The Intersection of Open Scholarship + Social Justice

The Intersection of Open Scholarship + Social Justice

How Does Open Scholarship Relate to Social Justice?

WELCOME! To our newest student-led discussion forum: Ideas in Circulation: Open Scholarship for Social Justice. This is the fifth of eight conversations in The University Worth Fighting For, a year-long project designed to tie student-centered, engaged practices in our classrooms to larger issues of institutional change, equality, race, gender, and all forms of social justice. Add a comment below to participate!

We hope undergraduate and graduate students anywhere will join this conversation, and we hope faculty members might challenge their students to contribute. We encourage lively debate, respectful of difference.

Each month, we host a livestreamed workshop that corresponds to the online forum. JOIN US LIVE on Friday, February 5th 1-2pm in NYC *or* online!

Previous Conversations in the Series: 

Ideas in Circulation: Open Scholarship for Social Justice

Some Related Readings and Media to Jumpstart the Conversation Below:

Discussion Group Leaders:

How Do I Join the Conversation?

Join the discussion by adding your comment below! Share your thoughts, questions, and other resources. You can also participate by tweeting with #fight4edu.


We’re looking forward to a productive conversation on the intersections between open scholarship, academic librarianship, library and information science education, and social justice.

In reflecting on the first two themes our the reading list above – open access and digital divides – we’ve created some guiding questions to start the conversation:

Members of marginalized groups aren’t always able to publish in traditional scholarly venues.

  • How can we ensure that all individuals have access to submission processes and publication platforms?
  • How can we encourage and support marginalized voices in the scholarly conversation?
  • How can we holistically and meaningfully incorporate lived experiences into our scholarship?

Even open access academic publications have filters, including reviewers, editors, and hosts, that control who and what gets published.

  • How can open access publications eliminate these biases?
  • Is there a way to do so while still preserving academic integrity?
  • What does academic integrity mean in an open scholarship context? 

Environmental Studies--a field that exist as an interdisciplianry assemblage of environmental scientists, social scientists, and humanists--is I think a good example of where open-acces, public science publishing is crucial. Because of the focus on human/environment interactions, you would think that this field would gravitate to open-access, peer-reviewed publishing practices that forgo some of the corporatist structure of some of the more mainstream harder and social sciences. Afterall, with a particular interest and focus on vulnerable populations and issues of environmental justice, Environmental Studies research results seem like they kind of thing that we would want to share the results of as broadly as posible.

The Ideas in Circulation event and discussion made me curious to go investigate some of my favorite, go-to journals in the filed of Environmental Studies to see how they stack up on open-access opportunities. Global Environmental Change is a popular journal in the field. Quantified rankings from InCitesTM Journal Citation Reports(R) [itself proprietary and behind a paywall for many users not belonging to an institution] lists the impact factor of Global Environmental Change on the field of Enviornmental Studies as third highest in the field with 7,533 total cites and an impact factor of 5.089 (Thomson Reuters, 2014). Global Environmental Change does allow some open-access to select articles it publishes, but many of the articles are behind a paywall. In their information for authors section, the journal's publishing company (Elsevier) explains that they have a liberal policy of allowing authors of content to share free versions of the articles they author for 6 months after it has been published. Elsevier's rationale is that this allows the research to be desiminated widely. I can't help but think that it is more profit and marketing oriented than altruistic--authors share the content, drum up interest in the community and people start citing it or referencing it, and then once the authors have marketed it, the publishing company puts the paywall back up. There is definitely work to be done in the sciences on making access open to the public. Social justice research is not meant to be consumed in research silos or by only those that can afford access--by nature it is designed to help vulnerable people cope with environmental stress.

One of my favorite go-to journals at the intersection of sustainability/resilience/society is Ecology & Society with it's dedicated transdisciplinary approach to facing some of the BIG challenges in the world today. Available online and thoroughly peer-reviewed, this journal has become one of the go-to journals in the field of resilience studies and human-environemnt interactions. AND, it is completely open-access. Starting with relatively little impact in the early 2000s, the journal is now ranked #7 in the field of Environmental Studies and continues to grow in the field. It started off as a rather niche community, but it has quickly caught up to compete with some of the bigger names in the field operated by well-known publishers. We need more journals like this where quality, peer-reviewed research is published and made available to everyone. This is what environmental justice is all about.


Hi everyone,

I’m so looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this topic! I wanted to add one more resources to the mix: #critlib Twitter chats. Today's chat, on patience and impatience in social justice work, may be of particular interest.


