THE COMMONS, DIAMOND OPEN ACCESS and SCHOLARLY COMMUNICATIONS – An Interview with Christian Fuchs †

Christian Fuchs (@fuchschristian) is the co-editor of tripleC: Communication, Capitalism and Critique an open access journal for critical communication studies which has been running since 2003, and is the editor of University of Westminster Press’ open access book series Critical Digital and Social Media Studies. On open access publishing, he co-authored an article with Marisol Sandoval proposing a ‘Diamond’ model for Open Access.

 Professor Fuchs is also Director of CAMRI and Director of the Westminster Institute of Advanced Studies.

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 UWP: Thanks for agreeing to assist with an interview for open access week. Can I ask you what you consider as the most important aspects of open access academic publishing for the academy and its areas of greatest potential?

CF: The three great potentials of open access are a) the de-monopolisation of publishing, b) the de-commodification of academia so that knowledge and not profit are the primary aspect of academic publishing, and c) overcoming the knowledge divide that excludes poor regions and universities from access. But for achieving these aims, we need the right kind of open access models that I call diamond open access. It cannot be denied that there is a significant amount of fake open access that puts profit over knowledge. Publishing is one of the most highly concentrated and monopolised capitalist industries. Elsevier, Springer & Co. are destroying independent academic publishers just like Amazon is destroying your local bookshop. Academia and knowledge ought to be a public service and common good. We do not need green and gold open access, but something much better and precious, namely diamond open access.

 UWP: How has your work on triple C informed your thinking on scholarly communications? And on UWP’s book series Critical Digital and Social Media Studies?

CF: I understand open access not just as a knowledge movement that transforms the way we deal with knowledge, but also as radical open access, a practical movement that aims at transforming the way we organise academia. So for me, having been involved and doing open access since 2003 has been a form of praxis. Given my interest in digital media and digital politics, doing open access was something that immediately appealed to me after Creative Commons had been founded.

UWP: Have any other scholars particularly influenced you on the topic of open access or any particular pieces of research? Any initiatives you would highlight as exhibiting the most promise?

CF: I think Radical Open Access is a great open access initiative and movement that aims at advancing non-commercial and non-profit forms of open access. There are many interesting projects, including radical open access journals and publishers as well as new open access university presses.

UWP: There have been developments such as the Radical Open Access Initiative, numerous academic-led publishers and you have linked Open Access in some of your statements to the wider Commons movement. Are you optimistic that Commons-based philosophies can take hold and lead to wider preference amongst academics of all subjects for viable OA publication routes as opposed to ‘leading’, ‘prestigious’ and very often expensive journal or book publishing imprints?

CF: Digital media is not the cause of the increased interest in the commons. There are not just digital/cultural/knowledge commons, but also the social commons and the natural commons. It is not a coincidence that the deepening crisis of capitalism has been accompanied by the rising interest in commons philosophy and commons projects. The commodity form is in a crisis and in many realms of life, not just publishing and the media, people are looking for alternative models for the organisation of life, the economy, politics and culture. There is not just one philosophy of the commons, but a diversity of approaches that are not always compatible and also stand for different political projects. In terms of political philosophy, there are certainly neoliberal, social democratic, socialist/commonist and anarchist versions of commons philosophy. The approaches by Michael Hardt/Toni Negri, Yochai Benkler and Elinor Ostrom are certainly all three philosophies of the commons. But they stand for different political economies of the commons.

UWP: Numerous commentators have pointed to the additional difficulties faced in transitioning books to open access compared to journals. What are your thoughts?

CF: The digital economy is not weightless. In order to organise something open access, you still need material resources, especially working time for organisation, copyediting, proofreading, design, technical work, management, etc. Open access book publishing is more resource-intensive than open access journal publishing. Proofreading and copyediting books is very work-intensive. Leaving this work to the authors would result in many ugly books full of mistakes. Doing proofreading and copyediting unpaid out of political idealism is also not a feasible solution. So one needs professional knowledge workers involved in open access. Using book processing charges in order to fund that knowledge work plus profits tends to create high charges that are unaffordable for all but the richest universities and luckiest researchers who have access to large grants and private or semi-private open access funds. The outcome of such models are new inequalities. And politically this brings you back to the questions: What university do we want? What academic system do we want? What should the role of academia be in society? Public support and funding is necessary for sustainable and fair open access.

