious knowledge
workers, but a kind of precarious knowledge as such)?

knowledge and power is shifting dramatically, because the costs—and the stakes—
of producing high quality, authoritative knowledge have also shifted. It is not so
powerful any longer; science does not speak truth to power because truth is no
longer so obviously important to power.
Although this is a pessimistic portrait, it may also be a sign of something yet to
come. Free software as a community, has been and still sometimes is critiqued as
being an exclusionary space of white male sociality (Nafus 2012; Massanari 2016;
Ford and Wajcman 2017; Reagle 2013). I think this critique is true, but it is less a
problem of identity than it is a pathology of a certain form of liberalism: a form that
demands that merit consists only in the content of the things we say (whether in
a political argument, a scientific paper, or a piece of code), and not in the ways we
say them, or who is encouraged to say them and who is encouraged to remain silent
(Dunbar-Hester 2014).
One might, as a result, choose to throw out liberalism altogether as a broken
philosophy of governance and liberation. But it might also be an opportunity to
focus much more specifically on a particular problem of liberalism, one that the
discourse of OA also relies on to a large extent. Perhaps it is not the case that
merit derives solely from the content of utterances freely and openly circulated,
but also from the ways in which they are uttered, and the dignity of the people
who utter them. An OA (or a free software) that embraced that principle would
demand that we pay attention to different problems: how are our platforms,
infrastructures, tools organized and built to support not just the circulation of
putatively true statements, but the ability to say them in situated and particular
ways, with respect for the dignity of who is saying them, and with the freedom to
explore the limits of that kind of liberalism, should we be so lucky to achieve it.

Do we not already see the evidence of this in the 'posttruth' of fake news, or the deliberate refusal by those in
power to countenance evidence, truth, or established
systems of argument and debate? The relationship between

12

Christopher Kelty

Recursive Publics and Open Access

13

References

¹ https://twobits.net/download/index.html

Benkler, Yochai. 2007. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets
and Freedom. Yale University Press.
Dunbar-Hester, Christina. 2014. Low Power to the People: Pirates, Protest, and Politics in
FM Radio Activism. MIT Press.
Ford, Heather, and Judy Wajcman. 2017. “‘Anyone Can Edit’, Not Everyone Does:
Wikipedia’s Infrastructure and the Gender Gap”. Social Studies of Science 47 (4):
511–527. doi:10.1177/0306312717692172.
Hacking, I. 2004. Historical Ontology. Harvard University Press.
Kelty, Christopher M. 2014. “Beyond Copyright and Technology: What Open Access Can
Tell Us About Precarity, Authority, Innovation, and Automation in the University
Today”. Cultural Anthropology 29 (2): 203–215. doi:10.14506/ca29.2.02.
——— . 2008. Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Durham, N.C.: Duke
University Press.
Kelty, Christopher M., et al. 2008. “Anthropology In/of Circulation: a Discussion”. Cultural
Anthropology 23 (3).
Massanari, Adrienne. 2016. “#gamergate and the Fappening: How Reddit’s Algorithm,
Governance, and Culture Support Toxic Technocultures”. New Media & Society 19 (3):
329–346. doi:10.1177/1461444815608807.
Nafus, Dawn. 2012. “‘Patches don’t have gender’: What is not open in open source
software”. New Media & Society 14, no. 4: 669–683. Visited on 04/01/2014. http://
doi:10.1177/1461444811422887.
Rabinow, Paul. 2003. Anthropos Today: Reflections on Modern Equipment. Princeton
University Press.
Reagle, Joseph. 2013. “"Free As in Sexist?" Free Culture and the Gender Gap”. First
Monday 18 (1). doi:10.5210/fm.v18i1.4291.

² https://craphound.com/

³ For example, Platform Cooperativism
https://platform.coop/directory

See for example the figure from ’Rent
Seeking by Elsevier,’ by Alejandro Posada
and George Chen (http://knowledgegap.
org/index.php/sub-projects/rent-seekingand-financialization-of-the-academicpublishing-industr preliminary-findings/)
4

See Sherpa/Romeo
http://www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo/index.php
5

14

Christopher Kelty

Recursive Publics and Open Access

15

Own
Nothing

the contexts we were fleeing from. We made a choice to leave
behind the history, the discourses, the problems and the pain
that accumulated in the books of our library. I knew exactly
what it was I didn’t want to teach to my children once we moved.
So we did not move the books. We pretended that we would
never have to think about what this decision really meant. Up
until today. This year we needed to empty the study with the
shelves. So I’m standing in our library now, the dust covering
my face, my hands, my clothes. In the middle of the floor there
are three big crates and one small box. The small box swallows
what we’ll ultimately take with us, the books I want to show to
my son when he gets older, in case he still wants to read. One of
the big crates will be taken away by the antiquarian. The other
will be given to the school library next door. The third is the
wastebasket, where everything else will ultimately go.

Balazs
Bodo

Flow My Tears
My tears cut deep grooves into the dust on my face. Drip, drip,
drop, they hit the floor and disappear among the torn pages
scattered on the floor.
This year it dawned on us that we cannot postpone it any longer:
our personal library has to go. Our family moved countries
more than half a decade ago, we switched cultures, languages,
and chose another future. But the past, in the form of a few
thousand books in our personal library, was still neatly stacked
in our old apartment, patiently waiting, books that we bought
and enjoyed — and forgot; books that we bought and never
opened; books that we inherited from long-dead parents and
half-forgotten friends. Some of them were important. Others
were relevant at one point but no longer, yet they still reminded
us who we once were.
When we moved, we took no more than two suitcases of personal
belongings. The books were left behind. The library was like
a sick child or an ailing parent, it hung over our heads like an
unspoken threat, a curse. It was clear that sooner or later
something had to be done about it, but none of the options
available offered any consolation. It made no sense to move
three thousand books to the other side of this continent. We
decided to emigrate, and not to take our past with us, abandon

16

Balazs Bodo

Drip, drip, drip, my tears flow as I throw the books into this
last crate, drip, drip, drop. Sometimes I look at my partner,
working next to me, and I can see on her face that she is going
through the same emotions. I sometimes catch the sight of
her trembling hand, hesitating for a split second where a book
should ultimately go, whether we could, whether we should
save that particular one, because… But we either save them all
or we are as ruthless as all those millions of people throughout
history, who had an hour to pack their two suitcases before they
needed to leave. Do we truly need this book? Is this a book we’ll
want to read? Is this book an inseparable part of our identity?
Did we miss this book at all in the last five years? Is this a text
I want to preserve for the future, for potential grandchildren
who may not speak my mother tongue at all? What is the function
of the book? What is the function of this particular book in my
life? Why am I hesitating throwing it out? Why should I hesitate
at all? Drop, drop, drop, a decision has been made. Drop, drop,
drop, books are falling to the bottom of the crates.
We are killers, gutting our library. We are like the half-drown
sailor, who got entangled in the ropes, and went down with the
ship, and who now frantically tries to cut himself free from the
detritus that prevents him to reach the freedom of the surface,
the sunlight and the air.

Own Nothing

17

advantages of a fully digital book future. What I see now is the emergence of a strange
and shapeshifting-hybrid of diverse physical and electronic objects and practices,
where the relative strengths and weaknesses of these different formats nicely
complement each other.
This dawned on me after we had moved into an apartment without a bookshelf. I grew
up in a flat that housed my parents’ extensive book collection. I knew the books by their
cover and from time to time something made me want to take it from the shelf, open
it and read it. This is how I discovered many of my favorite books and writers. With
the e-reader, and some of the best shadow libraries at hand, I felt the same at first. I
felt liberated. I could experiment without cost or risk, I could start—or stop—a book,
I didn’t have to consider the cost of buying and storing a book that was ultimately
not meant for me. I could enjoy the books without having to carry the burden and
responsibility of ownership.

Own Nothing, Have Everything
Do you remember Napster’s slogan after it went legit, trying to transform itself into
a legal music service around 2005? ‘Own nothing, have everything’ – that was the
headline that was supposed to sell legal streaming music. How stupid, I thought. How
could you possibly think that lack of ownership would be a good selling point? What
does it even mean to ‘have everything’ without ownership? And why on earth would
not everyone want to own the most important constituents of their own self, their
own identity? The things I read, the things I sing, make me who I am. Why wouldn’t I
want to own these things?
How revolutionary this idea had been I reflected as I watched the local homeless folks
filling up their sacks with the remains of my library. How happy I would be if I could
have all this stuff I had just thrown away without actually having to own any of it. The
proliferation of digital texts led me to believe that we won’t be needing dead wood
libraries at all, at least no more than we need vinyl to listen to, or collect music. There
might be geeks, collectors, specialists, who for one reason or another still prefer the
physical form to the digital, but for the rest of us convenience, price, searchability, and
all the other digital goodies give enough reason not to collect stuff that collects dust.

Did you notice how deleting an epub file gives you a different feeling than throwing
out a book? You don’t have to feel guilty, you don’t have to feel anything at all.
So I was reading, reading, reading like never before. But at that time my son was too
young to read, so I didn’t have to think about him, or anyone else besides myself. But
as he was growing, it slowly dawned on me: without these physical books how will I be
able to give him the same chance of serendipity, and of discovery, enchantment, and
immersion that I got in my father’s library? And even later, what will I give him as his
heritage? Son, look into this folder of PDFs: this is my legacy, your heritage, explore,
enjoy, take pride in it?
Collections of anything, whether they are art, books, objects, people, are inseparable
from the person who assembled that collection, and when that person is gone, the
collection dies, as does the most important inroad to it: the will that created this
particular order of things has passed away. But the heavy and unavoidable physicality
of a book collection forces all those left behind to make an effort to approach, to
force their way into, and try to navigate that garden of forking paths that is someone
else’s library. Even if you ultimately get rid of everything, you have to introduce
yourself to every book, and let every book introduce itself to you, so you know what
you’re throwing out. Even if you’ll ultimately kill, you will need to look into the eyes of
all your victims.
With a digital collection that’s, of course, not the case.

