Sociological implications of scientific publishing: Open access, science, society, democracy and the digital divide

Ulrich Herb


Claims for Open Access are mostly underpinned with
a) science-related arguments (Open Access accelerates scientific communication)
b) financial arguments (Open Access relieves the serials crisis),
c) social arguments (Open Access reduces the Digital Divide),
d) democracy-related arguments (Open Access facilitates participation)
e) and socio-political arguments (Open Access levels disparities).

Using sociological concepts and notions, this article analyses some of the assumptions mentioned above. It focuses strongly on Pierre Bourdieu's theory of (scientific) capital and its implications for the acceptance of Open Access, on Michel Foucault's discourse analysis and on the implications of Open Access for the concept of the Digital Divide. Bourdieu's theory of capital implies that the acceptance of Open Access depends on the logic of power and the accumulation of scientific capital. It does not depend on slogans derived from hagiographic self-perceptions of science (e.g. the acceleration of scientific communication) and scientists (e.g. their will to share their information freely). According to Bourdieu's theory, it is crucial for Open Access (and associated concepts like alternative impact metrics) how scientists perceive its potential influence on existing processes of capital accumulation and how Open Access will affect their demand for distinction. Concerning the Digital Divide concept, Foucault's discourse analysis suggests that Open Access may intensify disparities, scientocentrisms and ethnocentrisms. Additionally, several concepts from the philosophy of sciences (Karl Raimund Popper, Samuel Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend) and their implicit connection to the concept of Open Access are described in this paper.


Open Access, Scientific Publishing, Scientific Communication, Theory of Science, Sociology, Democracy, Digital Divide, Pierre Bourdieu, Social Capital, Scientific Capital, Journal Impact Factor, Michel Foucault, Discourse Analysis

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