What Does It Mean To Start An Open Access Journal?

Following earlier interviews with Editors at Ethics & Global Politics and the newly open Cultural Anthropology, we present yet another insight into how to do open access, this time with Professor Kim Weeden of Cornell, a Deputy Editor of the new open access journal Sociological Science, which launched earlier this year. As the name suggests, this is a sociology journal (and a ‘general interest’ one at that), indicating yet another field in which open access is being taken seriously whilst International Relations languishes (not withstanding para-IR examples like Ethics & Global Politics and our friends at the Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies). So what can we learn from the Sociological Science model? As usual, I’ve stuck some thoughts on at the end.


Sociological Science

1. Who initiated Sociological Science, and why?

Dissatisfaction with the traditional publication process, and in particular the peer review system, has been festering in sociology for a while. Seems like everyone has a tale of a paper that sat for months before an initial decision, received multiple rounds of “revise and resubmits” that extended the review process to several years, or was rejected because it reported on a replication study, didn’t make enough of a “theoretical contribution” regardless of the quality of the empirical analysis, or espoused truly novel ideas that ruffled the feathers of a single anonymous reviewer. Even papers that experienced relatively smooth sailing in the traditional review process can be 1-2 years on the wrong side of fresh before they finally see the light of day.

A couple of colleagues, including our Editor-in-Chief Jesper Sørensen, got together and started brainstorming alternatives. They recruited a few other like-minded colleagues to the cause, and this founding group hammered out the details. The founding group morphed into the current 7-person editorial board, which includes sociologists on the faculty of Cornell, MIT, NYU, Stanford, and Yale. All of us have tenure, and are at a stage in our careers where we have the energy and social capital to devote to starting a journal.

2. How has the launch of Sociological Science been funded?

We’re a volunteer effort. The founding group and core editorial team did all the legwork to set up the journal: incorporating as a non-profit, devising the editorial model, setting a fee structure, advertising through social media, creating the web site, hiring copy editors, working with libraries so that the journal is indexed in abstract search databases, you name it.

The Stanford Graduate School of Business has generously funded a temporary, part-time managing editor to help with the launch. Our next task is to raise the funds to make the managing editor position permanent.

3. Sociological Science uses a system of Article Processing Charges (APCs), charged at different rates depending on author seniority. How did this decision come about?

We’re a non-profit entity, so our goal in setting fees is to cover the costs of publishing, no more and no less. We decided on APCs as the easiest and fairest way to cover these costs.

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Dr Schwarz, I Presume?

And so, after some delay due to storm, and just a month after The Disorder Of Things turned three, our own Elke was closely quizzed by Professors Patrick Hayden and Chris Brown. The cause? The defence of her doctoral thesis: The Biopolitical Condition: Rethinking the Ethics of Political Violence in Life-Politics. Arendt, Foucault, and drones. Now passed, certified, set free. Without corrections. Henceforth, Dr Schwarz.

Elke Foucault

Not actually Elke.

Teach It, And They Will Come

1960s Teach In

As another term approaches its zenith, we at The Disorder engage in a novel public service: making available a range of our module reading lists. Ready-made bibliographies, crib-sheets, self-help guides, or just objects of curiosity, to do with as you will. We have focused on our more specialised courses, on the assumption that there is a relative dearth of taught programmes on these issues, or taught from these perspectives. Most of the readings remain inaccessible online, although there are libraries still in existence where they may be found. You will also miss out on our great personal charms. Nevertheless, enjoy.

Just click on the titles for the full PDFs. May a thousand ideas bloom!


Joe (Lecturer in International Relations, City University)

Myths and Mysteries in World Politics (co-taught with Aggie Hirst and Amin Samman): This is a ten-week course that runs in the first term and is compulsory for all our undergraduate students. The idea behind it is that we wanted to provide an introduction to “theory” that not only avoided the numerous “isms” but which also harnessed the students’ interest in politics. So, the course is organised around key ideas in politics and we push students to think philosophically about what world politics is, as well as how they are already engaged in it. We hope to develop a critical sensibility by getting students to realise how much they already know, or think they know, about world politics and then encouraging them to look more deeply – hence the “Myths and Mysteries” title. The course is structured in three parts: there’s an initial week where we talk about what “politics” means and ask students to consider their own placement in the political world (this is also the topic of their first essay), then we cover “Power”, “Ethics”, “Violence” and “Law” as big conceptual ideas before turning to a section that looks at the institutions of world politics (broadly conceived), including “Empire”, “Capitalism”, “The State”, “Money” and “History”. In the end, the primary hope is to build intellectual skills – reading, writing, thinking – and introduce them to big ideas in politics rather than indoctrinate them in disciplinary debates.

