[-empyre-] Week Three - Open Access

Emmett Stinson stinsone at unimelb.edu.au
Thu Jun 17 12:04:25 EST 2010

Just to clarify, in my original post on this, I noted that 'the idea of free
culture may simply result in more alienated labour.' I noted that this was
'more' alienated labour for the reason all labour under captalism is
alienated. Alienation is synonymous with modernity for Marx, and most
classical readings of Marxism would argue there is no opting out of
alienation short of a revolution that enables workers to control the means
of production (I'll leave it to the autonomous Marxists on this list to
discuss more recent Marxist concepts of resistance). I apologise if this
wasn't clear, and I appreciate Paul's clarification of the matter.
Nonetheless, there is still a distinction between paid and unpaid labour
under capitalism, even if both are alienated.

The open access movement's mode of resistance (or so it seems to me) is to
remove the exchange value of texts (since there is no monetary cost),
thereby returning labour to its use-value (although the notion of
'use-value' in relation to both theoretical and literary texts is fairly
problematic, since such texts seem to have other notions of value at stake,
as well) or else operating along lines of a Mauss-ian gift exchange. This is
a healthy, utopian impulse, I think, but the concern is that, within a
larger system of commodity exchange, utopian impulses can be co-opted. I
think Michael Dieter articulated this very well, when he noted that:
'Neoliberal economic rationalism cannot itself be sustained without rallying
a material infrastructure in support of the logic of increasing work hours,
competition and value-added knowledge work. The blurring of work and leisure
that underpins attempts to increase productivity is actually facilitated by
mobile networked devices, such as the iPad.' In this sense the notion of
things being 'free' can be utopian, but it can also be rationalised by a
neo-liberal framework and incorporated back into the system.

I completely support open-access publishing for academia (and re.press and
OHP are both phenomenal organisations, publishing work of the highest
quality), but it's incorrect to assume that open access publishing is
necessarily a mode of resistance. Open access academic publishing can be
seen as a radicalised response to corporatised academic publishing that
profits off of commodity exchange, but it's also appearing at a time when
many University presses are dying, cutting back their lists, or else moving
more and more into trade publishing (eg. Peter Dougherty's 'Manifesto for
Scholarly Publishing' at
http://chronicle.com/article/A-Manifesto-for-Scholarly-P/44462 which is a
strangely corporatised response to these trends). In this sense, Open Access
publishing also offers a lifeline to a University system that requires
material outcomes that can be measured (publishing outcomes as a form of
metrics), as a time when publication (particularly in specialised areas) is
far more difficult for academics. It also benefits university libraries,
whose budgets are increasingly constrained by expensive journal digital
subscriptions (e.g. the current battle between UCal and the journal Nature
http://www.physorg.com/news195486711.html). In this sense, a refusal of
exchange value for your own work doesn't necessarily extricate it from the
larger system of capital and exchange.

Emmett Stinson
Lecturer, Publishing and Communications
School of Culture and Communication
The University of Melbourne
Parkville, Victoria, Australia 3010
Ph: 613-8344-3017 

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