Editorial – For Members Only?

This is one of your benefits as an EASST member: you receive an email with a link to the new issue of the EASST Review, click on it and access a pdf file containing these lines, as well as a good number of original reports and reflections about recent activities and developments in STS. This seems to be the standard benefit you receive for being a member of an academic association, as the physical copies of Anthropology News piling up in my office attest, with the only difference that EASST is not sending you a physical, but a digital copy. But, of course, the digital reconfigures everything: from copyright restrictions to member benefits. This pdf cannot just be copied infinitely, but it can actually be downloaded by anyone, whether an EASST member or not.

An economist might imagine this as a win-win situation, in which we simultaneously attain two otherwise mutually exclusive goods: open access and member-only access. But things are a bit less straightforward. Strictly speaking, the benefit you get for being an EASST member is not member-only access to the EASST Review, but to the link that leads you to the newsletter. The benefit consists then in giving you ‘privileged information’ and letting you decide what to do with it. You obviously have already used that privileged information to download the pdf, but you could also pass it on to friends and colleagues, who are not EASST members, but might be interested in the articles or in becoming members. We could then say that member benefit is reconfigured as giving you the possibility of deciding whom to include in the conversation.

This, however, is a configuration lasting only for a few weeks until the EASST Review is published on the EASST website and announced through various channels. When that happens, one could argue, it becomes an open access newsletter, joining so many current STS open access initiatives, such as the newly launched journal Demonstrations or Mattering Press, where open access does not refer just to the possibility of accessing content if you know where to find it, but to its active public promotion. But, still, there is the temporal gap, this delay in making it open, which suggests that the EASST member benefit would end, once the EASST Review becomes publicly accessible.

Things are indeed complicated: whereas the digital mode of existence of EASST Review makes its becoming open access unavoidable, the aspiration to provide an exclusive member benefit leads to a rather complicated construction. The underlying assumption seems to be that open access is not a member benefit, that both goods are antithetical.

But things could be seen differently: having an open access outlet to learn and reflect about current activities and developments in the field, to discuss matters of common concern and to make visible research agendas and political commitments might indeed be seen as a major benefit for a community of scholars committed to the democratization and public engagement with science and technology

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue. You can write me an email or use the ‘comments’ function available in the website from the moment we upload this issue.