I typically come to journal articles through JSTOR or emailed PDFs, the consequence being that I have not (yet?) developed a sense of familiarity nor a particular relationship with any single academic journal. In some ways this resembles the way Napster changed the experience of listening to music in my late days of high school. No longer were songs associated as parts of an album or handcrafted mixtape, but presented singularly, with their historical or cultural context somehow more effaced. When such a significant amount of music became instantaneously available, the experience of consuming recorded music lost its time-specificity, or that indescribable memory sense (nostalgia?) that develops when one listens to particular music at particular moments of time. It flattened. Maybe it was more an effect of age rather than technological change, but it’s around that time that music started feeling like one more thing to keep up with rather than an engagement that could be moving. Exhausting rather than replenishing.
In the same way, I consume articles without much more than a general sense of how the article stands in relation to the rest of the issue’s content nor why it appeared at that moment in that journal. The relationship that I might have had with a journal, I have with JSTOR. The role of content-selection typically played by editors of a certain journal is now replaced by the suggestions of peers, course assignments and my own abilities to imagine and sort out what might of interest to me in the infinite-seeming sea of articles. It’s impersonal, disorienting and sublime and on bad days, makes intellectual consumption feel as transient as the news . For better or worse, it exaggerates my interdisciplinary tendencies and makes it almost impossible to create a coherent sense of what exactly it is that I’m studying and how exactly I’d like to add to that tradition in some sort of consistent, focused way.
But another consequence of my relationship with JSTOR as a graduate student with access to much of its content, is that my appreciation for open access journals at this moment is mostly theoretical rather than practical. As a student, I have still not yet experienced any significant limitations to access, and so, practical experience has not driven me to seek out open access journals or keep tabs on what traditional journals are considering.
And so, receiving a hint from Ashley Dawson’s article, I checked out the Open Humanities Press
(a collective of 14 open access journals with a sort of critical theory bent). Their listed goals are:
- Advocate Open Access in the Humanities
- Foster Community
- Promote Intellectual Diversity
- Improve the Experience of Academic Publishing
- Explore New Forms of Scholarly Collaboration
All great goals! I even clicked around and found some articles I’d actually like to read (who wouldn’t want to take a look at “Nihilism, Nature, and the Collapse of the Cosmos”?). But inherent in any sort of excitement about the potential of new-ish media ventures is the sense of despair at yet more content to somehow filter. I think this problem relates to their second goal of “fostering community,” for it’s community, that can, in many ways filter the endless possibility of content into a meaningful, focused and engaged conversation. As much as the capabilities of the web create potential for new forms of community, its frictionless and infinite (-seeming) space also makes it hard for enough people to engage long enough in one place for a community to actually form. The question, then, to me, about how to make the open access journal more than just more Internet noise is the question of how to build community around such publications. The answer, I think, lies as much offline as on.