Open Access and the “Cultural Economy”

There’s an interesting article that’s identified in an item in “The Brooks Blog”, February 02, 2007.

The article is entitled “The Idea of the Law Review: Scholarship, Prestige, and Open Access“, by Michael J. Madison. The concepts of an “economy of prestige” and a “cultural economy” are considered in relation to the open access movement. Excerpts:

[On page 27 of 28]: “Does the economy of prestige theory have anything to say about the one scholarly community that seems to have whole-heartedly embraced open access principles for its scholarship, which is physics?“.

[On the same page]: “Open access flourishes for them [physicists] because they know that their brass ring isn’t tenure and a spot at the university that exempts them from representing real clients with real problems and delivering real results. Their brass ring is the Grand Unified Theory of Everything.”

[Page 28/28]: “Making open access work in any context requires understanding a cultural economy. If open access doesn’t challenge that economy, the two can co-exist, side-by-side. That’s the model that I see in physics“.

[On the same page]: “Open access tools and other resources must be designed so that they get taken up in the existing economic framework.”

I agree. It’s increasingly becoming clear, that “making open access work in any context” does indeed require “understanding a cultural economy“.

From this perspective, one needs to understand the various factors that influenced the early adoption of a “preprint culture” by physicists (and, especially, high energy physicists), and led subsequently to the rapid acceptance of the arXiv server. See, for example, Till J. E., “Predecessors of preprint servers” (Learned Publishing 2001; 14(1): 7-13). A version in HTML is openly accessible.

A relevant quotation from the article:

Odlyzko has suggested that the rapid acceptance of Ginsparg’s preprint server was a case of simple substitution: ‘His research community in high energy theoretical physics had, during the 1980s, developed a culture of massive preprint distribution’.[ref 13]”.

Odlyzko’s “substitution hypothesis” is based on the observation that a “preprint culture” was already deeply embedded in the “cultural economy” of high-energy physics.

For reasons described in the article in Learned Publishing, a preprint culture failed to become embedded in the cultural economy of the biomedical and health sciences, even though there were early attempts, in the 1960s, to establish such a culture.

There’s another important cultural issue that merits consideration. It’s one that affects a range of disciplines: an increased emphasis on the translation of research outputs into profitable ventures.

This cultural issue is noted in a preprint by Roger Clarke and Danny Kingsley, posted on 11 Feb 2007, entitled “ePublishing’s Impacts on Formal Scholarly Communications“.

An excerpt from section 5.1, “Implications for Practice”:

“This [significantly reduced funding provided to universities] has led to universities having to go through rapid adaptation. Their governance model has been transformed from collegiality to managerialism. Their objectives and strategies now favour profit-motivated behaviour over their longstanding goals of advancing knowledge through the conduct and support of research, and transmitting knowledge through instruction and supervision. One likely result of these changes is a reduction in the collaborative nature of research, as universities seek to commercially exploit the new knowledge they develop, suppress publication, impose competitive behaviour on their staff, and wrest control from scholarly communities“.

So, it can be argued that a major factor which influences the “cultural economy” of different disciplines is the extent to which opinion leaders in the discipline either accept, or reject, such reductions in the collaborative nature of research. For those who reject such reductions, an “open source” cultural economy may be attractive. See, for example,

And, “Open access and open source in chemistry“, Matthew H Todd, Chemistry Central Journal 2007(19 Feb); 1:3.

See also the item about “Open Science” in the previous post, “The Future of Science is Open“.



  1. tillje said

    Received via private email from Michael Madison and posted with his permission:

    I think that your suggestion is plausible, but as with most theories of cultural capital (including my own), it needs more study, and some examples. Here is one:

    Outside of American law schools, which inhabit a scholarly publishing universe that is quite distinct from the publishing universe inhabited by other university faculty, a more direct influence on the uptake of open access norms may be resistance from university presses and their sponsors in higher administration.

    At Pittsburgh, for example, our press now operates on a “profit center” model (as does our Office of Technology Management, which handles technology transfer issues), which means that it is skeptical of faculty efforts, such as open access distribution, that are perceived to be in competition with the press.

    That sets up an interesting conflict with the University Library System, which is an enthusiastic supporter of open access publishing and digitization of its collections.

  2. tillje said

    For an article and commentary about a recent AAUP Statement on Open Access from the Association of American University Presses, see: University Presses Take Their Stand by Scott Jaschik (Inside Higher Ed, February 28, 2007). The first paragraph of the article: “The open access debate is one of the hottest topics in academic publishing, with advocates for access and publishers battling for political and public support. University presses have been feeling somewhat in the middle and sometimes ignored — and they responded Tuesday with a policy paper outlining their perspective“.

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