Katina, thank you for sharing! Coincidentally, April Hathcock, one of the patience/impatience #critlib moderators, will be speaking at tomorrow's The University Worth Fighting For event, Ideas in Circulation: Open Scholarship for Social Justice.

As a library and information science (LIS) master's student, I sometimes wonder whether the critiques of LIS's insularity stem more from within or outside the LIS discipline. Although I am long-time admirer of many #critlib voices, even I wouldn't have guessed that a non-librarian would be familiar with #critlib.

How can open scholarly communities like #critlib foster interdisciplinary dialog?


Yes! We're so excited for April to join us tomorrow. Hope everyone can tune into the livestream at 1pm EST:


Thanks for kicking us off with these great questions, Elizabeth. I am increasingly becoming intersted in alternative modes of scholarly production - creative works, born-digital, public-facing, multimodal scholarship, etc. I think that where and how we publish affects *what* we publish, and whose histories, experiences, and desires are valued by the academy. So I'm wondering how something like blogging might fit into this open access scholarship debate. Are there ways to shift what we measure in the academy? Can we perhaps rely less on scholarly, peer-reviewed articles, so often housed behind pay walls? How can we promote open-access, peer reviewed blogs, videos, news articles and editorials, websites, digital projects, etc.?


Danica, I think this is a really great question, and something I have been thinking of this week -- I recently looked at these two posts: Q&A with Jingmai O'Connor and A Conversation with Sydney Brenner -- two interviews with scientists. They both say very different things, with O'Connor stating that blogging is a virtual waste of time as the Internet is unchecked, and Brenner saying that elite journals are destroying scientific innovation.

These may be two extreme views, but are interesting to think about. I really think that writing online can be a great form of public scholarship, but readers will need some form of digital literacy to be able to judge whether something is well-researched and well-argued or not. Considering that mass-market books and translations do not count as publications for tenure/promotions (when those may be doing a great public service), it seems like we have a long way to go before public humanities and public science are endorsed. This is such an important conversation because open access can be a great driver of equity.


Hi -

I first came across Jingmai O'Connor's criticism of social media in the sciences on Twitter, retweeted by an astronomer friend. The response among his colleagues seemed to be either mild indignation or thoughtful rebuttals to said indignation (interesting, since they were by scientists who Tweet and blog). It's worth reading the interview in which she made this comment, as well as the Twitter thread it sparked -- which itself suggests why some folks are wary of using social media as a channel for scholarly communication. And in all fairness, she was addressing her statement to the scientific community, in which peer-review functions a bit differently than in the humanities.(HASTAC scientists, feel free to correct me on that!) Nevertheless, she definitely touched a nerve; Open Science is more than a hashtag  and many younger scientists use social media as a means of scholarly communication, and have for years.

The tweet:

Another blog response with links to more responses:


Danica, these are really great questions. I am very interested in exploring how we can adapt current higher education systems, structures, and processes to be more open, inclusive, and equitable learning communities.

What impact would metrics that value open publications (broadly defined) over closed platforms have on the higher education system? In thinking about nina de jesus’s commentaries (listed above), whose interests would we be privileging if we redesigned scholarship metrics? How can we ensure our actions towards open scholarship do not privilege our own academic interests over the interests of our broader, non-academic communities?


Greetings all.  I have sort of mixed emotions on both topics raised on this discussion page.  On one hand I agree with Danica on the point she has made about blogging as an available and accessible tool and forum for students to share their scholarly thoughts with like minded people and class mates.  I have tried blogging for free on the Word Press site.  At the time I was combining and using my love for writing and sharing my thoughts as a form of therapy and an output to deal with the emotions of dating and pitfalls of romantic liasions.  It was for me also a fun and enlightening way to share openly my diary thoughts and get feedback from my friends and since it's public forum , feedback from others.  Outside of that year I did not previously have expereince with blogging nor did I continue with my journalistic therapy afterwards. Nor did I continue reading other blogs or following much with exploring blogging as a social or educational form of media sources or outlook.  In all honesty until I started my master's program, I wouldn't have thought of blogging or using blogs as a source of scholaristic resources.  And please don't misjudge me, nor is my intent to belittle or offend anyone, I am just sharing how it is possible that though blogging is popular, there are some young-middle age folks like me who still live in the Dark Ages of what we considered  and were taught to be scholastic resources.  So yes in my first semester when I needed to find, read and use scholastic journals for my three research papers, I went and did exactly as was discussed in one of the above forum topics.  I used either my NY Public library card or my grad school library card number for the free access.  And trust me prior to realizing I had free access based on those two sources I said to myself "wow, what happens when people who need access but do not have library cards do when they see the cost for access"?  Not to play devil's advocate but I did also to be truthful wonder to myself and I said I was going to one day bring this up in either my future required thesis workshop class or with one of my professors, this question that sits in the back of my mind.  If the research scholarly journals/articles were easily and freely accessible to the public would the research and content of the articles still contain the high quality of academic research, writing and thought that's put into it by the authors/researchers?  And I asked myself the same question..yes blogging is open to the public and easily more accessible, but would I, Nicky put in the same amount of hard work, effort, research and writing for my blog as I would for my article that would be lableed as a work of scientific, scholaristic academia.