UWP: Do you share concerns expressed by some that Open Access in general and OA gold policies in particular that have been encouraged might lead to defunding of humanities and social sciences at the expense of science, medicine and enterprise-orientated subjects?

CF: Open access is not the cause of the crisis of the social sciences and humanities. Neoliberalism has resulted in the defunding of the humanities and social sciences at large. We have experienced the business-schoolification of the social sciences, humanities and academia at large. The mind-set and logic of the business school have colonised and harmed the university system. Academia is about reflective and critical knowledge practices. If the logic of the business school takes over everything, then we are in trouble.

UWP: On the face of it Open Access when functioning is an aspect of the globalisation of higher education but the impacts are very uneven and greatly influenced by national systems or contexts. Would you like to see more international coordination? Might that be possible through scholarly or library associations?

CF: Academic associations and libraries have a very important potential role to play in making open access and academic a common and public good. The academic library of the future is among other things also a non-profit publisher. The international academic association of the future is among other things also an open access platform. At least in the social sciences, international academic associations have thus far been rather reluctant to adopt and advance radical open access. They are used to traditional publishing models. International associations of libraries, international academic associations and international networks of public universities certainly have a great potential for advancing commons- and public-service based models of non-profit open access.

UWP: Do you think that HE and even many academics are reluctant to talk about inequality of itself and in relation to open access? After all availability of books and journals at different institutions seems to vary widely and in the UK competition is encouraged in education so that it is inevitable resources will not be evenly shared.

CF: Yes, openness has a strange ideological aura of equality. But as I already mentioned, the dominant models of open access have combined with a neoliberal economy resulted in new inequalities in the academic sectors. There is really a lack of vision and concrete utopian spirit in large parts of academia.

UWP: Can you cite for us three of your favourite open access publications where you feel open access made a difference either to you, to readers or to the impact of the publication?

CF: Here are three examples for developments that I think made a difference: The founding of Creative Commons in 2001 was a very important development for advancing open access. tripleC makes a difference to the fields of communication studies and critical theory because it has a unique academic approach that wouldn’t be feasible within traditional academic publishing structures. Although I do not agree with the libertarian open access politics of Peter Suber that aims at advancing the CC-BY version of open access, the fact that his Open Access book was published open access certainly helped to advance the very idea of open access.

UWP: On a more practical level more and more material gets published year on year. With open access that does not appear to be about to change. Do you have any recommendations or tips for readers on how to navigate the torrent of material, any systems of organisation that enables you (it seems) to read more material than many of the rest of us and stay on top of your own research?

CF: The growth of academic knowledge is a historical feature of modernity. Open access is not its cause, but just one of its manifestations. That there is ever more knowledge should not disconcert us. Talking about information overflow on the Internet etc. is cultural pessimism. You have to be selective in what you read. My criterion is that I prefer to read and deal with critical knowledge that helps us to think about how to advance a better world and a better society.

UWP: And the Desert Island question. I suspect you may have a copy of Das Kapital with you but you have a choice of three films and three music albums to accompany you. What would you like to keep you company there?

CF: The three albums I would not want to miss on my desert island are Mogwai’s ‘Come On, Die Young’, Sonic Youth’s ‘Daydream Nation’, and Sigur Rós’s ‘Ágætis byrjun’. The three films to watch there are Midnight in Paris, Before Sunrise, and Inglourious Basterds. But given that there may be no electricity on the island, I’d certainly bring many books printed the traditional way on paper.

UWP: Thank you.

All titles in the Critical Digital and Social Media Studies series edited by Christian Fuchs series are available open access including Christian’s own title Critical Theory of Communication: New Readings of Lukács, Adorno, Marcuse, Honneth and Habermas in the Age of the Internet (2016).

This interview was conducted as part of International Open Access Week and is reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

 

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