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What Does It Mean To Become An Open Access Journal?

Following an earlier interview with Eva Erman on editing the open access journal Ethics & Global Politics, another set of enlightening responses on academic publishing. This time with Professor Brad Weiss of the College of William & Mary and President of the Society for Cultural Anthropology, which publishes Cultural Anthropology, the premier journal of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). It is a major journal by other metrics too (take your pick of GoogleScholar or Impact Factor). All of which is as preamble to the point: Cultural Anthropology will be a fully open access journal from 2014. Not just that. It has a web presence and offers a set of connected resources that are without compare (at least in my experience). Brad was kind enough to offer his time to answer some questions on taking a learned society journal of prestige open access.


Cultural Anthropology Cover Trimmed

1. How did the decision to make Cultural Anthropology open access come about? Who initiated it, and why?

There is a longish story here. For several years prior to this action, many members of the Society for Cultural Anthropology (SCA) Board, and our Editorial Board had been interested in pursuing an open access option. That really wasn’t up to us, as we are only one section of the AAA that maintains a contract with Wiley-Blackwell to publish more than 20 of its sections’ journals. However, the director of publications with the AAA, Oona Schmid, proposed the possibility, last August (2012) to all of the publishing sections that one of them could be permitted to go open access for the duration of the Wiley-Blackwell contract (which expires in 2017) given certain provisions. Our Board formed a task force, including some real experts on publishing and open access in particular, and this group determined that it was a good idea to pursue this option. As it happened, we were the only AAA section to elect to do so, so were authorized to make the transition, which will begin in February 2014.

2. How was the move to open access funded?

Again, a little complicated. For one thing, the SCA is the biggest section of the AAA, and our membership dues are important sources of revenue; but in and of themselves, they don’t cover the costs of publishing, as well as all of the other activities (workshops, board meetings, special sessions at the AAA meetings, a biennial conference, etc.) that the SCA undertakes. We have been able to build our fund balances over the last several years, when the Wiley-Blackwell contract brought us significant royalties. Between these two sources of funding, we are confident that we can make open access work – for now. In the long term, we are looking to develop an open access model that will incorporate many more sections of the AAA, so that whatever happens next in publishing (post-Wiley contract) allows sections to share editorial and distribution costs, which will substantially reduce the costs of publications for everyone. Our hope is that the costs of open access become so reduced through cost sharing, that each sections’ member dues will provide sufficient revenue to fund, not only their publications, but all of their other activities. This will probably mean that open access won’t be profitable, but will at least not be prohibitively expensive – and, crucially, that the professionals we hire to edit, publish and design the journal will get paid for their work.

3. It seems that your open access model, as paid for through membership dues, could be characterised as Article Processing Charges by another name. How would you respond to the objection that this is another drain on academic funds? 

We are seeking a middle ground. We cannot sustain open access for long on just membership dues; and we already have a broad membership, so we’re not asking for more money from members, we’re just using these funds for this purpose.  Moreover, we added the membership requirement primarily to reduce the number of unwarranted submissions that take literally hundreds of hours to process.  We are trying not to charge our members extra, but hoping that the fund balances we already have will keep our enterprise going until the AAA can generate a new publication model, which we hope will at least make open access more widely available, if not the standard model.

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Where Have All The Black Professors Gone?

A new documentary, Absent From The Academy, on the status of black scholars in the UK. Alongside Paul Gilroy, Adam Elliott-Cooper, Denise Noble and others, it features our own Robbie Shilliam. The problem is simple enough: why are only 85 Professors in the UK – that’s 0.4% of the total – black? The official statistics show that only 1.4% of all academic staff are black or black British, whether African or Caribbean, compared to 4.5% of manual staff and around 3% of the general population (those, alongside assorted “mixed” and “other” are the categories available for contemporary biopolitics).

This accounting – while necessary – leaves some identities unreconstructed, not least when the inclusion of marginalised groups is read as synonymous with an intellectual identity politics. Gilroy channels C.L.R. James to warn of the reductionism, of making the status of whoever an issue of ‘X studies’, whilst privilege remains invisibly white. Or, as James argued in ‘Black Studies and the Contemporary Student’ (1969):

Now to talk to me about black studies as if it’s something that concerned black people is an utter denial. This is the history of Western Civilization. I can’t see it otherwise. This is the history that black people and white people and all serious students of modern history and the history of the world have to know. To say it’s some kind of ethnic problem is a lot of nonsense.

