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Anthropology of/in Circulation: Join the Conversation

I want to call attention to a new project in which I played a part. “Played a part” fits especially because the document at the project’s center looks and acts a bit like a play script. The journal Cultural Anthropology has just published (volume 23, issue 3, 2008) a contribution titled “Anthropology of/in Circulation: The Future of Open Access and Scholarly Societies.” The article-length document was co-created by Christopher Kelty, Michael M. J. Fisher, Alex Golub, Kimberly Christen, Michael F. Brown, Tom Boellstorff and myself. In it, we use an interview/group discussion format to discuss changes in scholarly communication, professional societies, digital technologies, and the broader social contexts that are impacting the work of anthropology and neighboring fields (such as folklore and ethnomusicology, in which I work).

While the piece has the appearance of a transcribed discussion, it is actually a co-authored work in which we each contributed, in varying degrees, to the authoring of the whole. In other words, we “play” ourselves in the text (with relatively high fidelity to our “true” selves). It was written online using Google Docs over the course of about a month last spring. While much of what is attributed to any one participant is, or at least began as, “their own words” participants were able to make changes throughout the text as a whole. In the end, no one was pressured to “say” things that they were not comfortable saying, but the process, I think, tightened and enlivened the language as well as sharpened arguements and weeded out misunderstandings. While it lacks the halmarks, and perhaps some of the strengths, of a single authored work, I think that it is a lively and interesting piece in which the generic experiment is in keeping with the emergent topics about which we conversed. (Those who find value in the work of the Bahktin Circle and in contemporary linguistic anthropological work on voice, authorship, and participant roles should at least find the idea of this piece of interest.)

More important than the way that we put it together are the issues that we are seeking to explore. Here is the abstract:

In a conversation format, seven anthropologists with extensive expertise in new digital technologies, intellectual property, and journal publishing discuss issues related to open access, the anthropology of information circulation, and the future of scholarly societies. Among the topics discussed are current anthropological research on open source and open access; the effects of open access on traditional anthropological topics; the creation of community archives and new networking tools; potentially transformative uses of field notes and materials in new digital ecologies; the American Anthropological Association’s recent history with these issues, from the development of AnthroSource to its new publishing arrangement with Wiley-Blackwell; and the political economies of knowledge circulation more generally.

The best part is that you can now join the conversation. While it appears online conventionally in two toll access services (see  here for AnthroSource and here for Wiley InterScience), it is also available, for those who lack access to these resources, in article form in IUScholarWorks Repository  here. Most importantly for my purposes, it has been published in a full accessible CommentPress version in which readers can comment on, question, critique, and discuss the text as a whole or in a paragraph-by-paragraph function. I am a huge fan of CommentPress and I hope that this project will introduce new folks to this very useful software tool. Please visit the CommentPress version here ( and join the conversation. Tell your friends, tell your colleagues, tell your professors, tell your students.

For the record, these reuses were made possible because we utilized a SPARC author addendum. This is a valuable resource everyone should know about. See here and here and in the video here.

For my part, I really appreciated having the the opportunity to participate in this project. I want to thank the other contributors for their efforts and to acknowledge Kim and Mike Fortun the visionary co-editors of Cultural Anthropology who encouraged this project and saw it into existance.

Reasonable (and unreasonable) differences of opinion exist regarding the future of open access in anthropology and beyond. The other contributors and I share a hope that this project will help advance the conversation in a useful way. See you on the CommentPress site.

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