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Open Access Week Interview with Rebekka Kiesewetter

The Copim team talks with Rebekka Kiesewetter about her experience involved in Copim's Experimental Publishing Group.

Published onOct 24, 2023
Open Access Week Interview with Rebekka Kiesewetter
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The Copim team talks with Rebekka Kiesewetter about her experience being involved in the Experimental Publishing work of Copim.

Tell us a little bit about yourself! When did you join the Copim community? How’s your experience been at your position?

I am a Research Fellow in the Post-Publishing research theme at the Centre for Postdigital Cultures at Coventry University, which is one of the partnering institutions in Copim’s Open Book Futures project. I also am one of the convenors of the Radical Open Access Collective. I joined Copim in 2021 as a research fellow in the Experimental Publishing work package. Together with my colleagues in Copim’s Experimental Publishing group, we are now further developing, deepening, and accelerating the work we started with the COPIM Project. Among other things, we are working on the forthcoming Experimental Publishing Compendium which lists a selection of tools, books, and practices that support and provide inspiration for experimental publishing. We also recently launched an open call for three experimental book pilot projects looking for authors, publishers, tool and platform providers that we will support in realising and publishing their experimental scholarly monographs over the course of the next 2.5 years. 

Working in these overlapping contexts and collaborating with diverse individuals and communities, I have experienced that it really is not only the public program that transports the values behind Copim – for example, horizontality, openness, diversity, and equity. It is the way collaborative work is approached within the project itself – the work of organising, maintaining, creating, communicating, documenting – that determines and delivers on these values and helps to embody them. In short: being a part of the Copim community has been a great experience.

How do you interpret the theme "Community over Commercialisation" in the context of Open Access Week 2023 and your work, and why is it important for the field of open scholarship?

Forwarding community (or, maybe better, communities) as a central tenet of OA publishing, allows emphasising the inherently social and situated character of scholarship, publications, and publishing. It helps us to recognise and acknowledge the various ways in which different people and groups of people interact and overlap within all instances that constitute scholarship, publications, and publishing: its institutions, its infrastructures, its technologies, as well as the formats (such as books and articles), processes and practices of knowledge creation and sharing (such as writing, editing, publishing, and preservation). In fact, as a side note, I think that all these different instances – and how these can account for OA-related concerns such as openness, accessibility, and participation under the focus of increasing knowledge equity and diversity – should be part of a  holistic approach to OA publishing. 

In the international field of knowledge creation and sharing today, research, writing, editing, and publishing evolve at the intersections between different local, national, and global contexts, research cultures, and disciplines. Scholars, because of the internet, open source software, and because of ambitions within OA publishing to make texts digitally available without charging readers, can more easily engage with knowledge emerging out of these different contexts and they can do so in collaboration with a diverse range of individuals and communities. 

However, academic publishing (and as part of it, OA publishing) in the way it is currently predominantly envisioned –  as an internationally uniform sphere in which large-scale policies, financing models, as well as English as a lingua franca are propagated to align scholarly knowledge creation and sharing world-wide – tends to flatten out the cultural, epistemic, and linguistic differences at play between the many researchers and research communities that constitute and shape the academic publishing landscape, and scholarship itself, today. It tends to override their needs and experiences, as well as their different knowledge cultures, ways of knowing, and forms and formats of scholarly knowledge creation and sharing, Additionally, the emphasis on large-scale orchestrated programs of action as well as the individualistic, competitive, and object-based ways in which scholarly knowledge creation is currently pursued, complicate a more dialogic engagement between different communities as well as the concrete and situated collaborative articulation of concepts such as knowledge equity and diversity across – and with respect to – institutional, disciplinary, geographical, and linguistic differences. 

In this context, forwarding community as a central principle within OA publishing is  an important reminder for the diversity of  communities interacting within knowledge creation and dissemination today; it is a call to start listening to and acknowledging each other’s differing needs, perspectives, experiences, approaches, and “truths” (and, while doing this, also start questioning the own convictions and certainties); and it is an invitation to start to collaboratively develop concrete strategies, as well as tentative practices and methods for fostering situated dialogue and collaboration across different languages, knowledge cultures, and communities (while respecting the differences between them) in order to start rearticulating and enacting what a more diverse and equitable future for OA publishing could look like.

In your opinion, what are the key challenges and drawbacks when commercial interests take precedence in knowledge production, as opposed to prioritizing researchers and the public?

I think one of the main challenges is that community-led forms of OA publishing are often not recognised as a valid alternative to the prevalent big-scale initiatives – nor in the scholarly community, nor by funders, policy providers, and by other stakeholders in OA publishing. This is due to a variety of reasons. For example, Leslie Chan and his colleagues write that due to the increasing complexity of the scholarly publishing landscape, “authors, funders and policymakers lack awareness of the diversity of … initiatives that are available” (Chan et al. 2020, p. 6). Moreover, the gradual enclosure of scholarly knowledge in general (and (OA) publishing specifically) within a neoliberal framework has led to the normalisation of OA publishing as a way to generate monetary revenue or career capital. As Martin Paul Eve and Jonathan Gray stress, this has advanced to the extent that many scholarly institutions and academics encounter OA publishing as “a product of a need to comply with systems of bureaucracy and finance, rather than any genuinely critical engagement with scholarly communication practices in the digital age” (Eve & Gray, p. 7). I think that, in this context, it is hard for scholars to develop a sense of agency regarding the ways in which scholarly knowledge creation and distribution is pursued.

How can we encourage a shift toward using community-minded options in knowledge sharing systems as the default choice, and what are the practical steps that can be taken to achieve this shift?

This is a process that has several dimensions. It includes working collaboratively and horizontally to build the infrastructures, processes, workflows, and practices needed to support community-led OA publishing in a sustainable and equitable way and to make it a viable alternative to large-scale and commercial systems – basically, the work we’ve been doing with Copim and that many other OA advocates and initiatives around the world do as well. It also includes to keep advocating widely for the relevance of community-led forms of OA publishing: For example, by informing and educating about existing options and future possibilities across stakeholders. I’m thinking here across OA communities such as funders, libraries, publishers, researchers, as well as communities outside of academia. Last but not least, I also think it’s important for scholars to start recognising their agency over the ways in which scholarly knowledge creation and distribution is pursued. This includes thinking about how one can get involved – for example, through the way in which one researches and publishes, where, with whom, for who, and how – in rethinking how scholarly knowledge creation can become more equitable and diverse.

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