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We keep using these words, when will we act on them?

Image from https://earth.org/indigenous-climate-justice/

Guest post by Luqman Hayes, Scholarly Communications Team Leader, AUT Library 

Many of us who champion open access, who advocate and lobby for radical reform of scholarly communications, are drawn to concepts of equity and justice. Open access (and I write this as we approach the 10 year anniversary of the death of Aaron Swartz) in and of itself feels like it should be a pursuit towards equity; a justice movement, if you will.

We are fond of declaring the need to centre marginalised, particularly Indigenous voices, to create more accessible, culturally aware, research publication landscapes. We want to democratise. We want to decolonise. But, to misquote the Princess Bride meme: “We keep using this word. I do not think it means what we think it means.”

Open Access Week, that burst of activity which revives and reenergises our commitments to this quest of academic publishing fairness, has just passed for another year. The theme for 2022 was “Open for Climate Justice”, a topic that, arriving ahead of COP27, demanded attention to the iniquities not only of representation in, dissemination of and access to climate research, but of the disproportionate effects of climate change between the Global North and the Global South, the over-wealthy and the underinvested: between the colonisers and the colonised.

As always, Open Access Australasia hosted a series of events which sought to push the conversation forward; to raise Pacific Indigenous voices, to explore the perceived value and achievements of recent developments in scholarly publishing, such as so-called transformative agreements (or ‘read and publish’ deals) alongside discussion on the benefits of open access to significant areas of the society, like climate journalism, citizen science, education.

I was privileged to chair a discussion between four climate justice activists and researchers: India Logan-Riley, Lefaoali’I Dion Enari, Lisa Viliamu-Jameson and Thilakshi Mallawa Arachchi. Powerful speakers who brought lived experience and energy to the forum. Each served up reminder after reminder of the real impacts of research carried out in Indigenous lands, with Indigenous communities, and the hugely overdue need for (that word again) justice, and furthermore, reparations.

As with climate (in)justice, the lack of equity in research and publishing reflects the continued power, rooted in colonialism, over Indigenous voices, expression and actions. India referred to the “patterns of extraction that occur, not only on our lands but with our knowledge” while Dion stated plainly the exploitative nature of research and its ongoing colonial tradition: “If you are doing research on a community that is not beneficial [to] the community and the community does not want [it], you are raping and pillaging that community. It’s that simple.” When we use this word justice, what do we mean? When we say we must decolonise, what are we actually arguing? As Lisa states, in the context of the climate crisis, “it simply comes down to land back”. And in the realm of research where knowledge is taken, commodified and sold back for extreme profit, it is about giving back those voices, returning sovereignty and providing the space so that the people who, as Thilakshi notes “are conditioned to believe that they do not belong to these conversations”, are able to share the narratives, in myriad forms beyond that of the written word, that they want to share.

If we’re going to keep using these words, let’s not just utter them in hope, let’s act upon their meaning.

Watch the panel recording here.

Links to all the OA Week events hosted by OA Australasia

Find Luqman on Twitter  @theluqmanarian