An Open Access Perspective In Practical Discourses

Alex de Borba

Alex de Borba

As William H. Sewell, a historian and cultural researcher eloquently once stated, the great paradox of contemporary and alternative cultural discourse is reflected in anthropology, the queen of the field, which invented the term culture, “or at least shaped it into something like its present form,” but because of a “severe identity crisis” viewed the question as to the nature of culture as being irrelevant.

It undoubtedly seems, furthermore, that even in such a field as sociology, the birth mother of anthropology, this question has been persistently neglected in favour of other topics, such as how people make choices in their daily lives, and what they draw from the “cultural toolkit” for this purpose, or from the cultural “repertoire;” how individuals build their identity, purifying and refining their personal and collective memory; or how people conceptualize cultural phenomena relevant to their lives.

For example, sociologist Ann Swidler defined culture as a “repertoire of capabilities,” which included symbols of meaning and practices selectively exploited by group members in order “to develop ‘strategies of action.’” Sociologist Paul DiMaggio, who distinguished between culture in the private sense and culture in the collective sense, related to culture in one dimension as an “indiscriminately assembled and relatively unorganized” collection of “shared cognitive structures and supra-individual cultural phenomena” stored in the memory; and then, in another dimension, as “supra-individual” phenomena that hold two possible meanings: “as an aggregate of individuals’ beliefs or representations, or as shared representations of individuals’ beliefs.”

Stephen Vaisey, however, defined “culture” at times as “conceptions of the desirable,” and at times as “cosmologies,” “worldviews,” or “values.” Stephen Sewell himself stated that culture should be understood as a “dialectic of system and practice, as a dimension of social life autonomous from other such dimensions both in its logic and in its spatial configuration,” and also as “a system of symbols possessing a real but thin coherence that is continually put at risk in practice and therefore subject to transformation.”

Looking at the variety of definitions and the various underlying cultural starting points, and now adopting an open access and alternatively cultural medium policy that has matured through the last three months, in truth, we have become a valuable key to educational institutions by curating and diffusing information about various uncanny, supernatural and weird affairs while offering periodically published coverage on a wide array of meticulously chosen cultural topics of interest. It can be argued that the cultural sections of our medium are somewhat unusual, historically oriented and that in a deep folklorish manner showcase our appraisal for the alternatively cultural and countercultural, yet keeping a strong anthropological and psychological orientation. Our medium envisions, legitimizes and disseminates cultural classifications and aesthetical standards throughout its wholehearted readers’ and open-minded academic researchers.

Previous research reinforces the hypothesis that a central part of alternative cultural classifications takes place in the original cultural segments, be it by cultural journalists, historians, scholars, content curators and literary critics that are both knowledge gatekeepers and tastemakers, deciding and defining what becomes valuable to culture and good judgment in specific moments in time. Thus, the constant trends and shifts in cultural hierarchies should be traceable in segments of alternative cultural mediums. While few sociological studies of cultural institutions have used longitudinal data and covered diverse connections somehow dispersed, cultural mediums such as ours, on the other hand, produce resourceful material for studies of this kind, as they are open and readily accessible, with immeasurable quality regarding researchable information.

The field of mediums as press medias, nevertheless, was established in the seventeenth-century, and it was first apportioned into (sensational) news and (serious) analytic discourses. Truth be told, the history of the cultural sections of mediums differs somewhat from the expansion of the printed press in general. Although contemporary press medias have carried cultural writings and even reviews nearly since the beginning of their history, the addition of supernatural, historical oriented cultural sections, for instance, is more recent and yet, a frightening domain to be ventured by most writers. Traditionally, cultural journalists have been distinct from the gathering of regular press medias staff; often times, cultural journalists are freelancers specializing in the field following a preconceived conceptual table of topics to follow in order to gather as much readership as possible. In general, the verifiable cultural journalism has played an important role in press medias, further from “hard news” journalism and closer to the more entertaining “soft news” or “lifestyle journalism.”

Several studies have reported that the press media’s coverage of arts, occult historicism and alternative culture increased in the latter half of the twentieth-century in practically all of the Global North. This is a reflection of improvements in the general material conditions of their readers, such as enjoying better living standards and increased leisure time. Despite this increase in the amount of alternative cultural coverage, several scholars have brought up the issue of an assumed crisis of cultural, aesthetic journalism. While the crisis discourse is undoubtedly normative in nature, we believe that its assumptions should be researched thoroughly. For instance, its advocates claim that less space is being allocated to serious alternative cultural journalism and it is being viewed as less important; they also claim that literary reviews are shorter and allotted less space within medias, that there is a clear popularization of content in cultural journalism, and that the judgment and quality of traditional criticism has diminished. Timo Jaakkola, for instance, has distinguished five discursive frames for the conceptualization of this crisis: elitization, popularization, commercialization, journalistification and disengagement.

Although the cultural sections of medias have turned toward popularization, the claim that less space has been allocated for cultural journalism has been proven to be untrue. Timo Jaakkola has suggested that the notion of crisis is a useful meta discourse, providing autonomy for culture and the arts and guaranteeing a certain level of professionalism for the field of journalism.

In fact, while cultural journalism has been studied from various angles over the past several decades, to our knowledge, cultural sections, as such, have not been subjected to academic scrutiny. Still, the internal change of press medias might be a key factor in understanding and interpreting the changes in cultural journalism — how much space is culture allocated in general, how does the space given to culture relate to other areas covered by the press media’s, and how are the general trends that are taking place in the cultural sections related to more profound changes in cultural journalism and cultural hierarchies?

If we take Motti Regev’s, Sewel’s and others advice seriously, what then is the true advantage of trying to be precise when answering such a difficult question — a question that even some of the finest theorists of culture have struggled with? Perhaps, it be better to follow Clifford Geertz, who thought that the essential task of theory building in this context was not “to codify abstract regularities,” but to make “thick description” possible, that is, not to generalize across cases but within cases?

We know from earlier studies that in most European dailies the space dedicated to culture has grown in the latter half of the last century; both the pages dedicated to culture and their share of total editorial space, as well as the number of articles on culture, have increased. What has not been investigated in detail is the placement of the cultural sections and its relationship to the alleged crisis of cultural journalism.

Clearly, the igniting debate on open access to publicly funded research is evolving and it has been stated that it “will undertake a comprehensive, evidence-based review of the effectiveness and impact of its Open Access policy.” Given the rapid pace of discussions on open access publications and its cultural orientation, our medium will continue to review how we can make all publicly funded research as accessible and usable as possible to all those seeking to gather information on alternative, uncanny cultural topics.

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