HAU is dead, long live OA initiatives

HAU is dead, long live OA initiatives

This is going to be a brief note. But I have to clarify that these are my own opinions.

Anthropological twitter exploded today after David Graeber issued an apology for his endorsement of HAU journal in its conception. There are some hard accusations that you can follow here, here and here, but the main thing is that HAU was a horrid work environment. I was involved with the project as a volunteer of the social media team, and even though I never saw the worst part of these accusations taking place (I live and work in Brazil, so I’m always far removed geographically), I can testify to micromanagement, power centrism and some sort of bullying with staff. I don’t doubt that I only saw the light stuff and that the thing was much worse than appeared in the surface.

But, beyond these accusations (and I believe there are people who can talk about this more clearly), the other thing that surfaced today was the predicaments on knowing what-paid-whom. Graeber stated that there never was a disclosure of the bookkeeping for the “investors”. And that this was attempted without success by Graeber, Sahlins, Strathern and Chris Gregory.

When I discovered last year that HAU was going to be integrated by UChicago Press and there was going to be restrictions in accessibility to the journal’s articles, I remember telling myself “oh well, no more free work from this idiot here”. And I quit. What drew me to this project and what made me volunteer for more than three years was the idea of open access as a virtue (so well articulated by the own idea of the maori concept hau) and the all-present thingy Brazilians have in over-appreciating anglo-french academia over our own.

In this regard, I still think Open Access is the only way forward. Knowledge should not be something to only be accessible to a few who can pay. Another thing I remember thinking when I heard this move to UChicago Press and the paywalling of the articles after the first month was “Thank Bog SciHub still exists.”

I’m not an expert in Open Access, actually I know too little, and I want to improve in this area. But from what I am seeing, the problem OA initiatives in the Global North struggle with is the existence of a huge market of academic/scientific publishing and its monopoly that exploits everyone and gives profit to a few. The other thing that I see is the difficulty to operate a gift economy in a structure whose foundation is based in “Protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism” (Therefore the Global North, generally speaking).

Should we go forward? That will only be possible in a way that no one makes money with publishing academic texts. Maybe that’s too radical, but we have multiple examples of this in South America. Just to name a few well-evaluated journals: Mana, ViBrAnt, Boletim de Ciências Humanas do Museu Goeldi (published since 1892), Horizontes Antropológicos. Maybe not making money with academic publishing can be considered a radical idea in some parts of the globe, but not here. Of course, we still have this epistemic death of “publish or perish” and I think that it is awful, but at least we take money out of the equation.

These journals are hosted by universities and museums, are peer-reviewed for no fee and are accessible to everyone. That is true OA for me. The editors work voluntarily or have a few professor hours allocated to do editor tasks when the publication is hosted by a graduate program, the peer reviewers are usually from other institutions and don’t charge for their work and no one charges any fees from the authors. More than this, the authors still hold copyrights to their articles and there’s a policy of original work only. Another thing for me that is quite important is the multilingual nature of these publications. They usually accept submissions in Portuguese, Spanish, English, and French. Depending on the nature/scope of the journal it can also accept works in German and Italian, the only thing that’s paramount is an Abstract in English to facilitate research.

So, about all this harassment problems and misconducts we hear from HAU, I think it only is the final nail in the coffin. The journal’s real death was when it stopped being OA (as I said, I’m not an expert, but nominations of “gold OA” as I heard sounds like crap). Of course, there still is the issue of all the harm that has been done. I cannot offer much relief about this. I can only say that we should take a stand and pressure senior colleagues to do the same. It’s not enough to repair all the hurt, but HAU is dead. What we need to try to find is new possibilities to move forward, more shared ideas, more cooperative initiatives, more diverse and democratic publishing machines. And stop over-appreciating negative initiatives because they offer “excellence”.

HAU’s death doesn’t hurt OA initiatives, it was its continuation that would keep hurting the future of Open Access publishing.

PS: I apologise for possible grammar problems on the post, I will happily take critiques on this since I’m not a native speaker.

10 Replies to “HAU is dead, long live OA initiatives”

  1. Open Access is a viable model, but… I think it might be fairly difficult to run an Open Access project and be “official” academic press at the same time. It is a philosophy thing, the inherited binary opposition between Copyright and Open Access… and I do not think we can very successfully marry the two, or at least expect them to live long and prosper, happily ever after.

    I also think it is a history thing, a story of the Internet and free data ideas. In a wider sense, Open Access is a history of The Hacker Manifesto, the Linux project, also pirating, Napster’s death, Torrent’s birth, etc. All of it posed much higher personal risks than merely “bullying of the staff”… Hacker Manifesto was written by a kid in jail if I remember it right, Linux and open source projects are in a constant battle with Microsoft and other major corporations over the software patents, pirating poses a personal risk of imprisonment and a huge backlash not only from the entertainment industry, but also from the old good academia and general public. These are much bigger battles than just a secure armchair activism.

