I too read Sarah Bond’s blog posting with interest without proceeding to delete my Academia.edu account. Sarah is a friend of mine, and was for two years my colleague at Washington and Lee (she was a Mellon Postdoc Fellow at the time). Besides being
a superb, rising scholar of late antique law, Roman epigraphy, with a focus on marginalized groups and legal stigmas such as
infamia, she is a big proponent of open access scholarship and digital tools for the humanities. Her criticisms of Academia.edu are salutary warnings for how the commercial nature of the company are ultimately in tension with its role as a forum for
increased open communication among scholars and the dissemination of knowledge. I think she is correct that in the longer term, non-commercial venues will provide a more secure basis for this.
Nevertheless, the world is in flux, and at the moment Academia.edu is serving a purpose that no other platform yet serves. Like others who have written in, I have found that it not only allows others, including many in South Asia, to gain access to my
own work but alerts me to much excellent work by colleagues in my own fields and in adjacent fields that I might otherwise have missed, or discovered only much later. The opportunities of have online discussion of scholarly topics and others’ work in progress
are also valuable. So I was astonished that another W&L scholar I know, who reads Sarah’s blogs and was a regular user of Academia.edu, appears immediately to have deleted her account!
I am taking a more cautious, pragmatic approach. The alternate venues that Bond (citing others) recommends — Zenodo and Humanities Commons (HC) — look promising. I duly made accounts at both in order to find out what they offered. Zenodo at present
is almost entirely aimed at scientists, and it looks a very lonely place for an Indologist or Roman historian. (Note that Ethan Gruber’s migration tool, mentioned in Sarah’s post, did not work smoothly for me and was mostly a waste of an hour.) HC is more
for "people like us” but as of yesterday, total current membership is around 370. Almost none of you out there are participating. So, for the present, it is no substitute for Academia.edu. (I note that Sarah has not signed up for either Zenodo or HC, so
far as I can see.)
One other consideration: Both Zenodo and HC are more scrupulous about observing the fine points of publisher restrictions on self-archiving of copyrighted publications. This will hamper the “free spread” of information. So far, Academia.edu has been
content to let individual users make the call about what they post. This gets into murky legal territory, but it is a great boon to users. As Audrey T. points out, the hegemonic publishing conglomerates currently occupy the legal high ground but the moral
low ground, and it is the “push-back” from masses of individuals through collective “non-cooperation” (non-compliance) that will lead inexorably to more permissive regulations. Zenodo and HC do not seem to be helping facilitate that. In this respect, the
Social Science Research Network (SSRN), which I use to reach legal studies audiences, is better.
So I am taking a “both … and” approach for now: continuing to use Academia.edu so long as its utility outweighs its commercial distortions and interference, while also supporting the emergence of nonprofit, open access platforms that will (we hope) one
day extricate us from for-profit corporations, both presses and networking sites.
Professor of Religion and Adjunct Professor of Law
Chair of the Department of Religion
Washington and Lee University
Lexington, Virginia 24450
I concur with Dominik and Audrey. Especially in our field, if I relied on university open access sites or some of the other sites that Bond mentions, I would not be alerted to scholarship
done at Indian universities or universities in China or that done by scholars unaffiliated with any university. Scholarship can become something of an echo chamber. My own scholarship has benefited enormously from my daily email alerts to work from scholars
whom I have never heard of working in places that I have never heard of.
Department of Religion
I concur with Dominik on the valuable features of
. I would add that I find the sins of
quite minor compared to those of the large for-profit companies that own scholarly journals. We all publish in journals owned by Springer, John Wiley & Sons, and other commercial scholarly publishers that make significant profit margins off
of our research, usually after taking the copyright and putting our work behind paywalls.
If one wants to protest the commercialization of academic work and such, it seems that journals are the place to start.