I was wrong to think that. I now realize that the future is not fully digital, it is more
a physical-digital hybrid, in which the printed book is not simply an endangered
species protected by a few devoted eccentrics who refuse to embrace the obvious

The e-book is ephemeral. It has little past and even less chance to preserve the
fingerprints of its owners over time. It is impersonal, efficient, fast, abundant, like

18

Own Nothing

Balazs Bodo

19

fast food or plastic, it flows through the hand like sand. It lacks the embodiment, the
materiality which would give it a life in a temporal dimension. If you want to network the
dead and the unborn, as is the ambition of every book, then you need to print and bind,
and create heavy objects that are expensive, inefficient and a burden. This burden
subsiding in the object is the bridge that creates the intergenerational dimension,
that forces you to think of the value of a book.
Own nothing, have nothing. Own everything, and your children will hate you when
you die.
I have to say, I’m struggling to find a new balance here. I started to buy books again,
usually books that I’d already read from a stolen copy on-screen. I know what I want
to buy, I know what is worth preserving. I know what I want to show to my son, what
I want to pass on, what I would like to take care of over time. Before, book buying for
me was an investment into a stranger. Now that thrill is gone forever. I measure up
the merchandise well beforehand, I build an intimate relationship, we make love again
and again, before moving in together.
It is certainly a new kind of relationship with the books I bought since I got my e-reader.
I still have to come to terms with the fact that the books I bought this way are rarely
opened, as I already know them, and their role is not to be read, but to be together.
What do I buy, and what do I get? Temporal, existential security? The chance of
serendipity, if not for me, then for the people around me? The reassuring materiality
of the intimacy I built with these texts through another medium?
All of these and maybe more. But in any case, I sense that this library, the physical
embodiment of a physical-electronic hybrid collection with its unopened books and
overflowing e-reader memory cards, is very different from the library I had, and the
library I’m getting rid of at this very moment. The library that I inherited, the library
that grew organically from the detritus of the everyday, the library that accumulated
books similar to how the books accumulated dust, as is the natural way of things, this
library was full of unknowns, it was a library of potentiality, of opportunities, of trips
waiting to happen. This new, hybrid library is a collection of things that I’m familiar with.
I intimately know every piece, they hold little surprise, they offer few discoveries — at
least for me. The exploration, the discovery, the serendipity, the pre-screening takes
place on the e-reader, among the ephemeral, disposable PDFs and epubs.

We Won
This new hybrid model is based on the cheap availability of digital books. In my case, the
free availability of pirated copies available through shadow libraries. These libraries
don’t have everything on offer, but they have books in an order of magnitude larger
than I’ll ever have the time and chance to read, so they offer enough, enough for me
to fill up hard drives with books I want to read, or at least skim, to try, to taste. As if I
moved into an infinite bookstore or library, where I can be as promiscuous, explorative,
nomadic as I always wanted to be. I can flirt with books, I can have a quickie, or I can
leave them behind without shedding a single tear.
I don’t know how this hybrid library, and this analogue-digital hybrid practice of reading
and collecting would work without the shadow libraries which make everything freely
accessible. I rely on their supply to test texts, and feed and grow my print library.
E-books are cheaper than their print versions, but they still cost money, carry a
risk, a cost of experimentation. Book-streaming, the flat-rate, the all-you-can-eat
format of accessing books is at the moment only available to audiobooks, but rarely
for e-books. I wonder why.
Did you notice that there are no major book piracy lawsuits?

Have everything, and own a few.

20

Balazs Bodo

Own Nothing

21

Of course there is the lawsuit against Sci-Hub and Library Genesis in New York, and
there is another one in Canada against aaaaarg, causing major nuisance to those who
have been named in these cases. But this is almost negligible compared to the high
profile wars the music and audiovisual industries waged against Napster, Grokster,
Kazaa, megaupload and their likes. It is as if book publishers have completely given up on
trying to fight piracy in the courts, and have launched a few lawsuits only to maintain
the appearance that they still care about their digital copyrights. I wonder why.
I know the academic publishing industry slightly better than the mainstream popular
fiction market, and I have the feeling that in the former copyright-based business
models are slowly being replaced by something else. We see no major anti-piracy
efforts from publishers, not because piracy is non-existent — on the contrary, it is
global, and it is big — but because the publishers most probably realized that in the
long run the copyright-based exclusivity model is unsustainable. The copyright wars
of the last two decades taught them that law cannot put an end to piracy. As the
Sci-Hub case demonstrates, you can win all you want in a New York court, but this
has little real-world effect as long as the conditions that attract the users to the
shadow libraries remain.
Exclusivity-based publishing business models are under assault from other sides as
well. Mandated open access in the US and in the EU means that there is a quickly
growing body of new research for the access of which publishers cannot charge
money anymore. LibGen and Sci-Hub make it harder to charge for the back catalogue.
Their sheer existence teaches millions on what uncurtailed open access really is, and
makes it easier for university libraries to negotiate with publishers, as they don’t have
to worry about their patrons being left without any access at all.
The good news is that radical open access may well be happening. It is a less and less
radical idea to have things freely accessible. One has to be less and less radical to
achieve the openness that has been long overdue. Maybe it is not yet obvious today
and the victory is not yet universal, maybe it’ll take some extra years, maybe it won’t
ever be evenly distributed, but it is obvious that this genie, these millions of books on
everything from malaria treatments to critical theory, cannot be erased, and open
access will not be undone, and the future will be free of access barriers.

We Are Not Winning at All
But did we really win? If publishers are happy to let go of access control and copyright,
it means that they’ve found something that is even more profitable than selling
back to us academics the content that we have produced. And this more profitable
something is of course data. Did you notice where all the investment in academic
publishing went in the last decade? Did you notice SSRN, Mendeley, Academia.edu,
ScienceDirect, research platforms, citation software, manuscript repositories, library
systems being bought up by the academic publishing industry? All these platforms
and technologies operate on and support open access content, while they generate
data on the creation, distribution, and use of knowledge; on individuals, researchers,
students, and faculty; on institutions, departments, and programs. They produce data
on the performance, on the success and the failure of the whole domain of research
and education. This is the data that is being privatized, enclosed, packaged, and sold
back to us.

Drip, drip, drop, its only nostalgia. My heart is light, as I don’t have to worry about
gutting the library. Soon it won’t matter at all.

Taylorism reached academia. In the name of efficiency, austerity, and transparency,
our daily activities are measured, profiled, packaged, and sold to the highest bidder.
But in this process of quantification, knowledge on ourselves is lost for us, unless we
pay. We still have some patchy datasets on what we do, on who we are, we still have
this blurred reflection in the data-mirrors that we still do control. But this path of
self-enlightenment is quickly waning as less and less data sources about us are freely
available to us.

22

Own Nothing

Who is downloading books and articles? Everyone. Radical open access? We won,
if you like.

Balazs Bodo

23

I strongly believe that information on the self is the foundation
of self-determination. We need to have data on how we operate,
on what we do in order to know who we are. This is what is being
privatized away from the academic community, this is being
taken away from us.
Radical open access. Not of content, but of the data about
ourselves. This is the next challenge. We will digitize every page,
by hand if we must, that process cannot be stopped anymore.
No outside power can stop it and take that from us. Drip, drip,
drop, this is what I console myself with, as another handful of
books land among the waste.
But the data we lose now will not be so easy to reclaim.

24

Balazs Bodo

Own Nothing

25

What if
We Aren't
the Only
Guerrillas
Out
There?
Laurie
Allen

My goal in this paper is to tell the story
of a grass-roots project called Data
Refuge (http://www.datarefuge.org)
that I helped to co-found shortly after,
and in response to, the Trump election
in the USA. Trump’s reputation as
anti-science, and the promise that his
administration would elevate people into
positions of power with a track record
of distorting, hiding, or obscuring the
scientific evidence of climate change
caused widespread concern that
valuable federal data was now in danger.
The Data Refuge project grew from the
work of Professor Bethany Wiggin and
the graduate students within the Penn
Program in Environmental Humanities
(PPEH), notably Patricia Kim, and was
formed in collaboration with the Penn
Libraries, where I work. In this paper, I
will discuss the Data Refuge project, and
call attention to a few of the challenges
inherent in the effort, especially as
they overlap with the goals of this
collective. I am not a scholar. Instead,
I am a librarian, and my perspective as
a practicing informational professional
informs the way I approach this paper,
which weaves together the practical
and technical work of ‘saving data’ with
the theoretical, systemic, and ethical
issues that frame and inform what we
have done.

I work as the head of a relatively small and new department within the libraries
of the University of Pennsylvania, in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the
US. I was hired to lead the Digital Scholarship department in the spring of 2016,
and most of the seven (soon to be eight) people within Digital Scholarship joined
the library since then in newly created positions. Our group includes a mapping
and spatial data librarian and three people focused explicitly on supporting the
creation of new Digital Humanities scholarship. There are also two people in the
department who provide services connected with digital scholarly open access
publishing, including the maintenance of the Penn Libraries’ repository of open
access scholarship, and one Data Curation and Management Librarian. This
Data Librarian, Margaret Janz, started working with us in September 2016, and
features heavily into the story I’m about to tell about our work helping to build Data
Refuge. While Margaret and I were the main people in our department involved in
the project, it is useful to understand the work we did as connected more broadly
to the intersection of activities—from multimodal, digital, humanities creation to
open access publishing across disciplines—represented in our department in Penn.
At the start of Data Refuge, Professor Wiggin and her students had already been
exploring the ways that data about the environment can empower communities
through their art, activism, and research, especially along the lower Schuylkill
River in Philadelphia. They were especially attuned to the ways that missing data,
or data that is not collected or communicated, can be a source of disempowerment.
After the Trump election, PPEH graduate students raised the concern that the
political commitments of the new administration would result in the disappearance
of environmental and climate data that is vital to work in cities and communities
around the world. When they raised this concern with the library, together we cofounded Data Refuge. It is notable to point out that, while the Penn Libraries is a
large and relatively well-resourced research library in the United States, it did not
have any automatic way to ingest and steward the data that Professor Wiggin and
her students were concerned about. Our system of acquiring, storing, describing
and sharing publications did not account for, and could not easily handle, the
evident need to take in large quantities of public data from the open web and make
them available and citable by future scholars. Indeed, no large research library
was positioned to respond to this problem in a systematic way, though there was
general agreement that the community would like to help.
The collaborative, grass-roots movement that formed Data Refuge included many
librarians, archivists, and information professionals, but it was clear from the
beginning that my own profession did not have in place a system for stewarding
these vital information resources, or for treating them as ‘publications’ of the

26

Laurie Allen

What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?