    It is also a philosophical question of greed, I think. Open Access (and other open ideas, open source code, free copyright music/art, etc.) is centered around the thought of spreading the ideas and copies for free, without a sure personal gain for the author (and whomever else wants to piggyback on it). Copyright in a nut shell is making money of it, greed without caring much about “the rest” and justifying it with all sorts of fluff about the poor starving authors and “production costs”. The whole academic publishing routine, the quality assurance safeguards (aka peer reviews, etc.) have an inherited vulnerability and power to kill off the ideas even before they see the daylight and then, what is left, is trimmed by the practical application knife, funds management and whatever other vulture arrives at the scene in time. The corporate greed in academia manifests on the institutional level, of course (does it bring in the big funds? and no, bad/controversial PR does not bring in the funds), but what we talk less about are the situations when greed manifests on the personal level, in a form of a secure academic position silence vs. the professional integrity and standing your ideological grounds. It is not limited to academia, of course, in the wider sense it is all over the Internet, starting with a rather iconic Metallica’s involvement in taking down the Napster and finishing with a random common person fuming over a copyright of his/hers kid’s drawing, because god forbid someone uses it without a permission. The common argument of the arguments being … the artist/writer must be PAID for his/her work, above all things, because any work has a mythical default “cash” value attached to them, or at least people believe in that.

    So what does it boil down to? I think the old good “no guts, no glory”. It is already somewhat understood in the industries which were online first – indie coding and music for example, where you can see that people accepted the uncanny truth about their work, that it won’t make them rich and probably will stay a side project forever, a hobby. They do it, because they cannot otherwise, the idea, the creativity is bigger than them, even if it does not bring them safe and well paid job, nor helps them to climb the corporate ladder. I do not see much of that in academia yet… which probably is part of the reason why journalism/bloging starts to take over the role of academia in social sciences/humanities. Arguably less scientific, it at least still speaks in the language of the ideas, spreading the word, rather than in academic check boxes. Academia on the other hand… seems to stick to the old good “every man for himself” way of doing things… which has a good chance to be it’s own undoing, at least to a certain extend.

  2. Although a personality issue was involved in the disciplinary uprising against HAU, former proponents of the journal should reflect on three points:

    — Any publication directed by editors, esp when they are answerable to an Editor-in-Chief (how un-HAU is that?) is already an example of power and prerogative at work.

    — Although being Open Access until it sold out to Univ of Chicago Press, HAU was never Open Comment. Writers and readers, however egalitarian in spirit, were consigned to an institutional relationship of seigneur vs. serf.

    — HAU proudly insisted on peer review. As I’ve written at length, peer review in anthropology is a ludicrous fiction that requires one to believe that there exists an anthropological canon buttressed by shared standards of research — of the means of producing an anthropological “truth.” Once you’ve bought into peer review, you’ve sold the farm. The coin of Caesar.
    (Adapted from my post on the forum, “Hard Times for Online Anthropology” at Open Anthropology Coop.)

    1. Open Comment is actually disappearing from everywhere, especially the old school anonymous one (which often provides the more free discussion, when people cannot/do not want to disclose their identities for various reasons). The problem with comments is the moderation – a simple thing, but rarely done the right way, because it needs just a right balance of control and freedom to work really well. Institutions and bigger online businesses fear the Open Comment, because so now and then it tends to get on the politically-hairy side. Often you have a specific group of people who get “concerned” about the admins being not “tolerant” enough and it ends up in the 21st century Godwin’s Laws of sexism, homophobia, racism and the rest of the great “evils”. It is quite ironic actually, especially when it happens to the social sciences places, because it often has a certain Durkheim’s deviance doomsday feel to it. 🙂

      Either way, major portals figured that the simplest solution to the political-ethical problem… is to kill the switch and disable the comments in general. No comments, no problems, right?

  3. I rise to speak on behalf of comments, on behalf of moderation—and on behalf of accountable, proactive site management. Having been involved in online discussions since the start of the Internet, I enjoy the participation that comments allow. I have also seen numerous unmoderated, free-for-all sites dwindle into oblivion or, at best, irrelevance. No moderation spurs a burst of initial excitement that becomes a torrent of [insert your favorite scatological term], that leads to a collapsed state in which only a handful of stalwarts continue to ride their favorite hobbyhorses.

    The problems with moderation are, of course, policy and execution. Historically both have been in the hands of those who set up and thus become the owners of the sites or forums in question, and those who combine the initiative to set up a site seem only rarely to have the diplomatic or managerial skills to keep them running smoothly. Also, the effort required frequently leads to burnout, accelerating the tendencies mentioned above.

    When I think about Anthro {dendrum} and its predecessor Savage Minds, I see a rare success, at least so far. Why? I suggest the following factors.

    From the inception, this blog has been a collective effort.
    Uniquely, in my experience, there has been a series of successful transitions, with members of the original group replaced by newcomers. The failure to find and groom successors has doomed other efforts.
    Active recruitment of guest contributors has kept the content fresh.