On a side note please excuse any spelling errors, I don't see  and can't find the spell check bar!





I like Nicky's question about the level of research and formality we put into our writing when we are aware of the audience.

When I look up journal articles for research papers, I'm always aware of how inaccessible many of the readings feel in regards to the concepts they are trying to communicate. That strikes me as a barrier as much as cost, technological prowess, etc. Are most scholarly articles meant to be accessible to a greater public? It seems as though most academics write for other academics. That's not a bad thing, but if we're discussing total accessibility of information, it doesn't seem as if most scholarly writers truly want to understood by all.


This is a very important point, Erica, which I don't think should be overlooked. Using a lot of field-specific jargon can make academic writing very opaque and inaccessible to those outside of the field, including fellow academics. Writing clear prose should be a priority, though it needs to be balanced with disciplinary rigor.


Nicky, you raise a number of interesting points that are worthy of consideration. I myself have fallen into the academese trap that Erica describes. Most of my communications have been tailored to an audience within the academy. As a result, I find writing for open forums like HASTAC or professional association blogs somewhat challenging. Part of this stems from the institutional structures that I operate within - if my university does not value engagement with non-faculty audiences or those outside of the academy, it inhibits how deeply and meaningfully I can engage these broader and equally important communities. What is unclear, for me at least, is how individuals balance engaging these two types of audiences. Do we work to change to systems and structures that inhibit public engagement, or abandon closed systems in favor of open communities?


Thanks for kicking off this important discussion.  I'd like to add in the recent work by Prof Marc Edwards at Virginia Tech University who both exposed the lead levels in DC and in Flint and has gone to Flint to help solve the problem.  But that's not all:  he has made a stinging rebuke to academics for their role, especially scientistis, in abdicating their role as public servants, putting knowledge at the service of society: He argues that "public science" is all but dead.  Now, science is about getting grants, building reputations, and public good is barely an issue.

My admiration for his work and his position are sky high. The part of his analysis that I'd like to add: structurally, we now have science that is supported by corporations or, equally appalling, we have universities that are so poorly supported by the public that they must support themselves by funding--and that means scientists must constantly write grants in programs that fund grants in ways that they are funded, and that deflects research from the most urgent, public issues into the most fundable possibilities.

It is STRUCTURAL   Universities cannot both serve the public good and apply to corporations and narrowly conceived grant opportunities to exist.  You cannot have both, except almost by chance or luck.

But this structural problem does not leave universities off the hook, not by any means. "The University Worth Fighting For"---the series we're hosting--is about this double whammy, this paradox, this joint responsibility, for a better public support for higher education but also for a higher education worth supporting (public and private education). BOTH directions at once.

At a keynote talk I gave last week for the Association of American Colleges and Universities, I talked flippanly but also with dead seriousness about "USE IT OR LOSE IT TENURE":  I said, since only 20% of the professorate now has tenure, those of us who do, should not think of it as a guarantee of free speech but as a MANDATE.  That is, if you don't exercise your free speech for the public good at least once a year--exercise your tenure privilege, very rare in the world, at least once a year--then you have to give it up and give it to someone who will use it.  

Of course that is whimsical and unworkable, but the audience really liked the "challenge" that it poses, even hypothetically.

I think this forum on Open Archives and Social Justice poses a similar challenge as does Marc Edwards:  how can we make sure our knowledge doesn't stop with our making it, using vast resources of the archives available to us and then think the book or article is the end product:  how, instead, can we use that book or article or blog post or tweet or any other way of using valid knowledge for the public good and for social justice?  




I absolutely love this idea! What better way could there be to justify the very existence of tenure than to demand that something social responsible (perhaps even progressive?) be done with it?

