Open Access Week special edition #1: interview with Dr. Samuel Moore, co-organiser of the Radical Open Access collective

This year, we are celebrating Open Access Week by introducing fair and scholar-led Open Access publishing initiatives to the DARIAH communities. These endeavors inspire us to re-imagine the relationship between publishing, humanities disciplines and the university and scholars’ own involvement and control over publishing.

In the first episode, Dr. Samuel Moore, co-organizer of the Radical Open Access collective shares his views on which flavors of Open Access works best for arts and humanities research. As always, you are more than welcome to leave your questions or share your reflections in comments or tweets.

Image credit: Dr. Samuel Moore.

Hi Sam, and thanks for joining us here! Could you start off by letting us know a little bit about your background? What brought you to humanities research and what are you working on now?

Thanks for the invitation! I suppose I have taken a slightly strange route to academia in that I studied continental philosophy as an undergraduate, literature at MA level and then a PhD in digital humanities (and I’m now a lecturer in a DH department at King’s College London). All my postgraduate study was undertaken part-time and so I am a strong advocate of non-standard and lifelong approaches to learning. I also have a background in publishing and it was my first job in publishing (at the Public Library of Science) that introduced me to the concept of open access. My research interests essentially unite all these disparate elements into one slightly weird agenda that focuses on practical and theoretical issues related to open access and digital commons from a critical-theoretical standpoint.

This background means that my work doesn’t really fit anywhere and is quite interdisciplinary. I tend to describe what I’m doing as critical information studies, although I’m not sure that critical info studies researchers would agree that I belong in their camp! Right now, I’m focusing on ideas of governance around scholarly communication, looking specifically at the various forms of governance that would be appropriate for our interactions with the publishing industry and for the future of infrastructural design. This research seeks to apply the rich and diverse literature on the commons (as a thing, a process and a form of subjectivity) to a range of questions on the futures of publishing.

How, for example, can we as scholars collectively own and manage the data generated by our interactions on commercial platforms, what strategies can we deploy to ensure scholarly infrastructures are designed for ethical (rather than extractive) purposes, and how can the university reorient its relationship to publishing to promote more desirable research cultures?

How, for example, can we as scholars collectively own and manage the data generated by our interactions on commercial platforms, what strategies can we deploy to ensure scholarly infrastructures are designed for ethical (rather than extractive) purposes, and how can the university reorient its relationship to publishing to promote more desirable research cultures? I am actually in the process of putting together a research network and project on these kinds of questions, tentatively titled Governing the Scholarly Commons.

  • Can you name us people or communities who were especially influential on your way of becoming a(n open) humanities scholar? 

I have been very fortunate to have a number of friends and mentors working on questions of open access. I am continually inspired by the work of my collaborator Janneke Adema who is doing such exciting work on experimental book publishing. Janneke (along with her colleague Gary Hall) were instrumental in my PhD research, particularly for helping me to understand the importance of responsible ethical decisions in humanities research and publishing. This is to say that ethics is not something that is predetermined or given to us in advance; rather, a responsible and ethical approach to publishing requires us to make a decision – to intervene in the world as it exists. This is all very ‘performative’ (which I recognize is somewhat unfashionable in the humanities right now) but I think it has serious and practical implications for how humanities researchers approach their work. It is very easy to navel-gaze in the humanities and to just resort to critique rather than argue for anything positive, but the world requires us to intervene it.

This is why, in my corner of scholarship, I am influenced by friends and researchers (Janneke and  Gary, but also Martin Eve, Mercedes Bunz, Eileen Joy and Cameron Neylon) who do attempt these interventions either in the policy space, or through publishing projects or through a serious commitment to public scholarship. The point is to be critical but to not let critique stop you from experimenting and intervening in the world you are critiquing. This might mean strategically playing the game of the neoliberal university when needed in order to afford the space for experimentation in other areas; it’s all about decisions in specific situations.

  • Scholarly publishing and scholarship are two strongly connected fields of expertise in your professional life.  As a lecturer in Digital Media and Communication at King’s College London, you are also teaching digital publishing. What are the most important things every humanities scholar should know about publishing these days?

I am an advocate of scholar-led publishing, which is to simply say publishing that is led and managed entirely by working scholars (as the presses in the Radical Open Access Collective demonstrate).

I think there is something valuable in scholars learning the technical and practical skills to publish their work, not just because it means that publishing is then answerable to the academy but also because scholar-led publishers explore the kinds of experimental practices that many forms of commercial publishing currently prevent.

I think there is something valuable in scholars learning the technical and practical skills to publish their work, not just because it means that publishing is then answerable to the academy but also because scholar-led publishers explore the kinds of experimental practices that many forms of commercial publishing currently prevent. But I also recognise that publishing requires specialised labour that should be valued.

But I also recognise that publishing requires specialised labour that should be valued. This is not to say that working academics cannot learn the skills to publish, as many of them have done in a range of interesting ways, but that any move to open access should not cheapen or undervalue the labour involved in research communication (if anything, it should highlight the need for greater funding for such efforts). Although scholar-led publishing can point to something new and exciting, I am not calling for everything to be entirely managed by working scholars, which would be impractical to say the least! Non-scholar-led forms of publishing are important and could certainly learn a great deal from the motivations and practices of scholar-led publishers (and vice versa). I only wish there were a more collaborative approach to knowledge-sharing between all kinds of publishers – the competitive mindset is very different to overturn.