27

federal government. This fact was widely understood by various members of our
profession, notably by government document librarians, who had been calling
attention to this lack of infrastructure for years. As Government Information
Librarian Shari Laster described in a blog post in November of 2016, government
documents librarians have often felt like they are ‘under siege’ not from political
forces, but from the inattention to government documents afforded by our systems
and infrastructure. Describing the challenges facing the profession in light of the
2016 election, she commented: “Government documents collections in print are
being discarded, while few institutions are putting strategies in place for collecting
government information in digital formats. These strategies are not expanding in
tandem with the explosive proliferation of these sources, and certainly not in pace
with the changing demands for access from public users, researchers, students,
and more.” (Laster 2016) Beyond government documents librarians, our project
joined efforts that were ongoing in a huge range of communities, including: open
data and open science activists; archival experts working on methods of preserving
born-digital content; cultural historians; federal data producers and the archivists
and data scientists they work with; and, of course, scientists.

the scientific record to fight back, in a concrete way, against
an anti-fact establishment. By downloading data and moving
it into the Internet Archive and the Data Refuge repository,
volunteers were actively claiming the importance of accurate
records in maintaining or creating a just society.

This distributed approach to the work of downloading and saving the data
encouraged people to see how they were invested in environmental and scientific
data, and to consider how our government records should be considered the
property of all of us. Attending Data Rescue events was a way for people who value

Of course, access to data need not rely on its inclusion in
a particular repository. As is demonstrated so well in other
contexts, technological methods of sharing files can make
the digital repositories of libraries and archives seem like a
redundant holdover from the past. However, as I will argue
further in this paper, the data that was at risk in Data Refuge
differed in important ways from the contents of what Bodó
refers to as ‘shadow libraries’ (Bodó 2015). For opening
access to copies of journals articles, shadow libraries work
perfectly. However, the value of these shadow libraries relies
on the existence of the widely agreed upon trusted versions.
If in doubt about whether a copy is trustworthy, scholars
can turn to more mainstream copies, if necessary. This was
not the situation we faced building Data Refuge. Instead, we
were often dealing with the sole public, authoritative copy
of a federal dataset and had to assume that, if it were taken
down, there would be no way to check the authenticity of
other copies. The data was not easily pulled out of systems
as the data and the software that contained them were often
inextricably linked. We were dealing with unique, tremendously
valuable, but often difficult-to-untangle datasets rather than
neatly packaged publications. The workflow we established
was designed to privilege authenticity and trustworthiness
over either the speed of the copying or the easy usability of
the resulting data. 2 This extra care around authenticity was
necessary because of the politicized nature of environmental
data that made many people so worried about its removal
after the election. It was important that our project
supported the strongest possible scientific arguments that
could be made with the data we were ‘saving’. That meant
that our copies of the data needed to be citable in scientific
scholarly papers, and that those citations needed to be
able to withstand hostile political forces who claim that the
science of human-caused climate change is ‘uncertain’. It

28

What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?

Born from the collaboration between Environmental Humanists and Librarians,
Data Refuge was always an effort both at storytelling and at storing data. During
the first six months of 2017, volunteers across the US (and elsewhere) organized
more than 50 Data Rescue events, with participants numbering in the thousands.
At each event, a group of volunteers used tools created by our collaborators at
the Environmental and Data Governance Initiative (EDGI) (https://envirodatagov.
org/) to support the End of Term Harvest (http://eotarchive.cdlib.org/) project
by identifying seeds from federal websites for web archiving in the Internet
Archive. Simultaneously, more technically advanced volunteers wrote scripts to
pull data out of complex data systems, and packaged that data for longer term
storage in a repository we maintained at datarefuge.org. Still other volunteers
held teach-ins, built profiles of data storytellers, and otherwise engaged in
safeguarding environmental and climate data through community action (see
http://www.ppehlab.org/datarefugepaths). The repository at datarefuge.org that
houses the more difficult data sources has been stewarded by myself and Margaret
Janz through our work at Penn Libraries, but it exists outside the library’s main
technical infrastructure.1

Laurie Allen

29

was easy to imagine in the Autumn of 2016, and even easier
to imagine now, that hostile actors might wish to muddy the
science of climate change by releasing fake data designed
to cast doubt on the science of climate change. For that
reasons, I believe that the unique facts we were seeking
to safeguard in the Data Refuge bear less similarity to the
contents of shadow libraries than they do to news reports
in our current distributed and destabilized mass media
environment. Referring to the ease of publishing ideas on the
open web, Zeynep Tufecki wrote in a recent column, “And
sure, it is a golden age of free speech—if you can believe your
lying eyes. Is that footage you’re watching real? Was it really
filmed where and when it says it was? Is it being shared by altright trolls or a swarm of Russian bots? Was it maybe even
generated with the help of artificial intelligence? (Yes, there
are systems that can create increasingly convincing fake
videos.)” (Tufekci 2018). This was the state we were trying to
avoid when it comes to scientific data, fearing that we might
have the only copy of a given dataset without solid proof that
our copy matched the original.
If US federal websites cease functioning as reliable stewards
of trustworthy scientific data, reproducing their data
without a new model of quality control risks producing the
very censorship that our efforts are supposed to avoid,
and further undermining faith in science. Said another way,
if volunteers duplicated federal data all over the Internet
without a trusted system for ensuring the authenticity of
that data, then as soon as the originals were removed, a sea of
fake copies could easily render the original invisible, and they
would be just as effectively censored. “The most effective
forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and
attention, not muzzling speech itself.” (Tufekci 2018).
These concerns about the risks of open access to data should
not be understood as capitulation to the current marketdriven approach to scholarly publishing, nor as a call for
continuation of the status quo. Instead, I hope to encourage
continuation of the creative approaches to scholarship
represented in this collective. I also hope the issues raised in

30

Laurie Allen

Data Refuge will serve as a call to take greater responsibility for the systems into
which scholarship flows and the structures of power and assumptions of trust (by
whom, of whom) that scholarship relies on.
While plenty of participants in the Data Refuge community posited scalable
technological approaches to help people trust data, none emerged that were
strong enough to risk further undermining faith in science that a malicious attack
might cause. Instead of focusing on technical solutions that rely on the existing
systems staying roughly as they are, I would like to focus on developing networks
that explore different models of trust in institutions, and that honor the values
of marginalized and indigenous people. For example, in a recent paper, Stacie
Williams and Jarrett Drake describe the detailed decisions they made to establish
and become deserving of trust in supporting the creation of an Archive of Police
Violence in Cleveland (Williams and Drake 2017). The work of Michelle Caswell and
her collaborators on exploring post-custodial archives, and on engaging in radical
empathy in the archives provide great models of the kind of work that I believe is
necessary to establish new models of trust that might help inform new modes of
sharing and relying on community information (Caswell and Cifor 2016).
Beyond seeking new ways to build trust, it has become clear that new methods
are needed to help filter and contextualize publications. Our current reliance
on a few for-profit companies to filter and rank what we see of the information
landscape has proved to be tremendously harmful for the dissemination of facts,
and has been especially dangerous to marginalized communities (Noble 2018).
While the world of scholarly humanities publishing is doing somewhat better than
open data or mass media, there is still a risk that without new forms of filtering and
establishing quality and trustworthiness, good ideas and important scholarship will
be lost in the rankings of search engines and the algorithms of social media. We
need new, large scale systems to help people filter and rank the information on the
open web. In our current situation, according to media theorist dana boyd, “[t]he
onus is on the public to interpret what they see. To self-investigate. Since we live
in a neoliberal society that prioritizes individual agency, we double down on media
literacy as the ‘solution’ to misinformation. It’s up to each of us as individuals to
decide for ourselves whether or not what we’re getting is true.” (boyd 2018)
In closing, I’ll return to the notion of Guerrilla warfare that brought this panel
together. While some of our collaborators and some in the press did use the term
‘Guerrilla archiving’ to describe the data rescue efforts (Currie and Paris 2017),
I generally did not. The work we did was indeed designed to take advantage of
tactics that allow a small number of actors to resist giant state power. However,

What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?

31

if anything, the most direct target of these guerrilla actions in my mind was not
the Trump administration. Instead, the action was designed to prompt responses
by the institutions where many of us work and by communities of scholars and
activists who make up these institutions. It was designed to get as many people as
possible working to address the complex issues raised by the two interconnected
challenges that the Data Refuge project threw into relief. The first challenge,
of course, is the need for new scientific, artistic, scholarly and narrative ways of
contending with the reality of global, human-made climate change. And the second
challenge, as I’ve argued in this paper, is that our systems of establishing and
signaling trustworthiness, quality, reliability and stability of information are in dire
need of creative intervention as well. It is not just publishing but all of our systems
for discovering, sharing, acquiring, describing and storing that scholarship that
need support, maintenance, repair, and perhaps in some cases, replacement. And
this work will rely on scholars, as well as expert information practitioners from a
range of fields (Caswell 2016).

¹ At the time of this writing, we are working
on un-packing and repackaging the data
within Data Refuge for eventual inclusion
in various Research Library Repositories.

Ideally, of course, all federally produced
datasets would be published in neatly
packaged and more easily preservable
containers, along with enough technical
checks to ensure their validity (hashes,
checksums, etc.) and each agency would
create a periodical published inventory of
datasets. But the situation we encountered
with Data Refuge did not start us in
anything like that situation, despite the
hugely successful and important work of
the employees who created and maintained
data.gov. For a fuller view of this workflow,
see my talk at CSVConf 2017 (Allen 2017).

2

Closing note: The workflow established and used at Data Rescue events was
designed to tackle this set of difficult issues, but needed refinement, and was retired
in mid-2017. The Data Refuge project continues, led by Professor Wiggin and her
colleagues and students at PPEH, who are “building a storybank to document
how data lives in the world – and how it connects people, places, and non-human
species.” (“DataRefuge” n.d.) In addition, the set of issues raised by Data Refuge
continue to inform my work and the work of many of our collaborators.

32

Laurie Allen

What if We Aren't the Only Guerrillas Out There?