    And, yes, moderation has been both firm and handled with a light touch. Alex Golub (Rex)’s moderation has, from my perspective, been exemplary. I have myself had comments rejected and been chided when temper overwhelmed respect and courtesy. Far from being angry, I am grateful for these interventions.

    This project has

    1. Well there also is an over-moderation problem, which is also very successful in killing off the communities. For things to keep interesting, there has to be a certain amount of challenge – from different views, from things people disagree with. It is simple tendency that people generally tend to post more when they are unhappy with something and remain silent when they agree (creating the impression that nobody read the piece). When the disagreements get weeded out too much (and a lot of people cannot differentiate between disagreement and personal attack), people loose that carrot on a stick which brought them to the site in the first place.

      Also, practically in any research I did in virtual spaces, people were telling me that the comments are the best part – the wit, the discussion, the relationships people build by fighting for the different sides of the argument, the alliances and the enemies. When comments are disabled or delayed, that natural flow is disturbed and people move on from the site, not waiting for the discussion to start.

      What concerns me slightly in this light (as someone completely from the side) is… where are the anthropologists who do not work in academia? Surely, there must be some who still work in the field, or changed the occupation, but still like to read a bit of anthro-theory? When the discipline is followed only by the PhD students and their superiors… that kind of undoes any point in even having this kind of studies?

  4. Aurelija, I am an anthropologist for whom working in academia is not my livelihood. Over the years I have done some part-time gigs, teaching seminars in the Graduate Program in Comparative Culture at Sophia University in Tokyo. I am currently spending a second spring semester teaching at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. In both cases, the pay has covered the cost of my academic hobby. I made my living for thirteen years as a copywriter for Hakuhodo Inc., Japan’s second largest advertising agency. Since 1996 I have been a co-owner and partner in The Word Works, Ltd. I still do a bit of copywriting now and then, but the bulk of our business is Japanese-to-English translation, primarily for art museum exhibitions and their catalogs. If you are looking for people for whom ethnography is a livelihood as well as a passion, check out epicpeople.org. EPIC (Ethnographic Praxis in Corporations) is where the most successful people in corporate ethnography hang out. Do be warned, though. They aren’t all anthropologists.

    1. Well I am anthropologist turned game developer, turned the common worker, turned… oh well, lets just say variety is the spicy of life. :)))

      The thought was more that when I look at all the people I studied with and later the students I taught… some of them moved on to the other areas, some stayed to work in related fields, museums, societies, etc. They still are the anthropologists, so I assume they should have at least some interest in what is going on in the discipline.

      So when I think about it worldwide… share numbers should be pretty high, of all the people who have ever finished anthro-studies. Ofc not everyone uses social media, etc., but when I see the interest in open access article being 3-10 people… considering the hypothetical numbers above… that is awfully little? Are we boring people to death with our writings? :/

  5. Here are some data, limited unfortunately to degrees granted by US institutions. I wonder if someone here can find comparable numbers for other parts of the world.

    367,185 is the number I estimate for all degrees, about 19,543 PhDs, 48,654 MA/MSc, 284,909 BA/BSc, and 13,776 other degrees/certficates. At a minimum there is roughly 299,000 people with an Anthropology degree. The minimum assumes everyone with an undergrad/other degrees also got all of the Anthro. postgrad degrees. Plenty, of people with postgraduate degrees in Anthropology got their undergrad degree in another subject so the actual number is probably much larger.

    Half of all degrees have been given out since about 1992. The majority of Anthropologists, well people with anthropology degrees, have got their degrees in the last 25 years. The graphs below really capture this trend. It makes you wonder if that is reflected in the current make up of people working as Anthropologists?

    Source: https://dougsarchaeology.wordpress.com/2014/07/17/anthropology-gradautes-1948-2009/

    For additional data see


  6. As well as alerting us to the interpersonal oppression within a particular organization, the HAU scandal should encourage us to situate that case in the context of current trends in Internet communication. Under the crusading cry to eliminate “hate speech,” editors – yes, let’s call them moderators – at Google, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube decide what you can and cannot see. My personal view is that form of censorship is one junction along the way to Winston Smith’s Rewrite Department. Further along that path one encounters peer reviewers with axes to grind, then perhaps an Editor-in-Chief on a destructive ego trip. But, and this is the important point, all these forms of control are of a piece. Just as there is no unreservedly Benevolent God (remember Darwin’s comment about parasitic wasps) so there is no Just Moderator.

    1. I think this lecture is interesting in the context, https://www.ted.com/talks/yuval_noah_harari_why_fascism_is_so_tempting_and_how_your_data_could_power_it/transcript#t-367398 the part about the data dictatorships in particular. Add the global economy, power of the corporation and an inability of the national governments to control the global processes… and there we have at least a possibility for a private company to become a controlling figure, a public discourse dictatorship if you will. You do not need an army these days, you just need enough money to buy FB, Google and Twitter to achieve the world dominance… Ok, maybe you need an army of trolls/bots as well, but that is the details. 🙂