  • In the last couple of years, Open Access entered the mainstream in Europe. How do you see its development and how it works for arts and humanities research?

I must admit it has been strange to be a student of open access during this time of change. When I started my PhD, the policy landscape was a lot less developed and there were far fewer national mandates for OA and the average scholar had probably never even heard of open access publishing. In the UK, this has definitely changed due to the governmental policies and all researchers in UK universities understand their obligations, though this may only associate OA with the much-hated Research Excellence Framework. I have only worked as a full-time lecturer for a short time and I’m amazed at how frequently I’m being reminded about how my research needs to be OA for the REF. However, with this said, I am not convinced that requiring researchers to make their articles freely available is the best way of getting them to engage with the broader reasons for openness.

But I am conflicted about initiatives like Plan S that seek to mandate open access in quite a homogenising way, especially as one of the main benefits of OA is that it can promote a heterogeneous range of practices.

Of course, the popularity of OA has its upsides, such as the funding that the ScholarLed consortium received from UKRI, the success of Open Library of Humanities, and the general sense that publishing is moving in a more open direction. But I am conflicted about initiatives like Plan S that seek to mandate open access in quite a homogenising way, especially as one of the main benefits of OA is that it can promote a heterogeneous range of practices. And though I quite like its green component, Plan S is ultimately pretty impotent against the marketisation of publishing and the prestige economy that dictates how scholars need publish in certain places. At first, Plan S looked like it might have some teeth to intervene in the publishing market through APC caps and outright bans on hybrid open access. Yet these conditions have been watered down significantly and we have been left with a general call for a ‘transparent’ market, whatever that means…

For humanities researchers specifically, I think open access is best approached not as a solution to all the ills of publishing but as something that can be practiced in variety of ways with different aims in mind. Monograph publishing, for example, is a massive opportunity in this space. Academic books are already aimed at a more general audience than articles and so there is a real potential in OA for monographs to popularise humanities research. I am currently in the process of converting my thesis into an open access book and this is one of the ways in which I feel open access actually benefits the humanities more the sciences. Nonetheless, it is highly unlikely that there will be a wholesale transition to open access books anytime soon, and so this area remains an excellent site of experimentation and possibility.

Image source: RadicalOA.
  • You are a great supporter of scholar-led Open Access through the Radical Open Access Collective. Can you tell us a bit about this initiative? What does radical and collective stands for? 

Yes, the ROAC is a global community of not-for-profit presses, journals and other open access projects that are all managed by academics. It was formed back in 2015 and has now grown to almost 60 members. The collective part of it emphasises a loose collaboration between members. We are entirely horizontal and informal – to the extent that we currently have no formal leadership – and are simply interested in exploring new forms of organisation for publishing based on a philosophy of mutual reliance (instead of competition). I personally see my work with the ROAC as attempting to bring people together who have a lot to learn from one another. In doing this, the ROAC provides a unified voice in favour of scholar-led forms of publishing. It allows us to promote one another as partners and to welcome new projects to the fold.

We are radical in the sense that we are trying to promote an alternative to marketized and Westernized understandings of open access that dominate much of the publishing and policy landscape. Although we are not wholly unified by our motivations and practices, Janneke and I have theorised the philosophy of the ROAC as promoting experimentation, global knowledge cultures, resistance to commercialisation, and an ethic of care for one another. In particular, the presence of many publishing projects from the Global South is something that I am proud of but also feel we need to do a lot more to support. We surveyed our members recently and there was a definite sense that our friends from outside North America and Europe felt on the periphery of much of the open access movement. I would really like the ROAC to be a space that foregrounds the excellent work of initiatives such as AmeliCA, Ariadna Ediciones, African Minds and Éditions Sciences et Bien Commun (among many others), as equals and partners.

Some of the latest publications of the member publishers who form the collective. Image source: RadicalOA.
  • How can the DARIAH communities interact with Radical OA, what’s in it for them? 

The Radical Open Access Collective is a very welcoming bunch of people from across the globe and I would strongly encourage the various DARIAH communities to browse our member presses and journals and submit their work to us. Join the discussion on our listserv or learn more about the weird and wonderful world of radical open access. We want to make the ROAC a mutually supportive community that collaborates with other member organisations and would love to welcome DARIAH members in this space!

This means that publishing is not a zero-sum game and can be a diverse practice undertaken in the service of a range of different aims and values.

For Radical OA more generally, I would simply say that there is much to be gained from questioning your publishing practices and not simply doing what you think is required from you. This means that publishing is not a zero-sum game and can be a diverse practice undertaken in the service of a range of different aims and values. For example, I still have to publish in certain conservative ways for my career and I would really prefer not to have to do so. I just see this as one small aspect of my approach to publishing that balances my status as a precariously-employed researcher with my desire to see a diverse, caring and ethical publishing landscape that is free of paywalls.

Thank you for your time, Sam! It has been great to learn from your insight and experience!

Thanks for listening to me prattle on about open access!


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2 Responses

  1. 25/10/2019

    […] To read the first episode, click here. […]

  2. 27/10/2019

    […] Sam Moore, in an intervierw on DARIAH Open: […]

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