Open access to scholarly knowledge in the digital eraOpinion

Open access to scholarly knowledge in the digital era (section 2): Knowledge cultures

This article introduces section 2 of a series of articles summarising the book Reassembling Scholarly Communications: Histories, Infrastructures, and Global Politics of Open Access.

The four chapters of the second section of this series focus on knowledge cultures; the ways in which we think about knowledge itself, and how this shapes our understandings of digital and open transformations of research publishing.

2.1 – Insights for today from the historical origins of modern copyright

Opening the second section, John Willinsky draws on his extensive research into the history of copyright and intellectual property to paint a picture that differs substantially from the mainstream narrative. Turning back to the Statute of Anne from 1710, Willinsky details the ways in which the original purpose of copyright – in the encouragement of learning – has been lost. Indeed, for Willinsky, if we want to take seriously proposals to modify contemporary copyright law, we could do no better than to retrace our historical steps. For the intentions that many now seek, Willinsky argues, were there from the start.

2.2 – How does a format make a public?

In a slightly different vein, Robin de Mourat, Donato Ricci, and Bruno Latour document their An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (AIME) project and the theoretical consequences that arise from it. Taking a social approach to infrastructure – and recognizing that there are competing demands upon any single system because any public is composed of multiple “modes of existence” (a fact reflected in the chapters in this series that recognize different “publics” for research work) – this open project forces us to question the difference between books and blogs, and the challenges of understanding how different intersecting groups can be captured in infrastructure design. Indeed, in their analysis of how a “format” might itself constitute the public to which it speaks, their work touches on vital issues of remediation that have become central to much work in archival studies.

2.3 – Peer review – readers in the making of scholarly knowledge

Perhaps one of the most crucial “formats” though, for scholarly communications, is that of the “peer-reviewed work.” To address this matter, we turn to the questions raised by David Pontille and Didier Torny in their chapter. Namely: how does the material that is published become so in the present day? What are the evaluative mechanisms that sort the wheat from the chaff? And how can we understand the historical development of these systems of peer review into the present day? Tracing peer review back to the seventeenth century, Pontille and Torny yield a historically informed investigation into the roots of contemporary review practices, functioning, in their terms, as a technology. At the close of their piece, they turn to the ways in which future imagined structures of review sit within such paradigms of thought, but also counter them as continuous instances of judgment.

2.4 – The making of empirical knowledge – recipes, craft, and scholarly communication

Finally for the section on knowledge cultures, Pamela H. Smith, Tianna Helena Uchacz, Naomi Rosenkranz, and Claire Conklin Sabel revisit our historical assumptions about epistemology and science in the light of their openly accessible web project. Indeed, Smith and colleagues draw our attention to the way in which early scientific experiments were conducted by Renaissance artists, historians, and humanists, blurring the distinctions between humanistic and scientific practices, but also focusing on the transmission of this knowledge and the genealogies of craft dissemination. Smith and colleagues achieve this by documenting their project— the Making of Empirical Knowledge — and the finds that they there unearth.

Next part (chapter 2.1): Insights for today from the historical origins of modern copyright.

Article source: This article is an edited summary drawn from the Introduction of the book Reassembling scholarly communications: Histories, infrastructures, and global politics of Open Access1 which has been published by MIT Press under a CC BY 4.0 Creative Commons license.

Article license: This article is published under a CC BY 4.0 Creative Commons license.

Reference:

  1. Eve, M. P., & Gray, J. (Eds.) (2020). Reassembling scholarly communications: Histories, infrastructures, and global politics of Open Access. MIT Press.

Also published on Medium.

Reassembling Scholarly Communications: Histories, Infrastructures, and Global Politics of Open Access

Edited by Martin Paul Eve and Jonathan Gray, the MIT Press volume "Reassembling Scholarly Communications: Histories, Infrastructures, and Global Politics of Open Access" carries out a critical inquiry into the politics, practices, and infrastructures of open access and the reconfiguration of scholarly communication in digital societies. This RealKM Magazine article series presents edited summaries of the volume chapters prepared by RealKM Magazine editor and lead writer Bruce Boyes.

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