How are digital technologies, including open access publishing, transforming higher education?

In episode 27 of the Imagine Otherwise podcast, host Cathy Hannabach chats with guests Jessie Daniels and Polly Thistlethwaite, founders of JustPublics@365 project about the impact of digital technologies in higher education, why so many scholars who are interested in open access publishing are also social justice activists, and how those scholars and activists can expand public access to scholarship.

Guests: Jessie Daniels and Polly Thistlethwaite

Jessie Daniels & Polly Thistlethwaite, Imagine Otherwise blog imageJessie is a professor of sociology and critical social psychology at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center. She is the author of the books Cyber Racism: White Supremacy Online and the New Attack on Civil Rights and White Lies: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in White Supremacist Discourse, and is also the founder of the scholarly blog RacismReview.

Polly is a professor and the Chief Librarian at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York (CUNY). In the pre-internet 1980s, at the beginning of her career in academic libraries, she joined the activist group ACTUP and channeled activists and people living with AIDS into libraries, then the only places where medical information was available. Polly is devoted to changing the system of scholarly communication to allow greater access to more academic work by more readers.

Jessie and Polly are co-founders of JustPublics@365 and co-authors of the new book Being a Scholar in the Digital Era: Transforming Scholarly Practice for the Public Good (Policy Press, 2016). The book explores the way digital technologies are transforming higher education as well as what these changes mean in an age of austerity. It imagines a world in which scholarship enlivens the public good.

We chatted about

  • How digital practices have changed what it means to be an academic (06:50)
  • The connection between open modes of knowledge production and social justice movements (08:52)
  • Polly’s work with ACTUP using access to academic libraries to do queer AIDS activism (13:21)
  • How universities and academic departments can better support open access publishing (15:20)
  • Jesse’s work on cyber racism (20:00)
  • Imagining otherwise (24:25)


Open access publishing and social justice

Jessie: The assumption of openness and transparency in research is something that connects us as academics to social justice movements. I think the pay walls behind which we have traditionally hid our research are barriers to activists and to people in communities that want to engage with our research.

How open access can save lives

Polly: I helped connect anyone with HIV to the medical and drug trial information they needed. Pre-Internet and pre-PubMed, I invited people into the brick and mortar libraries so that they could stand in front of the Lexus Nexus computer terminal and search the medical databases. I was in a position as a librarian to vet requests for access, and I connected as many people as I could.

Common misconceptions around open access publishing

Jessie: As scholars and faculty we have a lot of misconceptions about open access publishing. One of the most common ones that I hear from my faculty colleagues is that open access means not peer reviewed, and that’s simply not the case. There are a lot of well-reviewed publications that have different kinds of open access publishing.

Cyber racism and how online spaces reflect real-world violence

Jessie: We are the racism in the machine of the Internet. It’s not this place where we can escape that.

Imagining otherwise

Polly: I’d like the world to be one where publicly funded research and art is free and available to anyone on the planet, not only to those who can pay for it. That’s the only way I can see to allow anybody to engage in the debates and matters of the day, and it’s the only way in so many cases for people to save their own lives.

More from Jessie and Polly

Projects and people discussed

About Imagine Otherwise

Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at Imagine Otherwise is produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.

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