33

References
Allen, Laurie. 2017. “Contexts and Institutions.” Paper presented at csv,conf,v3, Portland,
Oregon, May 3rd 2017. Accessed May 20, 2018. https://youtu.be/V2gwi0CRYto.
Bodo, Balazs. 2015. “Libraries in the Post - Scarcity Era.” In Copyrighting Creativity:
Creative Values, Cultural Heritage Institutions and Systems of Intellectual Property,
edited by Porsdam. Routledge.
boyd, danah. 2018. “You Think You Want Media Literacy… Do You?” Data & Society: Points.
March 9, 2018. https://points.datasociety.net/you-think-you-want-media-literacy-doyou-7cad6af18ec2.
Caswell, Michelle. 2016. “‘The Archive’ Is Not an Archives: On Acknowledging the
Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies.” Reconstruction: Studies in
Contemporary Culture 16:1 (2016) (special issue “Archives on Fire”),
http://reconstruction.eserver.org/Issues/161/Caswell.shtml.
Caswell, Michelle, and Marika Cifor. 2016. “From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical
Empathy in the Archives.” Archivaria 82 (0): 23–43.
Currie, Morgan, and Britt Paris. 2017. “How the ‘Guerrilla Archivists’ Saved History – and
Are Doing It Again under Trump.” The Conversation (blog). February 21, 2017.
https://theconversation.com/how-the-guerrilla-archivists-saved-history-and-aredoing-it-again-under-trump-72346.
“DataRefuge.” n.d. PPEH Lab. Accessed May 21, 2018.
http://www.ppehlab.org/datarefuge/.
“DataRescue Paths.” n.d. PPEH Lab. Accessed May 20, 2018.
http://www.ppehlab.org/datarefugepaths/.
“End of Term Web Archive: U.S. Government Websites.” n.d. Accessed May 20, 2018.
http://eotarchive.cdlib.org/.
“Environmental Data and Governance Initiative.” n.d. EDGI. Accessed May 19, 2018.
https://envirodatagov.org/.
Laster, Shari. 2016. “After the Election: Libraries, Librarians, and the Government - Free
Government Information (FGI).” Free Government Information (FGI). November 23,
2016. https://freegovinfo.info/node/11451.
Noble, Safiya Umoja. 2018. Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce
Racism. New York: NYU Press.
Tufekci, Zeynep. 2018. “It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech.”
WIRED. Accessed May 20, 2018.
https://www.wired.com/story/free-speech-issue-tech-turmoil-new-censorship/.
“Welcome - Data Refuge.” n.d. Accessed May 20, 2018. https://www.datarefuge.org/.
Williams, Stacie M, and Jarrett Drake. 2017. “Power to the People: Documenting Police
Violence in Cleveland.” Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 1 (2).
https://doi.org/10.24242/jclis.v1i2.33.

34

Laurie Allen

Guerrilla
Open
Access



radical open access in Marczewska, Adema, McDonald & Trettien 2018


Marczewska, Adema, McDonald & Trettien
The Poethics of Scholarship
2018


Post
Office
Press

Edited by

The Poethics
of Scholarship
Kaja
Marczewska

Janneke
Adema

Frances
McDonald

Whitney
Trettien

Published by Post Office Press and
Rope Press. Coventry, 2018.
© Post Office Press, papers by
respective Authors.
Freely available at:
http://radicaloa.co.uk/
conferences/ROA2
This is an open access pamphlet,
licensed under a Creative
Commons Attribution 4.0
International (CC BY 4.0) license.
Read more about the license at:
https://creativecommons.org/
licenses/by/4.0/
Figures and other media included
with this pamphlet may be under
different copyright restrictions.

This pamphlet is published in a series
of 7 as part of the Radical Open
Access II – The Ethics of Care
conference, which took place June
26-27 at Coventry University. More
information about this conference
and about the contributors to this
pamphlet can be found at:
http://radicaloa.co.uk/conferences/
ROA2
This pamphlet was made possible due
to generous funding from the arts
and humanities research studio, The
Post Office, a project of Coventry
University’s Centre for Postdigital
Cultures and due to the combined
efforts of authors, editors, designers
and printers.

Table of Contents

Introduction
Post Office Press
Page 4

The Horizon of The Publishable in/as
Open Access: From Poethics to Praxis
Kaja Marczewska
Page 6

Design by: Mihai Toma, Nick White
and Sean Worley
Printed by: Rope Press,
Birmingham

The Poethics of Openness
Janneke Adema
Page 16

Diffractive Publishing
Frances McDonald & Whitney Trettien
Page 26

Introduction

Kaja Marczewska tracks in her contribution OA’s development
from a radical and political project driven by experimental
impetus, into a constrained model, limiting publishing in the
service of the neoliberal university. Following Malik, she
argues that OA in its dominant top-down implementation is
determining the horizon of the publishable. Yet a horizon also
suggests conditions of possibility for experimentation and
innovation, which Marczewska locates in a potential OA ethos
of poethics and praxis, in a fusion of attitude and form.

This pamphlet explores ways in which to engage scholars to
further elaborate the poethics of their scholarship. Following
Joan Retallack, who has written extensively about the
responsibility that comes with formulating and performing a
poetics, which she has captured in her concept of poethics
(with an added h), this pamphlet examines what connects
the 'doing' of scholarship with the ethical components of
research. Here, in order to remain ethical we are not able to
determine in advance what being ethical would look like, yet, at
the same time, ethical decisions need to be made and are being
made as part of our publishing practices: where we publish
and with whom, in an open way or not, in what form and shape
and in which formats. Should we then consider the poethics
of scholarship as a poetics of/as change, or as Retallack calls
it, a poetics of the swerve (clinamen), which continuously
unsettles our familiar notions?
This pamphlet considers how, along with discussions about
the contents of our scholarship, and about the different
methodologies, theories and politics that we use to give
meaning and structure to our research, we should have similar
deliberations about the way we do research. This involves
paying more attention to the crafting of our own aesthetics
and poetics as scholars, including a focus on the medial forms,
the formats, and the graphic spaces in and through which we
communicate and perform scholarship (and the discourses
that surround these), as well as the structures and institutions
that shape and determine our scholarly practices.

4

Janneke Adema explores in her paper the relationship between
openness and experimentation in scholarly publishing, outlining
how open access in specific has enabled a reimagining of its
forms and practices. Whilst Adema emphasises that this
relationship is far from guaranteed, through the concept
of scholarly poethics she speculates on how we can forge a
connection between the doing of scholarship and its political,
ethical and aesthetical elements.
In the final contribution to this pamphlet Whitney Trettien and
Frances McDonald ask a pertinent question: ‘how can we build
scholarly infrastructures that foster diffractive reading and
writing?’. To address this question, they reflect on their own
experiences of editing an experimental digital zine: thresholds,
which brings the creative affordances of the split screen, of
the gutter, to scholarship. By transforming materially how
we publish, how we read and write together, McDonald and
Trettien explore the potential of thresholds as a model for
digital publishing more attuned to the ethics of entanglement.

Post Office Press

5

The Horizon of
The Publishable
in/as Open
Access: From
Poethics to
Praxis

maintain by contributing to it for the sake of career progression
and a regular salary. This transgression is unlikely to be noticed
by my publisher (who probably does not care anyway).1 It is a
small and safe act of resistance, but it gestures towards the
centrality of thinking about the poethics—the ethics and the
aesthetics—of any act of making work public that is so crucial
to all discussions of open access (OA) publishing.

Kaja
Marczewska

I am writing this piece having just uploaded a PDF of my recent
book to aaaarg; a book published by Bloomsbury as a hardback
academic monograph retailing at £86—and that is after the
generous 10% discount offered on the publisher’s website. The
book focuses on copying and reproduction as perhaps the most
prominent forms of contemporary cultural production. Given
this focus, it seemed fitting to make the material available via
this guerrilla library, to enable its different circulation and less
controlled iterations. My decision to publish with Bloomsbury
was a pragmatic one. As an early career academic working
within UK higher education, I had little choice but to publish
with an established press if I wanted to continue in the privileged
position I currently find myself in. As someone interested in
economies of cultural production, forms of publishing and
self-organisation, the decision to breach my contract with the
publisher offered a welcome and necessary respite from the
discomfort I felt every time I saw my unaffordable (and perhaps
as a result, unreadable) book for sale. It served as a way of acting
(po)ethically within the system of which I am part. It was both a
gesture of sharing, of making my book more widely available to
a community that might otherwise be unable to access it, and
a selfish act, enabling my ongoing existence within a system I

6

Kaja Marczewska

I open with this personal reflection because I see my participation
inside-outside of academic publishing as pertinent to thinking
about the nature of OA today. Since its inception, OA publishing
has rapidly transformed from a radical, disruptive project of
sharing, making public, and community building, into one that
under the guise of ‘openness’ and ‘access’ maintains the system
that limits the possibilities of both. That is, OA has moved away
from the politically motivated initiative that it once was, opening
up spaces for publishing experimentation, to instead become a
constrained and constraining model of publishing in the service
of the neoliberal university. With this transformation of OA also
come limitations on the forms of publication. The introduction of
the OA requirement as one of the key criteria of REF-ability was
one of the factors contributing to the loss of the experimental
impetus that once informed the drive towards the OA model.
My home institution, for example, requires its staff to deposit
all our REF-able publications in a commercial, Elsevier-owned
repository, as PDFs—even if they have been published in OA
journals on custom-built platforms. The death-by-PDF that
such institutionalised forms of OA bring about, inevitably limits
the potential for pushing the boundaries of form that working
in digital spaces makes possible.
While conventional academic publishers are driven by market
demands and the value of the academic book as a commodity in
their decisions as to what to publish, mainstream OA publishing
practices tend to be motivated by questions on how to publish
a REF-able output, i.e. for all the wrong reasons. This tension
between content and form, and a characteristic commitment
to the latter that publishing OA makes necessary, is the central
focus of my paper. As I will argue, this is perhaps the greatest
paradox of OA: that in its fixation on issues of openness, it is

The Horizon of The Publishable

7

increasingly open only to the kinds of publications that can be
effortlessly slotted into the next institutional REF submission.
But, by doing so, OA publishing as we have come to know it
introduces significant constraints on the forms of publication
possible in academic publishing. In this paper, I consider OA as
a limit to what can be published in academia today, or what I will
refer to here, after Rachel Malik, as a horizon of the publishable.
‘Publishing,’ writes Malik, ‘or rather the horizon of the
publishable, precedes and constitutes both what can be written
and read. […] the horizon of the publishable governs what is
thinkable to publish within a particular historical moment […]
the horizon denotes […] a boundary or limit’ (2015, 709, 72021). Malik suggests that a number of distinct horizons can be
identified and argues that the limits of all writing are based on
generic conventions, i.e. crime fiction, biography, or children’s
picture books, for example, are all delimited by a different
set of categories and practices—by a different horizon. Her
understanding of publishing foregrounds the multiplicity of
processes and relations between them as well as the role
of institutions: commercial, legal, educational, political, and
cultural. It is the conjunction of practices and their contexts
that always constitutes, according to Malik, various horizons
of the publishable. For Malik, then, there is no singular concept
of publishing and no single horizon but rather a multiplicity of
practices and a diversity of horizons.
Open access could be added to Malik’s list as another practice
defined by its unique horizon. Following Malik, it would be
very easy to identify what the horizon of OA might be—what
processes, practices, and institutions define and confine what
can be published OA. But I would like to suggest here that
thinking about OA in the context of Malik’s argument does more
than offer tools for thinking about the limits of OA. I suggest
that it invites a rethinking of the place of OA in publishing today
and, more broadly, of the changing nature of publishing in HE.
That is, I propose that today OA assumes the role of a horizon
in its own right; that it defines and delimits the possibilities of
what can be made public in academia. If seen as such, OA is more
than just one of the practices of publishing; it has become the

