Open Access in Cultural Studies

Summer holiday 2014, Berlin, Germany, June 15, 2014 | © Courtesy of Frans de Wit/Flickr.
Summer holiday 2014, Berlin, Germany, June 15, 2014 | © Courtesy of Frans de Wit/Flickr.

The essay will draw on Gary Hall’s proposal that Open Access can “represent an opportunity, a chance, a risk, for the (re)politicization—or, better, hyperpoliticization—of cultural studies” (Hall, 2008 p. 202) to see what implication this “radical open access” can have for commercial publishers.

A Blog Article by Izabella Penier.

In Digitalise This Book, Gary Hall argues, that if cultural studies wants to remain faithful its own definitions of itself and its ideas of what it means to be political (2008 p. 201), it must embrace Open Access (OA) as an alternative means of scholarly communication. Hall sees OA as a means of politicising and radicalising the Humanities by allowing academics to take “an affirmative political (and ethical) position with regard to the production, reproduction, publication, communication, distribution, dissemination, and exchange of academic research and scholarly literature, the institution of the university, and even cultural studies” (2008 p. 197). OA not only better serves the academic community by making research freely available to all, in Hall’s opinion, it also serves the purpose of “de-propertizing knowledge,” wrenching the control from the big publisher, the intermediary, and giving it back to scholars.

It may come as a big surprise then that, in general, humanists resist OA and characterise the “journals that originated online” as “tedious and unoriginal” (Rauch, qtd. in Miller, 2012 p. 55).  Hall attributes this reluctance among cultural studies’ “paper-centric” scholars to publish their research in “e-print archives or open-access journals” to the desire of this relatively new academic discipline to be recognised as a “legitimate academic field of study and research” and “to be … accepted within the institution [academia] as such” (Hall, 2008 p. 200). This desire for legitimacy is made stronger by the fact that many Humanities authors still associate Open Access with vanity publishing (Bonn, 2010 p. 436). Hall also admits that conformism is a factor in humanist aversion to the Open Access: “People in cultural studies need jobs, funding, and support if they are to continue to teach and to train others and produce research” (2008 p. 201). However, in Hall’s opinion a critique of politics in this particular context in which cultural studies has found itself today means, first and foremost, that scholars must come to grips with their own participation and “replication” of the established institutional and business structures that are respectively career- and market-driven.

As much as I sympathise (as a scholar) with Hall’s critique of cultural studies’ leniency towards material practices of journal production, distribution and consumption, (as a publisher) I remain sceptical about his call for radical open access based on disintermediation.   Scholar-led publishing initiatives in which scholars set up cross-institutional infrastructures, like Open Humanities Press, or use self-publishing and social media platforms are laudable as they break the monopoly of big commercial publishers and free and decentralise knowledge. On the other hand, however, it is hard to envisage a future for Humanities in which a professional publisher, the intermediary between the scholar and the reader, is altogether removed from the picture. Hall’s radical open access favours Green OA and independent publishers and is presented as an alternative to, the large, profit-led companies that have come to dominate the field of academic journal publishing. However, in recent years these companies have also been experimenting and with success with gold open access demonstrating that open access can not only be seen as a viable business model but also that gold open access has much more to offer than the green type.

Gold OA has many advantages; it allows text and data mining, it also provides “the version of record,” research results verified by reviewers, final forms of diagrams, tables and photographs, and the final pagination for the purposes of citation. These advantages have been endorsed by the 2012 Finch report that concluded that gold open access is the best way to expand access to published research findings. The report did not disparage of the green route to OA but argued that the gold route, with all its digital benefits and opportunities, is the future of academic publishing. Therefore, like Hall, I think that “digitization and open access represent an opportunity, a chance, a risk, for the (re)politicization—or, better, hyperpoliticization—of cultural studies; a reactivization of the antagonistic dimension that is precisely what cultural studies’ politics is” (Hall, 2008, p. 202). I do not share, however, Hall’s preference for the Green OA and his desire to disintermediate the academic publishing model. While it is true that operations of big commercial publishers should be scaled down and the “corporate suspects of academic publishing” (Miller, 2012, p. 54) should better balance their economic and business objectives, I also think that scholars should accept the fact that OA is not a homogeneous, and, by definition, a radical and subversive project. It is, instead, an ongoing evolution that can reform the publishing industry, and the sooner cultural studies scholars embrace both Gold and Green OA models, the more impact will they have on the post-subscription reality that is starting now to emerge.

Written by Izabella Penier

Edited by Pablo Markin


Bonn, Maria, 2010. Free Exchange of ideas: experimenting with the open access monograph. College and Research Libraries News, 71, 8, September, pp. 436-439: [Accessed on 15 July 2018].

Hall, Gary, 2008. Digitalize this book! The politics of new media and why we need an Open Access now. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Miller, Toby, 2012. Blow up the Humanities. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Featured Image Credits: Summer holiday 2014, Berlin, Germany, June 15, 2014 | © Courtesy of Frans de Wit/Flickr.

Cite this article as: Izabella Penier, "Open Access in Cultural Studies," in Open Culture, 25/08/2018,

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