In 2015 the inaugural international Radical Open Access Conference addressed an urgent question: how should we set about reclaiming open access from its corporate take-over, evident not least in the rise of A/BPC models based on the charging of exorbitant, unaffordable and unsustainable publishing fees from scholars and their institutions? The conference saw participants calling for the creation of new forms of communality, designed to support the building of commons-based open access publishing infrastructures, and promote a more diverse, not-for-profit eco-system of scholarly communication. With these calls in mind, the Radical Open Access Collective (ROAC) was formed immediately following the 2015 conference as a horizontal alliance between like-minded groups dedicated to the sharing of skills, tools and expertise. Since then it has grown to a community of over 40 scholar-led, not-for-profit presses, journals and other projects. The members of this alliance are all invested in reimaging publishing. And what’s more, are committed to doing so in a context where debates over access—which in many respects have been resolved by the emergence of shadow libraries such as Sci-Hub—are increasingly giving way to concerns over the commercial hegemony of academic publishing. So much so that the issue addressed by the 2015 conference—how can open access be taken back from its corporate take-over? —now seems more urgent than ever.
In June 2018, Coventry University’s postdigital arts and humanities research studio, The Post Office, will convene a second Radical Open Access conference, examining the ways in which open access is being rendered further complicit with neoliberalism’s audit culture of evaluation, measurement, impact and accountability. Witness the way open access has become a top-down requirement – quite literally a ‘mandate’ – rather than a bottom-up scholar-led movement for change. Taking as its theme The Ethics of Care, the concern of this second conference will be on moving away from those market-driven incentives that are frequently used to justify open access, to focus instead on the values that underpin many of the radical open access community’s experiments in open publishing and scholarly communication. In particular, it will follow the lead of Mattering Press, a founding member of the ROAC, in exploring how an ethics of care can help to counter the calculative logic that otherwise permeates academic publishing.
What would a commitment to more ethical forms of publishing look like? Would such an ethics of care highlight the importance of:
- Making publishing more diverse and equitable – geographically, but also with respect to issues of class, race, ethnicity, gender and sexuality?
- Nurturing new and historically under-represented cultures of knowledge – those associated with early career, precariously employed and para-academics, or located outside the global North and West?
- Ensuring everyone is able to have a voice – not least those writing on niche or avant-garde topics or who are conducting hybrid, multimodal, post-literary forms of research, and who are currently underserved by our profit-focused commercial publishing system?
Indeed, for many members of the ROAC, a commitment to ethics entails understanding publishing very much as a complex, multi-agential, relational practice, and thus recognising that we have a responsibility to all those involved in the publishing process. Caring for the relationships involved throughout this process is essential, from rewarding or otherwise acknowledging people fairly for their labour, wherever possible, to redirecting our volunteer efforts away from commercial profit-driven entities in favour of supporting more progressive not-for-profit forms of publishing. But it also includes taking care of the nonhuman: not just the published object itself, but all those animals, plants and minerals that help to make up the scholarly communication eco-system.
Radical Open Access II is community-driven, and is being co-organised and co-curated by various members of the ROAC in a collaborative manner. It includes panels on topics as diverse as: Predatory Publishing; The Geopolitics of Open; Competition and Cooperation; Humane Metrics/Metrics Noir; Guerrilla Open Access; The Poetics of Scholarship; and Care for the Commons. The conference is free to attend and will also be live streamed for those who are unable to be there in person.