8

Kaja Marczewska

horizon of the publishable in academic publishing in the UK today.
The new horizon in academic publishing seems increasingly to
only allow certain accepted forms of OA (such as the PDF or
the postprint) which under the guise of openness, sharing and
access, replicate the familiar and problematic models of our
knowledge economy. The promise of OA as a response to these
fixed forms of publishing seems to have given way to a peculiar
openness that favours metrics and monitoring. Where OA was
originally imagined to shift the perception of the established
horizon, it has now become that very horizon.
Here I want to posit that we should understand poethics as a
commitment to the kind of publishing that recognises the agency
of the forms in which we distribute and circulate published
material and acknowledges that these are always, inevitably
ideological. In her notion of poethics, Joan Retallack (2003)
gestures towards a writing that in form and content questions
what language does and how it works—to ‘the what’ and ‘the
how’ of writing. Similarly, the project of imagining OA as a
poethics is an attempt at thinking about publishing that forces a
reconsideration of both. However, I suggest, that with an often
thoughtless and technodeterministic push towards ‘access’ and
‘openness’, ‘the what’ gets obscured at the cost of ‘the how.’ This
attitude manifests itself most prominently in the proliferation
of OA platforms, similar to Coventry University’s depository
mentioned earlier here, that fit the parameters of REF. But
platforms, as Nick Srnicek (2017) warns us, are problematic. In
their design and modes of operation, they hold out the promise
of freedom, openness, flexibility and entrepreneurial success,
while maintaining the proprietary regimes and modes of capital
accumulation that contribute to new forms of exploitation and
new monopolies. The kind of publishing that mainstream OA
has become (what Sarah Kember describes as a top-down,
policy-driven OA)2 is more akin to this platform capitalism than
a publishing model which evokes the philosophy of openness
and access. In a shift away from a diversity of forms of OA
towards standardised OA platforms, OA has become inherently
antithetical to the politics of OA publishing.

The Horizon of The Publishable

9

What follows, then, is that any work that takes advantage of its openness and circulation
in digital spaces to experiment with ‘the how’ of publishing, in the current knowledge
economy inevitably becomes the negative of publishable, i.e. the unpublishable. OA as
platform capitalism is openly hostile to OA’s poethical potential. In other words, the
REF-able version of OA takes little interest in openness and delimits what is at the
heart of the practice itself, i.e. what can be made open to the public (as a colleague
from one of the Russell Group universities tells me, this only includes three or fourstar rated publications in their case, with other works deemed not good enough to
be made available via the University’s website). To imagine OA as a poethical mode of
publishing is to envisage a process of publishing that pushes beyond the horizon set
by OA itself. It invites reading and writing of texts that might be typically thought of
as unreadable, unwriteable, and unpublishable.
The concept of the ‘horizon’ also interest Joan Retallack, who in Poethical Wager
(2003) explores the horizon as a way of thinking about the contemporary. Retallack
identifies two types of horizons: the pseudoserene horizon of time and the dynamic
coastline of historical poesis (14). Reading Retallack in the context of OA, I would
like to suggest that similarly two models of OA can be identified today: OA as a
pseudoserene horizon and OA as a cultural coastline. One is predictable, static, and
limiting, i.e. designed to satisfy the managerial class of the contemporary university;
the other works towards a poethics of OA, with all its unpredictability, complexity,
and openness. OA publishing which operates within the confines of the pseudoserene
horizon is representative of what happens when we become complacent in the way we
think about the work of publishing. Conversely, OA seen as a dynamic coastline–the
model that Radical Open Access (ROA) collective works to advance–is a space where
publishing is always in process and makes possible a rethinking of the experience of
publishing. Seen as such, ROA is an exposition of the forms of publishing that we
increasingly take for granted, and in doing so mirrors the ethos of poethics. The role
of ROA, then, is to highlight the importance of searching for new models of OA, if
OA is to enact its function as a swerve in attitudes towards knowledge production
and consumption.
But anything new is ugly, Retallack suggests, via Picasso: ‘This is always a by-product
of a truly experimental aesthetics, to move into unaestheticized territory. Definitions
of the beautiful are tied to previous forms’ (Retallack 2003, 28). OA, as it has evolved
in recent years, has not allowed the messiness of the ugly. It has not been messy enough
because it has been co-opted, too quickly and unquestionably, by the agendas of
the contemporary university. OA has become too ‘beautiful’ to enact its disruptive
potential.3 In its drive for legitimisation and recognition, the project of OA has been
motivated by the desire to make this form of publishing too immediately familiar, and

10

Kaja Marczewska

too willingly PDF-able. The consequences of this attitude are
significant. The constraints on the methods and forms of OA
publishing that the institutionalisation of OA have brought
about, inevitably limit the content that is published. As a result,
what is delivered openly to the public is the familiar and the
beautiful. The new, radical, and ugly remains out of sight; not
recognised as a formal REF-able publication, the new lies beyond
the horizon of the OA publication as we know it. In order to enact
a poethics of openness and access, OA requires a more complex
understanding of the notion of openness itself. To be truly ‘open’,
OA publishing need not make as its sole objective a commitment
to openness as a mode of making publications open for the
public, i.e. circulated without a paywall, but instead should also
be driven by an openness to ambiguity, experimentation, and ‘a
delight in complex possibility’ (Retallack 2003, 221) that the
dominant models of OA are unable to accommodate.
To accuse OA of fixing in place the horizon of academic
publishing is to suggest that ‘a certain poetics of responsibility’
(Retallack 2003, 3) seems to have been lost in the bigger
project of OA, responsibility to the community of writers and
readers, and responsibility to the project of publishing. OA as
a ‘poethical attitude’ (Retallack 2003, 3) rather than rampant
technodeterminism, need not be a project which we have to
conform to under the guidelines of the current REF, but can
rather be a practice we choose to engage and engage with,
under conditions that make the poethics of OA possible. What a
re-thinking of OA as a poethics offers, is a way of acknowledging
the need for publishing that models how we want to participate
in academia. Exploring OA as a horizon of academic publishing
is one possible way of addressing this challenge. Although by
nature limiting, the horizon is also, Malik suggests, ‘a condition
of possibility’ (721). The task of OA as poethics is predicated on
the potential of moving away from the horizon as a boundary or a
limit and towards the horizon as a possibility of experimentation
and innovation. I want to conclude with another proposition,
which gestures towards such rethinking of OA as a more open
iteration of the horizon.

The Horizon of The Publishable

11

I have referred to OA publishing as a practice a number of
times in this paper. A decision to use this term was a conscious
attempt at framing OA as praxis. A shift away from poiesis–or
making–and towards the discourse of praxis–action or doing–
has been shaping the debates in the visual arts for some time
now. Art seen as praxis emerges out of a desire for social life
shaped by collective, transformative action. Praxis is a means of
reformulating life and art into a new fusion of critical thought,
creative production, and political activity. This approach grows
out of Aristotle’s understanding of praxis as action which is
always valuable in itself, as opposed to poiesis, i.e. actions aimed
at making or creation. Aristotelean praxis is always implicitly
ethical–always informed by and informing decisions as to how to
live–and political, concerned with forms of living with others. My
understanding of OA as praxis here is informed by such thinking
about ethical action as absolutely necessary for OA to enact
its potential for experimentation and change.

process of producing OA publications, a never-ending flow of
new PDFs and platforms. Instead, open accessing is a mode
of being in academia through the project of publishing as an
ongoing intervention. OA as platform capitalism gives little
consideration to the bigger project of OA as praxis, and as a
result fails to acknowledge the significance of the relationship
between the form of OA, the content published OA, and the
political project that informs both. Approaching OA as praxis,
then, is a tool for reshaping what constitutes the work of
publishing. What a commitment to open accessing, as opposed
to open access, makes possible, is a collective work against OA
as a tool of the neoliberal university and for OA as a poethical
form of publication: a fusion of making and doing, of OA as an
attitude and OA as form. But for poethical OA to become a
possibility, OA as praxis needs to emerge first.

To think about OA as praxis is to invite a conceptual shift
away from making publications OA and towards ‘doing OA’
as a complete project. OA seen as such ceases to exist as yet
another platform and emerges as an attitude that has the
potential to translate into forms of publishing best suited to
communicate it. This is not to suggest that OA should move
away from its preoccupation with the form and medium of
publishing altogether–the emergence of the so called postmedium condition in the arts, the glorification of generalised
‘doing’, and more recently, the popularity of related forms of
‘entrepreneurship’, all have their own problems. Rather, this
move towards praxis is an attempt at drawing attention to a
necessary relationship between making and doing, forms and
attitudes, that seems to be lacking in a lot of OA publishing. OA
as praxis offers a way out of what seems to be the end game
of academic publishing today; it is an invitation to participate
collectively and ethically in the process of making public the
work of scholarship.
Doing OA–open accessing–implies a way of thinking about
what producing various forms of knowledge should stand for.
In other words, open accessing does not suggest a continuous

12

Kaja Marczewska

The Horizon of The Publishable

13

References

¹ For a discussion of the effects of similar
practices of academic book sharing
on publishers, see Janneke Adema,
“Scanners, Collectors and Aggregators. On
the ‘underground movement’ of (pirated)
theory text sharing,” Open Reflections, 20
September 2009, https://openreflections.
wordpress.com/2009/09/20/scannerscollectors-and-aggregators-on-the‘underground-movement’-of-piratedtheory-text-sharing/.

Adema, Janneke. 2009. “Scanners, Collectors and Aggregators. On the ‘underground
movement’ of (pirated) theory text sharing.” Open Reflections. Accessed 15 May
2018. https://openreflections.wordpress.com/2009/09/20/scanners-collectors-andaggregators-on-the-‘underground-movement’-of-pirated-theory-text-sharing/.
Adema, Janneke. 2014. “Embracing Messiness: Open access offers the chance to
creatively experiment with scholarly publishing.” LSE Impact Blog. Accessed 15
May 2018. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/11/18/embracingmessiness-adema-pdsc14/.
Kember, Sarah. 2014. “Opening Out from Open Access: Writing and Publishing in Response
to Neoliberalism.” Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology 4.
doi:10.7264/N31C1V51.
Malik, Rachel. 2017. “Horizons of the Publishable: Publishing in/as Literary Studies.” ELH 75
(3): 707-735.
Retallack, Joan. 2003. The Poethical Wager. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Srnicek, Nick. 2017. Platform Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press.

