Allow Me Some Elitism-related Ranting for a Second

You know how people complain that academia (the institution, not necessarily the individual members) is part of the “ivory tower” complex, detached from the realities of society, etc.? I do not necessarily agree with that, however, I just had a “shaking fist” moment at my screen.

Someone on Twitter posted a link to a text: Femininity and Feminism: Chinese and Contemporary [A Special Issue of the Journal of Chinese Philosophy]. I clicked, excited, at the prospect of reading it. Well”¦ no. As is always the case with these kinds of journals, one needs “Institutional Access” to get to the text. Now, I am fully aware of copyright issues, funding, etc. However, we have tons of access to pop culture material (magazines, newspapers, etc.), but any serious academic study requires the filter of further academic credentials to access it.

If this had been the first time that it happened to me, I wouldn’t probably notice, but it is a pattern: academic knowledge is kept within the confines of academia. And sure enough, I know people with institutional access whom I could ask to get the text for me, etc. But that’s not the point. The issue is that by keeping these texts behind a virtual academic wall, people who have no ties to academia (activists, grass-roots organizers who could benefit from perspectives, etc.), are also shut down from this knowledge. Coincidentally, the people discussed in this journal (i.e., Chinese feminists living in China) will not be able to read what is said about them because they will also lack an institutional login to access the text.

As usual, I do not have solutions, but I do certainly see a problem with this, especially because a lot of this research is funded with public moneys (at least that is the case with much of what is done in European institutions).

9 thoughts on “Allow Me Some Elitism-related Ranting for a Second”

  1. Someone on Twitter posted a link to a text: Femininity and Feminism: Chinese and Contemporary [A Special Issue of the Journal of Chinese Philosophy]. I clicked, excited, at the prospect of reading it. Well… no. As is always the case with these kinds of journals, one needs “Institutional Access” to get to the text. Now, I am fully aware of copyright issues, funding, etc. However, we have tons of access to pop culture material (magazines, newspapers, etc.), but any serious academic study requires the filter of further academic credentials to access it.

    I’ve been pondering this piece over the weekend. I get the frustration. I am a non-affiliated scholar who writes papers and presents at conferences, yet my lack of academic affiliation means that many of my source materials lie behind paywalls. It’s frustrating, because then I need to go in to get the articles through my public library access, but that’s why my public library subscribes to these databases.

    There are two inherent differences between academic journals and something like US Weekly and I don’t think they’re something to be sneezed at. The first, of course, is the size of the audience, which makes putting Vogue or US Weekly online viable via their advertisers. The second is also the size of the audience, which is to say the average person probably could give a rats ass about theories of Marxism and film analysis or the minutia of picking apart the subtext of a novel written in the 1700s or the actual scientific data from a study about (whatever). Its just not financially feasible for most of these journals to be open source. The move to making them open source would necessitate losing some of the costs associated with publishing them — the peer reviewed articles, for instance, which is a pretty vital self-check in the academic world.

    Plenty of people have noted below that you do not, at least in America, need to be affiliated with a university to actually have access to the majority of those databases. It does require that you are aware that there are other ways around, via your public library, a museum, or an alumni account, which is a barrier, but not an insurmountable one.

  2. Another possibility is to go to a university library (if you live near one). Most public universities will let members of the public use their resources on site (I’m pretty sure they’re required to in a lot of states), and usually they have a pretty low-fee option to become a member if not. For example, the public university in my town has a $35/ yr membership, which is not a prohibitive sum for most people.

    I agree with the basic point, though: academic journals should be easier to access, although I’m not sure an open-source model would work.

  3. contacting authors is good idea- also, a public library card will get you access to an institutional library- which will get you access to journals. I’m with you on the open access part though- academic authors go unpaid- now that journals are electronic, they need to go open source and totally online- it’s the future of academic publishing.

    1. Not every public library card will grant you institutional access. It depends on whether your public library is part of a consortia or other sharing agreement with an institutional library, and a great many aren’t. Sometimes even those that are have very strict limits on which databases and other resources you can access.

  4. Academic journals are made available to members of the society for whom the journal is published. Memebership in any variety of societies or professional organizations will give you access to specific journals, and anybody can join. I will grant that membership is often more expensive than, say, a magazine subscription, but none of these journals is behind an impermeable academic veil.

    Many journals also sell individual issues or even individual articles (now that everything is digital). JSTOR, for example, sells most articles for $10, which is expensive on a per article basis, but hardly a barrier.

    Also, membership to aggrgators like JSTOR and EBSCO is avaialble both to individual subscribers as well as a to public institutions like museums, secondary schools, and even some public libraries. I know you can look at JSTOR for a list of 1000s of institutions that participate (they are NOT all universities), and EBSCO is available at many public libraries.

    So, no, you needn’t necessarily have further academic credentials to access lots of this material. You just need to be more creative about how to obtain it. Good luck!

      1. Kindly reread my first and third paragraph. Many public libraries, museums, school districts subscribe to resources like JSTOR. For example, here in Philadelphia patrons of the Free Library have access to it. That’s relatively east, free access to a huge academic database for more than a million residents in SE Pennsylvania. At least two public school districts in the area also have access. As do three community colleges.

        Monmoth County, NJ public library has access, as does the New York Pubic Library.

        I grant you that not everybody has such easy access to major metropolitan areas, but for the 70% of Americans (at least) that live in urban areas, access isn’t exactly impossible, or necessarily expensive.

  5. You can always contact the author(s) – I’m sure the’d be happy to send you a copy of the article. Most will have a copy of their articles on their websites anyway. And in this respect it’s maybe easier to read academic articles than articles in paywalled newspapers and magazines.

  6. I’ve noticed this issue particularly when I was working & considering a career change into the sciences (it was difficult to access articles on my area of interest & find out about current research). I’m back in school now with journal access through a university, but that experience gave me a great appreciation for anyone who chooses to publish in open access journals or in a way that makes their findings more accessible. It also seems that the more prestigious the journal the less likely it is to be readily available, which is a sad state of affairs.

    I certainly don’t have a solution, but one thing I did find helpful was Google Scholar. They post links beside search results so publicly available articles are easy to find & read or download.

Leave a Reply