A genealogy of open access: negotiations between openness and access to research

Samuel Moore

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    Open access (OA) is a contested term with a complicated history and a variety of understandings. This rich history is routinely ignored by institutional, funder and governmental policies that instead enclose the concept and promote narrow approaches to OA. This article presents a genealogy of the term open access, focusing on the separate histories that emphasise openness and reusability on the one hand, as borrowed from the open-source software and free culture movements, and accessibility on the other hand, as represented by proponents of institutional and subject repositories. This genealogy is further complicated by the publishing cultures that have evolved within individual communities of practice: publishing means different things to different communities and individual approaches to OA are representative of this fact. From analysing its historical underpinnings and subsequent development, I argue that OA is best conceived as a boundary object, a term coined by Star and Griesemer (1989) to describe concepts with a shared, flexible definition between communities of practice but a more community-specific definition within them. Boundary objects permit working relationships between communities while allowing local use and development of the concept. This means that OA is less suitable as a policy object, because boundary objects lose their use-value when ‘enclosed’ at a general level, but should instead be treated as a community-led, grassroots endeavour.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages14
    JournalRevue française des sciences de l’information et de la communication
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017

    Bibliographical note

    The contents of the French Journal of Information and Communication Sciences are made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License - No Commercial Use -
    Sharing under the same International 4.0 Conditions.


    • free access
    • boundary object
    • opening
    • access
    • open access


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