² see: Sarah Kember, “Opening Out from
Open Access: Writing and Publishing in
Response to Neoliberalism,” Ada: A Journal
of Gender, New Media, and Technology 4
(2014): doi:10.7264/N31C1V51.

³ see also: Janneke Adema, “Embracing
Messiness: Open access offers the
chance to creatively experiment with
scholarly publishing,” LSE Impact Blog,
18 November 2014, http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/
impactofsocialsciences/2014/11/18/
embracing-messiness-adema-pdsc14/.

14

Kaja Marczewska

The Horizon of The Publishable

15

The
Poethics
Of
Openness

I won’t imply here that openness is the sole or even main reason/motivator/
enabler behind any kind of reimagining in this context; openness has always been
part of a constellation of material-discursive factors—including most importantly
perhaps, the digital, in addition to various other socio-cultural elements—which
have together created (potential) conditions for change in publishing. Yet, within
this constellation I would like to explore how open access, applied and valued in
certain specific, e.g. radical open access, ways—where in other implementations it
has actually inhibited experimentation, but I will return to that later—has been an
instrumental condition for ethico-aesthetic experimentation to take place.

Janneke
Adema

Potential for Experimentation

Last year from the 23rd until the 29th of October the annual Open Access
Week took place, an international advocacy event focused on open access and
related topics. The theme of 2017’s Open Access week was ‘open in order to…’,
prompting participants to explore the concrete, tangible benefits of openness
for scholarly communication and inviting them to reflect on how openness can
make things possible. Behind this prompt, however, lies a wider discussion on
whether openness is a value that is an end in itself, that is intrinsically good, or
whether it predominantly has instrumental value as a means to achieve a certain
end. I will focus on the latter and will start from the presumption that openness
has no intrinsic value, it functions as a floating or empty signifier (Laclau 2005,
129–55; Adema 2014) with no ethics or politics of its own, only in relation to how it
is applied or positioned.1 It is therefore in discussions on the instrumental value of
openness that our politics and ethics in relation to openness come to the fore (for
example, do we value open in order to… ‘grow the commons’ or ‘increase return on
investments and contribute to economic growth’?). In this paper I want to explore
ways in which openness has contributed to and advanced a specific ‘end’: how has
it enabled experimentation with the material forms and relations that underlie and
structure scholarly publishing? Here, I am thinking of both the formats (e.g. print,
digital) we use to communicate our research, and the systems, roles, models and
practices that have evolved around them (e.g. notions of authorship, the book and
publication, publishing models). How has open access facilitated an exploration of
new practices, structures and institutions, questioning the system of academic
publishing as currently set up?

16

Janneke Adema

What is clear foremost, is that the open availability of research content has
been an important material condition for scholars and publishers to explore new
formats and new forms of interaction around publications. In order to remix and
re-use content, do large scale text and data-mining, experiment with open peer
review and emerging genres such as living books, wiki-publications, versionings and
multimodal adaptations, both the scholarly materials and platforms that lie at the
basis of these publishing gestures strongly benefit from being open. To enable new
forms of processual scholarship, communal authorship and public engagement with
texts online, open access is essential; it is no surprise therefore that many of the
ground-breaking experimental journals and projects in the HSS, such as Kairos,
Vectors and Inflexions, have been purposefully open access from the start.
Yet openness as a specific practice of publishing materials online has also influenced
how publishing itself is perceived. Making content openly available on blogs and
personal websites, or via institutional repositories and shadow libraries, has
enabled scholars to bypass legacy publishers, intermediaries and other traditional
gatekeepers, to publish their research and connect to other researchers in more
direct ways. This development has led to various reimaginings of the system of
scholarly publishing and the roles and structures that have traditionally buttressed
the publishing value chain in a print-based environment (which still predominantly
echoes Robert Darnton’s communication circuit, modelled on the 18th century
publishing history of Voltaire's Questions sur l'Encyclopédie (Darnton 1982)).
But next to this rethinking of the value chain, this more direct and open (self-)
publishing also enabled a proliferation of new publication forms, from blogposts to
podcasts and Twitter feeds.
Fuelled on by the open access movement, scholars, libraries and universities are
increasingly making use of open source platforms and software such as OJS to

The Poethics of Openness

17

take the process of publishing itself back into their own hands, setting up their
own formal publication outlets, from journals to presses and repositories. The open
access movement has played an important role in making a case against the high
profits sustaining the commercial publishing industry. This situation has created
serious access issues (e.g. the monograph crisis) due to the toxic combination
of market-driven publication decisions and increasingly depleted library funds,
affecting the availability of specialised and niche content (Fitzpatrick 2011; Hall
2008). This frustration in particular, next to the lack of uptake of open access
and multimodal publishing by the legacy presses, has motivated the rise of not-forprofit scholar- and library-led presses (Adema and Stone 2017). To that effect,
open access has stimulated a new ecosystem of publishing models and communities
to emerge.
Additionally, the iterative publishing of research-in-process, disseminating content
and eliciting community feedback during and as part of a project’s development,
has strengthened a vision of publishing in which it is perceived as an integral part of
the research process. The open science and notebook movements have simulated
this kind of processual publishing and helped imagine a different definition
of what publishing is and what purposes it fulfils. One of the more contentious
arguments I want to make here is that this potential to publish our research-inprogress has strengthened our agency as scholars with respect to how and when
we communicate our research. With that, our responsibility towards the specific
ways in which we produce it, from the formats (digital, multi-modal, processual), to
the material platforms and relations that support its production and dissemination,
is further extended. Yet, on the other hand, it has also highlighted the plurality of
material and discursive agencies involved in knowledge production, complicating
the centrality of liberal authorial agency. The closed and fixed codex-format, the
book as object, is what is being complicated and experimented with through preand post-publication feedback and interactions, from annotations in the margins
to open peer review and communal forms of knowledge production. The publication
as endpoint, as commodity, is what is being reconsidered here; but also our
author-function, when, through forms of open notebook science the roles of our
collaborators, of the communities involved in knowledge production, become even
more visible. I would like to end this section by highlighting the ways in which mainly
scholar-led projects within the open access landscape have played an important
role in carving out a different (ethical) framework for publishing too, one focused
on an ethics of care and communality, one in which publishing itself is perceived as
a form of care, acknowledging and supporting the various agencies involved in the
publishing process instead of being focused solely on its outcomes.

18

Janneke Adema

Impediment to Change
The above analysis of how openness and open access more
specifically has enabled experimentation, focuses mainly
on how it has the potential to do so. Yet there are similarly
many ways in which it has been inhibiting experimentation,
further strengthening existing publishing models and
established print-based formats. Think for example of how
most openly available scholarly publications are either
made available as PDFs or through Google Books limited
preview, both mimicking closed print formats online; of how
many open licences don’t allow for re-use and adaptations;
of how the open access movement has strategically been
more committed to gratis than to libre openness; of how
commercial publishers
are increasingly adopting open
access as just another profitable business model, retaining
and further exploiting existing relations instead of disrupting
them; of how new commercial intermediaries and gatekeepers
parasitical on open forms of communication are mining
and selling the data around our content to further their
own pockets—e.g. commercial SSRNs such as Academia.
edu and ResearchGate. In addition to all this, open access
can do very little to further experimentation if it is met by
a strong conservatism from scholars, their communities
and institutions, involving fears about the integrity of
scholarly content, and historical preferences for established
institutions and brands, and for the printed monograph and
codex format in assessment exercises—these are just a few
examples of how openness does not necessarily warrant
progressive change and can even effect further closures.
Openness itself does not guarantee experimentation, but
openness has and can be instrumentalised in such a way as
to enable experimenting to take place. It is here that I would
like to introduce a new concept to think and speculate with,
the concept of poethics. I use poethics in Derridean terms, as
a ‘nonself-identical’ concept (Derrida 1973), one that is both
constituted by and alters and adapts itself in intra-action
with the concepts I am connecting it to here: openness and
experimentation. I will posit that as a term poethics can

The Poethics of Openness

19

function in a connecting role as a bridging concept, outlining
the speculative relationship between the two. I borrowed the
concept of poethics (with an added h) from the poet, essayist,
and scholar Joan Retallack, where it has been further taken
on by the artist and critical racial and postcolonial studies
scholar Denise Ferreira da Silva; but in my exploration of
the term, I will also draw on the specific forms of feminist
poetics developed by literary theorist Terry Threadgold. I
will weave these concepts together and adapt them to start
speculating what a specific scholarly poethics might be. I
will argue in what follows that a scholarly poethics connects
the doing of scholarship, with both its political, ethical and
aesthetical elements. In this respect, I want to explore how
in our engagement as scholars with openness, a specific
scholarly poethics can arise, one that enables and creates
conditions for the continual reimagining and reperforming of
the forms and relations of knowledge production.
A Poethics of Scholarship
Poetics is commonly perceived as the theory of readymade textual and literary forms—it presumes structure and
fixed literary objects. Threadgold juxtaposes this theory of
poetics with the more dynamic concept of poiesis, the act of
making or performing in language, which, she argues, better
reflects and accommodates cultural and semiotic processes
and with that the writing process itself (Threadgold 1997, 3).
For Threadgold, feminist writings in particular have examined
this concept of poiesis, rather than poetics, of textuality by
focusing on the process of text creation and the multiple
identities and positions from which meaning is derived. This
is especially visible in forms of feminist rewriting, e.g. of
patriarchal knowledges, theories and narratives, which ‘reveal
their gaps and fissures and the binary logic which structures
them’ (Threadgold 1997, 16). A poetics of rewriting then goes
beyond a passive analysis of texts as autonomous artefacts,
where the engagement with and appraisal of a text is
actively performed, becoming performative, becoming itself
a poiesis, a making; the ‘analyst’ is embodied, becoming part
of the complex socio-cultural context of meaning-making