The Pay Strike And Its Discontents

Breaking Bad Pay Teachers More Money

The ballots are out, the wheels are in motion. Union members have until Thursday 10 October to vote on strike action over the latest derisory pay offer of 1% (if you haven’t received a ballot, go here). The justness of the cause seems clear enough. Since 2009, every pay award has been several percentage points below inflation, leading to a consistent real terms drop in pay. And some of those paltry increases were only attained after negotiations. Yet, despite the protests from above (and excepting a brief dip in student numbers), British higher education is in fine financial health. The overall wage bill is decreasing at the same time that surpluses are growing. And for “growing” read “more than doubling”, from £488 million in 2007/8 to £1.1 billion in 2011/2012. Managers are reaping their rewards accordingly, and a significant portion of Vice-Chancellors are seeing their pay go up by 10-20%. At Sussex, for example, Michael Farthing is now paid £280,000 (including pensions contributions), as compared to £178,000 in 2007 (that’ll be a 57% increase then).

And yet there is a foreboding. Fear is a factor, nondescript anxiety another. Perhaps an awkward sense that any level of action is somehow at odds with the academic code.

Articulated objections come in two stripes. First, the we-haven’t-got-it-so-bad defence. Beyond the usual ‘all in it together’ austerity ideology, there are pay increments (which most permanent academic staff get automatically). Real wages aren’t declining so hard if you move up a pay step each year. This is on its own a pretty restricted ambition, since it amounts to a kind of career “progression” that leaves you standing still. It is also, for all the talk of solidarity with lower-paid workers, a selfish analysis.

In the last 5 years, the pay for new lecturers and tutors has dropped 13% in real terms. Following the USS pension saga, they (we) have each had tens of thousands of pounds taken from them over the course of their careers, while staff that retained their old rights are paying more every month into a scheme that was, let us recall, nowhere near crisis. There are fewer scholarships and research grants than before, and an increase in teaching-heavy posts. Consumer-driven logics are set to make that worse. On the horizon, just over there, is a US-style expansion based on precarity, a prestige elite, and debt bubbles. Some at the top are already breaking from the national pay spine, inaugurating a two-tier system. Consider this trend alongside the state of university finances. What is it to look at this and say things aren’t so bad? I put it to you that such a position is detached, complacent, and irresponsible.

Second, there is the strikes-change-nothing complaint. This has better justification. Local actions over the last years have not reversed policies. Pensions were stripped down anyway. And there is something peculiar, isn’t there, about the idea of day-long walkouts and picket lines in a sector so based on relatively scattered student-teacher interactions. There is no machinery to fall silent, no buzzing shop floors to stand empty. Just a day of saved wages for management and probably a whole stack of reorganised lectures, academics not really being the types to withhold knowledge (or, rather, unwilling to see knowledge as labour). There is a sense that the old tactics are dead, and should be left in their graves.

On the one hand, this is an argument for more radical action. If employers can handle strike days, we need more. Or, alternatively, forms of action that do not fetishise the picket line. Something that will make VCs pay attention, like a marking boycott or withholding final grades. In a customer-orientated culture this is the pressure point, especially if action begins to alter the results of the National Student Survey, that Big Other of the academic scene (what do students really want?). The complaint goes up that the national union lacks the imagination to instigate these actions, and that we should therefore turn to more vibrant kinds of opposition. But new forms of resistance nevertheless confront established modes of punishment. When full pay is withheld day on day, when even partial performance leads to the forfeit of full wages, how quickly will we really buckle? We know something has to break the pattern, but we’re not sure we’re capable of it, or that the sacrifice is worth it. In other words, we find ourselves a little too close to text-book academic bitching: something more fundamental needs doing, but we’re not likely to be the ones to do it.

On the other hand, the fear and the paralysis can be found closer to home. Complaints about the union form do not produce their alternative ex nihilo. There are possible replacements, but no actually-existing ones. Nor does the appetite for creating one seem to exist. And for good reason. The paradoxical character of academic subjectivity is both to consider ourselves in a position of real epistemic and social privilege and to be so despondent about our influence on things as to merely absorb the changes thrust upon us (working conditions, impact agendas, research restrictions). The legal protections of strike action have no parallel, truncated as they are. Creative alternatives have raised energy, and served as political classrooms in their own right, but they haven’t actually stymied ‘reforms’ (whether on fees, outsourcing or investment portfolios). And, strange as it may sound, universities are probably happier taking draconian action against their workers than their students. A faculty occupation, if we could even imagine such a thing, would not end well.

None of that is to say that we (there’s that intangible collective again) should walk zombie-like to the picket. Fersure, let the rejuvenation of academic democracy proceed apace. In the meantime, we have to ask ourselves seriously what the consequence is of another pliant year. There are murmurings that a failure to win this ballot will endanger collective bargaining itself. If we cannot muster the resolve to deliver a strong yes on action short of a strike, and a strong yes on strike – if we cannot even deliver a serious turnout – that’s probably as much as we deserve.