And while we're dreaming (and I mean that in the best way), why don't we also image the possibility of institutional support for progressive social activism all the way down the line? If Universities demonstrated that they valued these kinds of actions on the part of their junior constituents as well, perhaps even considered them in a positive light when making hiring and/or tenure decision, then this could create a culture of support for public-minded leadership that might encourage action in all kinds of forms.  

Also, I agree with your analysis of the problem of funding, particularly in the hard sciences. Reliance on corporate funding effectively constrains the range of potential subjects that will be researched, which further cements the neoliberal takeover of public institutions by dictating the terms of academic ‘success.’ Everyone wants to play to win, and if playing along with the dominant corporate agenda brings accolades to a lab, then it’s no surprise that this system is self-reinforcing.

On the bright side, it seems to me (in all my naive optimism) that the situation could be very quickly radically restructured through a change in federal funding priorities. If the kind of money that labs needed to do public-minded research was guaranteed by the govt. as part of an institution’s operating budget, there would be far less of need to keep practices structured around securing those corporate grants. Now, how to orchestrate a fundamental overhaul of federal priorities?


Zeb: Totally! Not only could use it or losing thinking justify tenure, it could also have the opposite effect on some of the indecencies non-tenure academics endure. If tenure is reconceived as an obligation rather than some shining reward at the end of a tunnel, how might that force us to reconceive the tunnel itself?


Love this use it or lose it model, even if it has to be a self-imposed challenge. Are there ways we can do something similar with our existing library privileges? 


Cathy, you raise an important point - the systems and structures of higher education can act as inhibitors or facilitators of social progress. In thinking about your comments on tenure, I wonder how we can cultivate using tenure status and its associated privilege for good. It seems that the academy itself implicitly silences tenure-track faculty – if you rock the boat, you might lose you chance at attaining tenure – which influences individuals further down the hierarchy (staff, students, adjuncts). How can we restructure higher education to promote socially-just speech and activism at all levels? How can tenured and non-tenured faculty, students, staff, and administrators cultivate organizational cultures where everyone’s voice is valued and all are free to speak? 


Walking past the Amazon Prime Now outpost on 35th Street by the Graduate Center I found myself wondering about the relationship between this discussion and a new ideal of almost militant convenience: everything should be easily and cheaply if not freely available to us immediately, with minimal human interaction. While I don't covet my elders their request slips and microfilm, we should ask what's lost when we're told everything is at our fingertips. I mean that not in the preposterous curmudgeonly sense that kids these days don't know what the hell they're doing (of course freeing us from busywork is good for our research) but in terms of labor, skill, and curation. Barbara Fister articulates the frustration of generating financially prohibitive hits on Google Scholar. How does that frustration compare to to that of sifting through Google Books' 18th century public domain holdings and finding them severely mismanaged--misattributed, misdated, and with the occasional finger in the frame which confirms suspicion that the digitization was probably done by a minimum wage contractor and not an archivist? As we advocate for open access we need to advocate for the structural changes that will keep vital academic work feasible and funded. And we need to make sure it's doing its intended job of serving the public and never satisfying some weird hunger for instantaneousness. 


Hi Arinn--I think you raise an important point. Digitalization is great--and I don't mean to impugn the project in any way--but it can also be used as a tool to dismantle physical libraries. Some libraries (and I am not a librarian, so please correct me if I am wrong about this) will digitize a book and then get rid of the hard copy or exile it to a warehouse. There are compelling financial reasons for shrinking the physical holdings of a library, but I think a lot of us would like to think that we could still find hard copy books in our libraries when needed. We want both digital versions and hard copies.

One might say that keeping the physical book is redudant after digitalization, but I think that is not quite true. Different people read differently, and there is still a large group of people who find it easier to read off a printed page than a screen. But even more important than convenience is the fact that every book is different. Once a book has been digitized and is open to all, several university libraries might discard their copies or bannish them to warehouses. All those libraries will rely on the one digitized book (likely on Google Books) as their text. As Andrew Stauffer has imaginatvely shown with his Book Traces project, different books carry history through them. Maybe Ohio State University's copy of "Leaves of Grass" from 1900 has marginalia in it that shed light on early 20th century mourning, but the University of Michigan's copy is unmarked. If we digitize U Mich's copy and consign OSU's copy to the warehouse, no scholar will find the marginalia that could lead to a great dissertation or article.

So while it might seem redundant to keep multiple copies of books around, it can be a great way to preserve interesting and important insights into the past--love letters, notes that explain old thinking, ideas of politics--that would all be lost if we only had one copy of the book. I agree with Arinn that while digitalization is useful we must also not give too much. Professor Stauffer's Book Traces is one great way to find the balance.