20

Janneke Adema

(Threadgold 1997, 85). Yet Threadgold emphasises that both
terms complement and denote each other, they are two sides
of the same coin; poetics forms the necessary static counterpoint to the dynamism of poiesis.
Joan Retallack moves beyond any opposition of poetics and
poiesis in her work, bringing them together in her concept of
poethics, which captures the responsibility that comes with
the formulating and performing of a poetics. This, Retallack
points out, always involves a wager, a staking of something
that matters on an uncertain outcome—what Mouffe and
Laclau have described as taking a decision in an undecideable
terrain (Mouffe 2013, 15). For Retallack a poethical attitude
thus necessarily comes with the ‘courage of the swerve’,
where, ‘swerves (like antiromantic modernisms, the civil rights
movement, feminism, postcolonialist critiques) are necessary
to dislodge us from reactionary allegiances and nostalgias’
(Retallack 2004, 3). In other words, they allow change to
take place in already determined situations. A poetics of the
swerve, of change, thus continuously unsettles our familiar
routes and notions; it is a poetics of conscious risk, of letting
go of control, of placing our inherited conceptions of ethics
and politics at risk, and of questioning them, experimenting
with them. For Retallack taking such a wager as a writer or
an artist, is necessary to connect our aesthetic registers to
the ‘character of our time’, acknowledging the complexities
and changing qualities of life and the world. Retallack initially
coined the term poethics to characterise John Cage’s
aesthetic framework, seeing it as focused on ‘making art
that models how we want to live’ (Retallack 2004, 44). The
principle of poethics then implies a practice in which ethics
and aesthetics can come together to reflect upon and
perform life’s changing experiences, whilst insisting upon our
responsibility (in interaction with the world) to guide this
change the best way we can, and to keep it in motion.
Denise Ferreira da Silva takes the concept of poethics
further to consider a new kind of speculative thinking—a
black feminist poethics—which rejects the linear and rational,
one-dimensional thought that characterises Western

The Poethics of Openness

21

European philosophy and theory in favour of a fractal or fourdimensional thinking, which better captures the complexity
of our world. Complicating linear conceptions of history and
memory as being reductive, Ferreira da Silva emphasises
how they are active elements, actively performing our past,
present and future. As such, she points out how slavery and
colonialism, often misconstrued in linear thinking as bygone
remnants of our past, are actively performed in and through
our present, grounded in that past, a past foundational to
our consciousness. Using fractal thinking as a poethical tool,
Ferreira da Silva hopes to break through the formalisations
of linear thought, by mapping blackness, and modes of
colonialism and racial violence not only on time, but on various
forms of space and place, exploring them explicitly from a
four-dimensional perspective (Bradley 2016). As such, she
explains, poethical thinking, ‘deployed as a creative (fractal)
imaging to address colonial and racial subjugation, aims to
interrupt the repetition characteristic of fractal patterns’
(Ferreira da Silva 2016) and refuses ‘to reduce what exists—
anyone and everything—to the register of the object, the
other, and the commodity’ (Ferreira da Silva 2014).

(such as the closed print-based book, single authorship, linear thought, copyright,
exploitative publishing relationships) or succumb to the closures that its own
implementation (e.g. through commercial adaptations) and institutionalisation (e.g.
as part of top-down policy mandates) of necessity also implies and brings with it.
It involves an awareness that publishing in an open way directly impacts on what
research is, what authorship is, and with that what publishing is. It asks us to take
responsibility for how we engage with open access, to take a position in towards
it—towards publishing more broadly—and towards the goals we want it to serve
(which I and others have done through the concept and project of radical open
access, for example). Through open publishing we can take in a critical position,
and we can explore new formats, practices and institutions, we just have to risk it.

These three different but complementary perspectives
from the point of view of literary scholarship and practice,
albeit themselves specific and contextual, map well onto
what I would perceive a ‘scholarly poethics’ to be: a form
of doing scholarship that pays specific attention to the
relation between context and content, ethics and aesthetics;
between the methods and theories informing our scholarship
and the media formats and graphic spaces we communicate
through. It involves scholars taking responsibility for the
practices and systems they are part of and often uncritically
repeat, but also for the potential they have to perform them
differently; to take risks, to take a wager on exploring other
communication forms and practices, or on a thinking that
breaks through formalisations of thought. Especially if as part
of our intra-actions with the world and today’s society we
can better reflect and perform its complexities. A scholarly
poethics, conceptualised as such, would include forms of
openness that do not simply repeat either established forms

22

Janneke Adema

The Poethics of Openness

23

References

This doesn’t mean that as part of
discussions on openness and open access,
openness has not often been perceived as
an intrinsic good, something we want to
achieve exactly because it is perceived as
an a priori good in itself, an ideal to strife
for in opposition to closedness (Tkacz
2014). A variant of this also exists, where
openness is simply perceived as ‘good’
because it opens up access to information,
without further exploring or considering why
this is necessarily a good thing, or simply
assuming that other benefits and change
will derive from there, at the moment
universal access is achieved (Harnad 2012).
1

24

Adema, Janneke. 2014. “Open Access”. In Critical Keywords for the Digital Humanities.
Lueneburg: Centre for Digital Cultures (CDC).
Adema, Janneke, and Graham Stone. 2017. “Changing Publishing Ecologies: A Landscape
Study of New University Presses and Academic-Led Publishing”. London: Jisc. http://
repository.jisc.ac.uk/6666/.
Bradley, Rizvana. 2016. “Poethics of the Open Boat (In Response to Denise Ferreira Da
Silva)”. ACCeSsions, no. 2.
Darnton, Robert. 1982. “What Is the History of Books?” Daedalus 111 (3): 65–83.
Derrida, Jacques. 1973. Speech and Phenomena, and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of
Signs. Northwestern University Press.
Ferreira da Silva, Denise. 2014. “Toward a Black Feminist Poethics”. The Black Scholar 44
(2): 81–97. https://doi.org/10.1080/00064246.2014.11413690.
———. 2016. ‘Fractal Thinking’. ACCeSsions, no. 2.
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. 2011. Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future
of the Academy. NYU Press.
Hall, Gary. 2008. Digitize This Book! The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open
Access Now. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Harnad, Stevan. 2012. “Open Access: Gratis and Libre”. Open Access Archivangelism
(blog). 3 May 2012. http://openaccess.eprints.org/index.php?/archives/885-OpenAccess-Gratis-and-Libre.html.
Laclau, Ernesto. 2005. On Populist Reason. Verso.
McPherson, Tara. 2010. “Scaling Vectors: Thoughts on the Future of Scholarly
Communication”. Journal of Electronic Publishing 13 (2). http://dx.doi.org/
10.3998/3336451.0013.208.
Mouffe, Chantal. 2013. Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically. London; New York: Verso
Books.
Retallack, Joan. 2004. The Poethical Wager. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Threadgold, Terry. 1997. Feminist Poetics Poiesis, Performance, Histories. London; New
York: Routledge.
Tkacz, Nathaniel. 2014. Wikipedia and the Politics of Openness. Chicago; London:
University of Chicago Press.

Janneke Adema

The Poethics of Openness

25

entangled with it—a verb rooted in the Old Norse word for
seaweed, thongull, that undulating biomass that ensnares
and is ensnared by oars and fishing nets; by hydrophones and
deep-sea internet cables; by coral and other forms of marine
life. Adapting another fragment from Haraway, we ask: ‘What
forms of life survive and flourish in these dense, imploded
zones?’ (Haraway 1994, 62).

Diffractive
Publishing
Frances
McDonald
&
Whitney
Trettien

Haraway’s ‘regenerative project’—which now extends far beyond her early work—
has been to craft a critical consciousness based on a different optical metaphor:
diffraction. In physics, a diffraction pattern is the bending of waves, especially
light and sound waves, around obstacles and through apertures. It is, Haraway
writes, ‘the production of difference patterns in the world, not just of the same
reflected—displaced—elsewhere’ (268). If reflective reading forever inscribes the
reader’s identity onto whatever text she touches, then diffractive reading sees
the intimate touching of text and reader as a contingent, dynamic unfolding of
mutually transformative affinities. To engage diffractively with an idea is to become

This question remains not only relevant but is today
increasingly urgent. When Haraway began writing about
diffraction in the late 80s and early 90s, the web was nascent;
it would be several years before Mozilla would launch its
Mosaic browser, bringing the full throttle of connectivity to
a broader public. Today, we wash in the wake of the changes
brought by these new technologies, swirling in the morass of
social media, email, Amazon, e-books, and pirated PDF libraries
that constitute our current textual ecology. Much lies at
stake in how we imagine and practise the work of swimming
through these changing tides. For Karen Barad, a friend
and colleague of Haraway’s and an advocate of diffractive
scholarship, reading and writing are ‘ethical practices’ that
must be reimagined according to an ‘ethics not of externality
but rather entanglement’ (Barad 2012). To Barad’s list of
reading and writing we here add publishing. If entanglement
has an ethics, then it behooves us as scholars to not just
describe and debate it but to transform materially the ways
we see ourselves as reading and writing together. Adding our
voices to a rising chorus that includes Janneke Adema (2015),
Kathleen Fitzpatrick (2018), Eileen Joy (2017), Sarah Kember
(2016), Tara McPherson (2018), Gary Hall (2016), Iris van der
Tuin (2014), and others working at the intersection of digital
humanities, scholarly publishing, and feminist methodologies,
we ask: how can we build scholarly infrastructures that foster
diffractive reading and writing? What kind of publishing
model might be best suited to expressing and emboldening
diffractive practices? These are big questions that must be
collectively addressed; in this short piece, we offer our own
experiences designing thresholds, an experimental digital zine,
as one potential model for digital publishing that is attuned to
the ethics of entanglement.

26

Diffractive Publishing

Over a quarter century ago, Donna Haraway observed that the grounding metaphor
for humanistic inquiry is reflection. We describe the process of interpretation as
reflecting upon an object. To learn from a text, we ask students to write reflection
pieces, which encourages them to paper their own experiences over a text’s dense
weave. For Haraway, reflection is a troubling trope for critical study because it
‘displaces the same elsewhere’—that is, it conceives of reading and writing as
exercises in self-actualisation, with the text serving as a mirrored surface upon
which the scholar might see her own reflection cast back at her, mise en abyme.
‘Reflexivity has been much recommended as a critical practice,’ she writes, ‘but my
suspicion is that reflexivity, like reflection, only displaces the same elsewhere, setting
up the worries about copy and original and the search for the authentic and really
real’ (Haraway 1997, 16).

Frances McDonald & Whitney Trettien

27

⁕ ⁕ ⁕

handwritten sticky notes, highlighted document pages, and
grainy photographs rub against one another, forming dense and shifting
thickets. the blank spaces between once-distinct districts become cluttered and
close. geographically distant realms ache to converge. the bookcase furiously
semaphores toward the far corner of the room. thin lines of coloured paper
arrive to splay across sections. the wall bursts at every seam.

