Skip to content

What is the current status of confidentiality and non-disclosure policies at HAU?

UPDATE 1: On Facebook (June 13, 2018) someone from the HAU social media team stated that no one now involved in HAU is bound by a confidentiality agreement (beyond norms of editorial confidentiality that are customary in scholarly publishing). (Update created early EST on June 13, 2018)

UPDATE 2: Anyone reading this as part of a larger effort to make sense of the much wider set of issues being discussed in the field should be aware that it was written prior to the release of additional documents (including the open letter of June 13) and great deal of public discussion. (Update created late EST on June 13, 2018)

UPDATE 3: Discussions of HAU have continued, with many relevant documents and position statements appearing and a lot of commentary on social media. I cannot account for all of this here. I hope that the unfolding of the discussion reveals more clearly the logic behind my querying the more general status of non-disclosure strategies at HAU. Even if this approach was only taken for a period (the period in which I was asked to join the advisory board) and only with the advisory board and not the various editorial boards or with various staff and volunteers, the existence of policies or practices related to confidentiality would be a major factor in the wider range of issues (of power and silencing) that are now being discussed. While I cannot provide coverage of all of the discussion, two essays from today speak rather directly to what I was getting at in the post below. These are the essay by former HAU treasurer Rodolfo Maggio and the essay by former HAU editorial team participant Ilana Gershon. (Update created afternoon EST on June 19, 2018)

What is the current status of confidentiality and non-disclosure policies at HAU? Why can’t the policies be published?

Those are my questions. This is my context.

Alex Golub has noted previously that I tend to bury my lede. Other stuff will follow, but here is my main note, first. My email records on the following matter are incomplete, but I possess one key message that lends certainty to my account. I was invited to serve on what was then (to be) called the External Advisory Board for the journal HAU sometime in spring of 2013. My understanding of this at the time was that the invitation was an outgrowth of my work prior to that point on scholarly communications in general and on open access issues in particular. While then new to the work of directing the Mathers Museum of World Cultures and at the time serving as Interim Editor of the Journal of Folklore Research as well as continuing as Editor of Museum Anthropology Review, I was earnest in considering this opportunity closely. With several substantive issues already published and numerous scholars joining the cause, it was already clear that HAU was emerging as a significant undertaking. Why did I not follow through and join the External Advisory Board? Whatever it was, why to do I bring it up now?

I bring it up now because in all of the conversation now underway (from a great many perspectives and points of view—the current HAU discussion is not a binary one), no one else has flagged it and it seems more germane to me now than it did then—and at the time it was a big deal for me. When I was asked to join the External Advisory Board, I was asked to agree to what in legal parlance is a non-disclosure agreement. In the English speaking world right now, these are very much in the news in a #MeToo context. In that context, they are seen by some as tools by which to silence victims and shield serial predators. None of that was on my mind at the time I was asked to help HAU. But I was bothered by the confidentiality language I was asked to embrace, understanding it at the time as the kind of language used in industry to try to protect trade secrets and business processes. Why did this bother me? I was being asked, as I understood it, to help with HAU because of my experience with open access and with publishing more broadly. In essence, I was being asked to bring knowledge gained from other publishing projects into the HAU context, but was being explicitly bared from taking knowledge gained in the HAU context into other publishing contexts and also being bared from reflecting in my scholarly writing and speaking (etc.) on that which I would learn as a HAU volunteer.

In the face of my concerns, there was an effort led by Sarah Green (Manchester) to weaken the confidentiality language in the HAU governing documents, but the basic approach remained in place and none of the others then serving, or being approached, to my knowledge, were particularly concerned about this issue. I said no, and HAU went on without me. In itself, that is o.k. I hardly needed more publishing endeavors in my life and I am not confident that I could have made an particularly important contributions to HAU. But, on this point, I will just say that, especially, in anthropological contexts, all open access projects (perhaps to too great a degree) have drawn upon our (probably over-extended) disciplinary concern with gift economies, Maussian exchange, communal labor, etc. From its name on down, from its first moment of existence, HAU struck this note at a greater volume and with greater frequency than any of the rest. It seemed ironic then and, with the hindsight that comes with more recent developments (they are out there, you can find them), it seems even more unbelievable that a (formerly) open access journal would play the gift economy card so vigorously while adopting, from the earliest possible moment, one of the most draconian tactics in the corporate tool box. My partners and friends in working on open access in folklore studies and in anthropology have generally spoken of our efforts as provisional, emergent, experimental, contingent, practical, cooperative…. When we figure out how to accomplish X or Y, we (as scholars and community members) try to share what we have learned and to help other efforts thrive. My involvement, such as it was, in helping Cultural Anthropology’s move towards open access had this character and the same is true for many other people who joined in that effort. In a campus context, the work of Museum Anthropology Review has provided lessons for the forty or so other open access journals that have followed it in the IUScholarWorks Journals program. The approach has also characterized the Open Folklore project and the move of numerous folklore studies journals to sustainable open access publishing frameworks. When open access advocates speak of sharing, they have generally really meant it and lived that value. Confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements, and the the values with which they so often co-occur, are incompatible with open access as a community-centered approach to scholarly publishing. (I am well aware of the alternative forms that open access has also taken–green, corporate, predatory, etc.)

I do not touch here on the accusations that have been made regarding the work of HAU. I have no special insight into that. But I do observe in a general way that a culture of confidentiality and the use of confidentiality-enforcing agreements is a proven breeding ground for a wide range of abuses and a partial explanation for why unhealthy relationships and structural arrangements so often go unaddressed until things are way out of hand (if then). I do not presume to know what has gone on behind the scenes in a journal that I have no role in, but I know with certainty that I was right in not agreeing to join any volunteer, scholarly effort that demanded a formalized, all-purpose pledge of confidentiality of me.

The non lede…. Am I hostile to HAU? No. I am stunned (in a good way) by the amount of first rate scholarly activity the HAU community has been able to assemble and share. Many colleagues whom I respect are active in HAU, have published in HAU, and have devoted great effort to the advancement of HAU. I think that I have only spoken or written about HAU positively in public contexts (Jackson and Anderson 2014 provides an example). (And yes, I am very much listening to the critiques of HAU that are about issues other than open access. More articulate voices than mine are saying important things on that front.)

Have I helped HAU in anyway despite my not joining the effort formally? I think so. Despite my private reservations, I advocated on HAU’s behalf with the leadership of the Indiana University Libraries, thereby positioning IU to become a HAU-N.E.T institution. This was an easy sell on a campus and with a library that is passionate about open access, but it was the quantity and quality of the work that HAU was publishing that made this a certain thing. The transformation of HAU into a non-OA publication certainly changes this dynamic on our campus.

It is another small thing (although it involves significant technical work by my IU Library colleagues), but I advocated for inclusion of HAU content in the Open Folklore project’s  search corpus.

I wanted HAU to succeed. I still want HAU to succeed.

Do I have any comment on David Graeber’s published apology of June 11, 2018 or the “new” HAU Trustee’s statement of June 12, 2018? No, with one exception. I appreciate part of what Graeber has indicated that he is trying to do. I am filled with dread reading so many social media posters linking HAU’s moment to failures (deemed by them) in open access. As Graeber notes, the story of HAU, whatever it is, is not the story of open access failing. Here is not the place to argue that point further, but open access is not the problem. Open access is hard, complex, partial, and human. Open access is also succeeding on a great many fronts. I could recount them all day and not be done. The move to Chicago was hardly the only future HAU could have had and the current controversies are surely not about open access, they surely are about humans and human relationships in a much more complex sense.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: