How Open is Open Access?

The following quote from an article about art education seems to have broader implications:

Early excitement for the Internet’s democratic potential has been replaced by a complicated marketplace of competing agendas of consumption, entertainment, social networking, and political action that continues to offer both opportunity and exclusion. Increased participation is coupled with a persistent digital divide, a gap in who has access to digital technologies and who does not, illustrating that “disparities in technology access and use are related to socioeconomic status, with income, educational level and race among the factors associated with technological attainment” (Mehra, Merkel, & Bishop, 2004, p. 782). Opportunities for participation have evolved through the advent of social media, mobile computing, and increased access to computing networks. These opportunities continue to be shrouded in inequitable distributions of access and expertise, functioning as a “new form of the hidden curriculum, shaping which youth will succeed and which will be left behind” (Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel, & Robison, 2006, p. 3).[1]

For me, such concerns about access to and literacy in visual culture raise a question in a different debate: open access. How open are so-called open-access publications? Besides the question of digital access, who possesses the requisite know-how to locate such academic works, not to mention read, understand, and critically engage with them? Open access might be desirable, but we should not fool ourselves into thinking that academically sound, openly available scholarship will automatically be freely accessible to nonacademic readers.

  1. Aaron D. Knochel, “Assembling Visuality: Social Media, Everyday Imaging, and Critical Thinking in Digital Visual Culture,” Visual Arts Research 39, no. 2 (2013): 13–27, here 15.  ↩