Whether it be real or virtual, every research project has its own ‘wall’: a ‘dense,
imploded zone’ that is populated by the ideas, images, scenes, and sentences
that ‘stick’ to us, to use Lara Farina’s evocative phrase (2014, 33). They are the
‘encounters’ that Gilles Deleuze describes as the impetus toward work, the things
that ‘strike’ us, as Walter Benjamin puts it, like a hammer to unknown inner chords.
Although instrumental to every humanities project, this entangled web of texts and
ideas has a brutally short lifespan. The writer strives to reassert control by whittling
down its massy excesses; indeed, training to be a scholar in the humanities is in large
part learning to compress and contain the wall’s licentious sprawl. We shorten our
focus to a single period, place, or author, excise those fragments that fall outside
the increasingly narrow range of our expertise, and briskly sever any loose ends that
refuse to be tied. These regulatory measures help align our work with the temporal,
geographic, and aesthetic boundaries of our disciplinary arbiters: the journals and
university presses that publish our work, the departments that hire and tenure us.
In an increasingly tight academic marketplace, where the qualified scholars, articles,
and projects far outnumber the available positions, deviation from the standard
model can seem like risky business indeed.

of such distinguished critics as Judith Butler, Homi Bhabha,
and Fredric Jameson for their long-winded impenetrability.
Unlike its prizewinning paragraphs, the Contest’s message
was clear: the opaque abstractions that clogged the arteries
of academic writing were no longer to be tolerated.
The academy’s stylistic strip-down has served to puncture
the unseemly bloat that had disfigured its prose. But its
sweeping injunction against incomprehensibility bears with
it other casualties. As we slim and trim our texts, cutting
any tangents that distract from the argument’s main thrust,
we unwittingly excise writing’s other gaits—those twists,
roils, and scintillating leaps that Eric Hayot, in his recent
rejoinder to academic style guides, so beautifully describes
as ‘gyrations in prose’ (2014, 58). For Hayot, these stylistic
excesses occur when an author’s passion for her subject
becomes so overwhelming that it can no longer be expressed
plainly. The kinetic energy of these gyrations recalls the
dynamism of the wall; one may glimpse its digressiveness in the
meandering aside, its piecemeal architecture in the sentence
fragment, or its vaulting span in the photo quote. These
snags in intelligibility are not evidence of an elitist desire to
exclude, but are precisely the moments in which the decorous
surface of a text cracks open to offer a glimpse of the tangled
expanses beneath. To experience them as such, the reader
must sacrifice her grip on a text’s argument and allow herself
to be swept up in the muddy momentum of its dance. Caught
amidst a piece’s movements, the reader trades intellectual
insight for precarious intimacy, the ungraspable streaming of
one into another.

The institutional imperatives of compression and containment not only dictate the
structural parameters of a work—its scope and trajectory—but the very texture of
our writing. In a bid to render academic texts more comprehensible to their readers,
modern style guides advocate plain prose. Leanness, they remind us, is legibility. This
aversion to ornament was part of a larger mutiny against the scourge of obfuscation
that plagued the humanities in the latter half of the twentieth century. Between
1995 and 1998, the journal Philosophy and Literature ran a Bad Writing Contest
that took this turgid academic prose as its target, and cheerfully skewered the work

By polishing over these openings under the edict of legibility,
plain prose breeds a restrictive form of plain reading, in which
the reader’s role is to digest discrete parcels of information,
rather than move and be moved along with the rollicking
contours of a work. At stake in advocating for a plurality of
readerly and writerly practices is an ethics of criticism. The
institutional apparatuses that shape our critical practices
instruct us to erase all traces of the serendipitous gyrations
that constitute our writing and reading, and erect in their place

28

Diffractive Publishing

Frances McDonald & Whitney Trettien

29

a set of boundaries that keep our work in check. Yet our habits
of critical inquiry are irrefutably subjective and collaborative.
In an effort to move toward such a methodology, we might ask:
What forms of scholarship and knowledge become possible
when we reconceive of the spaces between readers, writers,
and texts as thresholds rather than boundaries, that is, as
contiguous zones of entanglement? How would our critical
apparatus mutate if we ascribed value to the shifting sprawl
of the wall and make public the diffractive processes that
constitute our writing and reading practices?
To put these questions into action, we have created thresholds
(http://openthresholds.org). We solicit work that a traditional
academic journal may deem unfinished, unseemly, or otherwise
unbound, but which discovers precisely in its unboundedness
new and oblique perspectives on art, culture, history, and
philosophy. Along with her piece, the author also submits
the fragments that provoked and surreptitiously steered her
work. We the editors then collaborate closely with the author
to custom-design these pieces for the platform’s split screen
architecture. The result is a more open-ended, processoriented webtext that blooms from, but never fully leaves, the
provocative juxtapositions of the author’s wall.
The split screen design aligns thresholds with a long history
of media that splits content and divides the gaze. In film, the
split screen has long been used to splice together scenes that
are temporally or spatially discontinuous. This divided frame
disrupts the illusion that the camera provides a direct feed of
information and so reveals film to be an authored and infinitely
interpretable object, each scene refracted through others.
The split screen developed under a different name in HTML:
the frame element. Now considered a contrivance due to its
overuse in the late 90s, Netscape Navigator’s development
of the frameset nonetheless marked a major development in
the history of the web. For the first time, designers could load
multiple documents in a single visual field, each with their own
independent actions and scrolling.

30

Frances McDonald & Whitney Trettien

Of course, both the cinematic split screen and the HTML
frameset gesture towards a much older material threshold:
the gutter that divides the pages of the codex. Since most of
its content is presented and read linearly, we rarely consider
the book as a split form. However, many writers and poets have
played with the gutter as a signifying space. In Un coup de dés,
a late nineteenth-century poem that inspired much continental
theory and philosophy in the latter half of the twentieth
century, Stéphane Mallarmé famously uses each two-page
spread to rhetorical effect, jumping and twirling the reader’s
eye around and across the gutter. Blaise Cendrars and Sonia
Delaunay in their self-published avant-garde artist’s book La
Prose du Transsiberien (1913) similarly create a ‘simultaneous’
aesthetic that pairs image and text through an accordion
fold. These early instances have more recent cousins in the
textile art of Eve Sedgwick, the extraordinary visual poetry
of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, and the work of artists like Fred
Hagstrom and Heather Weston, whose multidimensional books
spur new ways of looking at and thinking about texts.
Drawing inspiration from these exemplars, thresholds brings
the creative affordances of the split screen to the web, and
to scholarship. Think of it as an artist’s browser that hearkens
back to the early web; or imagine in its recto/verso design a
speculative future for the post-digital book. Here, the eye
not only flows along (with) the split screen’s vertical scroll,
but also cuts distinctive lateral lines between each piece as
the reader bends left and right through an issue, one halfscreen at a time. How the reader decides to characterize each
threshold—and how the writer and editors collaboratively
design it—determines the interpretive freight its traversal
can bear. In their poem ‘Extraneous,’ published in the first
issue, Charles Bernstein and Ted Greenwald treat it as a lens
through which their collaboratively authored text passes,
darkly. What emerges on the other side is an echo of the
original, where language, newly daubed in hot swaths of
colour, takes on the acoustic materiality of a riotous chorus. In
‘Gesture of Photographing,’ another collaboratively-authored
piece, Carla Nappi and Dominic Pettman use the threshold to
diffract the work of Vilem Flusser. Each sink into his words on

Diffractive Publishing

31

photography and emerge having penned a short creative work
that responds to yet pushes away from his ideas.
As the reader navigates horizontally through an issue,
twisting and bumping from theory to fiction to image to sound,
thresholds invites her to engage with reading and writing as
a way of making waves of difference in the world. That is, the
platform does not divide each contribution taxonomically
but rather produces an entangled line of juxtapositions and
ripples, producing what Haraway calls ‘worldly interference
patterns’ (Haraway 1994, 60). There is a place, thresholds
implicitly argues, for the fragmentary in our collecting and
collective practices; for opacity and disorientation; for the
wall’s sprawl within the more regimented systems that order
our work.
To reach this place, criticism might begin at the threshold.
The threshold is the zone of entanglement that lies betwixt
and between writing and reading, text and reader, and
between texts themselves. It is restless and unruly, its
dimensions under perpetual renegotiation. To begin here
requires that we acknowledge that criticism does not rest on
solid ground; it too is a restless and unruly set of practices
given to proliferation and digression. To begin here is to enter
into a set of generative traversals that forge fragments into
new relations that in turn push against the given limits of our
inherited architectures of knowledge. To begin here is to
relinquish the fantasy that a text or texts may ever be fully,
finally known, and reconceive of our work as a series of partial
engagements and affective encounters that participate in
texts’ constant remaking.

32

Frances McDonald & Whitney Trettien

References
Adema, Janneke. 2015. “Cutting Scholarship Together/Apart: Rethinking the Political
Economy of Scholarly Book Publishing.” In The Routledge Companion to Remix
Studies, ed. By Eduardo Navas, Owen Gallagher, and xtine burrough. London:
Routledge.
Barad, Karen. 2012. “Matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers”:
Interview with Karen Barad. In New Materialism: Interviews and Cartographies, ed. by
Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press.
Haraway, Donna. 1994. “A Game of Cat's Cradle: Science Studies, Feminist Theory, Cultural
Studies.” Configurations 2.1: 59-71.
Farina, Lara. 2014. “Sticking Together.” In Burn After Reading/The Future We Want, ed. by
Jeffrey J. Cohen, Eileen A. Joy, and Myra Seaman. Brooklyn: Punctum Books:
31-8.
Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. 2018. Generous Thinking. In-progress manuscript posted online at:
https://generousthinking.hcommons.org/.
Hall, Gary. 2016. Pirate Philosophy: For a Digital Posthumanities. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Haraway, Donna. 1997. Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan_Meets_
OncoMouse: Feminism and Technoscience. London: Routledge.
Hayot, Eric. 2014. "Academic Writing, I Love You. Really, I Do." Critical Inquiry 41, no. 1
(2014): 53-77.
Joy, Eileen. 2017. “Here Be Monsters: A Punctum Publishing Primer.” Posted online: https://
punctumbooks.com/blog/here-be-monsters-a-punctum-publishing-primer/.
Kember, Sarah. 2016. “At Risk? The Humanities and the Future of Academic Publishing,”
Journal of Electronic Publishing 19.2 (Fall). Online: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/
jep/3336451.0019.210?view=text;rgn=main.
McPherson, Tara. 2018. Feminist in a Software Lab: Difference + Design. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
van der Tuin, Iris. 2014. “Diffraction as a Methodology for Feminist Onto-Epistemology: On
Encountering Chantal Chawaf and Posthuman Interpellation,” Parallax 20:3: 231-244.

Diffractive Publishing

33

34

The
Poethics of
Scholarship


 

Display 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000 ALL characters around the word.