In the Eye of the Public Beholder

In the Eye of the Public Beholder

After reading Working in Public I’ve decided I’m now incredibly interested in the concept of open access scholarship, and what it can do for not only institutions that don’t have the means to access a wealth of databases like the University of California system does, but also for the education of the general public. (I’m currently questioning if my increasing enthusiasm for each subject we look into is a reflection on my “sheep”ness or Erin’s ability to find interesting topics I just so happen to really like.) To my understanding, academics, and particularly higher education, was built on elitism, specifically in class and race. It is structured around exclusivity, in who can teach and who can learn. This is why programs were put in place to assist previously excluded groups in accessing higher education, and why the people who had historically benefitted from this exclusivity saw it as a threat, or “reverse discrimination”. With this context, it makes sense that academic scholarship and publishers of scholarship would follow the trend of exclusion, seeing it as prestige rather than stupidity. Harkening back to our previous KNIT discussion, if nothing has meaning out of discourse, then the dissertations written, the research papers, and the academic articles published in those closed-off spaces don’t matter. If a dissertation falls in the forest, and nobody is there to read it, has it really been written? Is there any value to the work if no one has access to it? No. This is why open-access scholarship is important to both the public, and the scholars. The scholar can know that their work is being interacted with, and the readers can engage with research and begin thinking critically about a topic they might not otherwise have known or cared about.

I found two specific critiques of open-access scholarship to be what I consider, the most important points, one ridiculous, the other valid. First was the criticism of the public; the layperson that “cannot understand and therefore does not need access to such highly specialized work” (19). I think that generalization is incredibly offensive and elitist, which is the kind of thinking that allows intellectual gatekeeping to exist and persist. Who has the audacity to think they can decide what somebody is capable of understanding? Why is there an assumption that “the public” is incapable of understanding something that may actually spark interest? A quote from my notes, “What kind of elitist, we don’t want an educated public, f*ck-Jean-Jacques-Rousseau a** b****…” (I’m aware JJR had his (lady) issues, but I invoked him for the argument of having an educated public as a necessity for a well-functioning democracy). That is not a valid reason for preventing public access to scholarship, in my opinion. However, I do understand the hesitation where revenue is concerned, especially for humanities scholars whose work is most likely not funded to the same degree as scientific or technological research would be. This is another instance in which capitalism is a preventative factor for public good. Intellectual capitalism hits hard, and both prioritizes a certain kind of scholarship, and convinces academics to keep their work in a small circulation because that’s where the money comes from. Knowledge and free access to it is a true form of power. And they know it.


  1. Just as David Parry commented, “Knowledge that is not public is not knowledge.” While there are clearly obstacles on achieving public information. Just like the article “Working in Public” mentions “For that reason, despite the serious challenges involved, we must stop ending our conversations about open access in the humanities with the seemingly insurmountable obstacles and instead start figuring out what it will take to get around them”

  2. Although Stuart Hall states that “nothing has meaning outside of discourse” when discussing media and advertising, it totally applies to academics and the “stashing” of knowledge. If people can’t access information from higher education, what’s the point? I hate intellectual bubbles because they not only leave out the very communities that they research and write about, but there’s almost a recycling of ideas from within that don’t get challenged in the same constructive way as they would if every day people were allowed to weigh in.

  3. I would like to wholly agree with you and support you for the rest of your academic life because this post is exactly why. It serves us no good to create situations where intellectual gatekeeping is possible. In fact, those situations should be destroyed, because as you said, they are built on elitism and I believe we have had more than enough of that. We have to fight tooth and nail for the prospect of giving people the access they need to be able to think, understand, and live freely.

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