Hi Elizabeth, Alyssa, Krystal, and Howard:  thanks for this Forum.  My graduate class, "American Literature, American Learning," is all going to be responding to the issues you raised.  You'll see several of their comments below.  I wish more classes used these forums as an opportunity to engage in dialogue around the serious issues that face higher education today.  

A note on form and method:  I fear many classes now are using blogging in the same non-serious intellectual way that they used to use homework, pop quizzes, or simple essay assignment--not as an engaged opportunity for someone to really think in interaction and dialogue with someone else who has given serious thought to a topic but just as "an assignment."  I personally don't believe any writing should ever occur in the vacuum of student::teacher.  There should always be a larger public and a purpose. 

The excellent job you have done framing the issues around open access, knowledge production, and social justice issues could provide writing classes all over the country with a great opportunity to engage students.  It's for free and without creepy data surveillance of a commercial site,  and, yet, because you have to sign in to comment, there is a control against trolling.  So it is both an open forum and a respectful one, a public but a serious one engaged in issues of mutual concern.

Thanks for hosting this and giving my class--and hopefully others--an opportunity to engage with you on this important topic.


Cathy, thank you for encouraging your students to share their insights with us here on HASTAC! As a student, I have found myself being assigned to participate in the types of "public" yet closed, "discussion" but disengaged scenarios that you describe. I learn so much from my student peers and always appreciate the opportunity to share with them, particularly in online venues. At the same time, the hierarchical nature of most educational technology platforms inhibit authentic engagement between students and educators. A venue like HASTAC, where we are all defined as equal members of the same community, helps to implicitly equalize our engagement.


Nicky, Erica, Zeb, Arin-  you all raise what many of us view as major problems in the current state of the Academy. Advocating access to journals behind paywalls resulted in the suicide of Aaron Swartz when he was about to go to trial for downloading articles from JSTOR, not to sell them but to offer them to others besides the priviledged who have access through our institutions. Thankfully, in New York, we have public libraries that subscribe to many databases that hold at least some of these journals.  But, for anyone wanting to do in depth research in others that public libraries don't have access to, we accept that we can't get to those articles unless we can figure out a way to work around the system. Publishers don't help by charging high prices for access to just a single article, yet they end up controlling the intellectual property written by scholars who are not paid for this work. Sheesh! Advocates for open access have gone so far as to boycott some of these publishers.

A major argument for digital literacy is access to information that is only available digitally, or at least made more readily available digitally than a hard copy. I agree that hard copies of books should be kept, but I have seen digitized versions of different editions of books. That is costly and perhaps not always feasible, but any digitization effort should enable access to works that may be too fragile or too far away to get to. HathiTrust is a digital library that holds multiple digitized versions, when available. And, many works in the library are available openly.

Then there's tenure. Faculty are required to publish and contribute to the knowledge in a particular area of scholarship. The publications they look to publish in are those very same scholarly journals locked away in the academy. As Cathy and Zeb point out, there is a more enlightened way to view the obligations of faculty to contribute.


Here is a Computer Science Journal from PeerJ preprint (not yet peer-reviewed) of a study of gender bias in the open source community that I think is very relevant to this converation and to HASTAC in general (see Gender Bias in Academe, for example). An excerpt from the abstract:

"Surprisingly, our results show that women's contributions tend to be accepted more often than men's. However, when a woman's gender is identifiable, they are rejected more often. Our results suggest that although women on GitHub may be more competent overall, bias against them exists nonetheless."

Read the whole article here [PDF].


I understand the idea behind pay walls and academics wanting monetary credit for their work, but I find this barrier to restrictive to to a point that keeps many intelligent voices out of circulation. I can't deny the merit that is credited to being published in a scholarly journal, but that shouldn't be the only merit allowed, as it currently stands. I also find that articles that are published in scholarly journals are not always the most up to date sources of information as it takes so much time and writers to jump through so many hoops for their work to be published. As a graduate student in my research process, I have had to research beyond pay walled articles available to information found on Google and professional blogs as I wanted the most up to date ideas to help justify my thoughts. If blogs are becoming a more acceptable medium to use as citing as expert voice in research papers, I do not understand why it would not be considered for tenure. I also agree with the point about everyone's ability to access publishing. There are many pockets around the world with limited access to publishing and/or viewing pay walled published articles. This should not be be the form of access as it holds as a barrier to keep certain populations, Native Americans and some African countries as noted in the articles above, out of the conversation. Academic conversation should not continue to marginalize groups of people.