(Image from The UNESCO Open Science Recommendation).

“There is always a relation … between abstract and concrete labor[…] This means that understanding how “sensuous human activity” actually happens, how certain ways of being, doing, and thinking have emerged out of other historical forms, how embodied labor becomes abstract labor with the relations of the capitaist mode of production, and how power is organized within these relations is necessary to shift out thinking toward a more coherent understanding of our world, one that is promised on people activity making their social reality.”

Carpenter, Sara. “Beyond a Better Democracy: Re-Historicizing and Re-Materializing Critical Education.” In The Ideology of Civic Engagement: AmeriCorps, Politics, and Pedagogy, 211.


While it is complex, the prevailing Open Science discourse needs to be understood in the intersections of neoliberal economic and political forces, higher education institutions (including researchers and other professionals), funders, and national, regional and international stakeholders in academic research (including publishers and professional organizations). In a series of blog posts, I will explore Open Access or Open Science as the new evolution in scholarly communication, considering the neoliberal political and economic forces surrounding the changes.

It is important to state that “[o]penness is contextual.“1 Tyng-Ruey et al. assess it as “diverse conceptions and disparate phenomena.” The notion of openness invokes “ideals like inclusiveness, equity, liberty, or transparency, ” however, “…the term does not necessarily lead to the implementation of such ideals or the assumed goodness of such ideals.”2 Roberts also argues that openness is not about transparency; it often means “a call for openness of a new type or with a new focus.”3 Further, Moore analyzes the open access movement rooted in the computer industry’s open-source software movements.4 Moore argues that the open access movement should not be conceptualized as a monolithic structure with rigid definitions.  Instead, he argues that the open access movement should be “treated as a community-led, grassroots endeavour” with “a space of experimentation and dissent.”4a He refers to “boundary objects” in characterizing the communities and organizations in the open-source software movements. Boundary objects are “understood differently within individual communities but maintain enough structure to be understood between communities.”4b Moore’s analysis emphasizes that the plasticity of the boundary objects is the key to their respective development and sustainability. Their structure is flexible and open to change depending on the varied circumstances of a given community. He concludes that making the open access movement a policy object is inappropriate because the policy approach, by design, constrains the movement and would cease to be what it claims to espouse.

Open Science: International Policy Discourse

The tenet of Open Science has already been internationalized. The Budapest Open Access Initiative’s 20th Anniversary Recommendations, published in February 2022, drew on OA experiences of the past 20 years.5 For example, it took 20 years to learn that focusing solely on the “access” aspect of open access in scholarly communication is erroneous. The Recommendations reframe the ultimate objective and vision as “the equity, quality, usability, and sustainability of research.”6 UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science was also adopted, receiving approval from 193 nations in November 2021.7 The UNESCO website encourages member states to take action on the Recommendation, publishing its implementation strategy and informing the establishment of Open Science Working Groups and Intersectoral Task Teams.8

What are the barriers and new possibilities addressing inequities in scholarly communication as we move forward with or despite the all-embracing universally presented ideals espoused by the UNESCO Open Science Recommendation? What do the scholars-led initiatives look like as alternatives to the “oligopoly of academic publishing”9?

First, I want to contextualize the influence of neoliberal forces on universities where research activities largely take place.

Neoliberalism and Universities

Neoliberalism may not be dead, but it is no longer the unquestioned ideology of our time,” writes Jacobin Magazine in the headline of an interview with Gary Gerstle, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order: America and the World in Free Market Era.10 Neoliberalism, the economic and political forces of the past 50-60 years, shaped and continues to shape many aspects of our lives, including our work life and how institutions operate, even though Gerstle suggests its waning power. For example, drawing from daily experiences in the library land, a recent online chat discussion among professional librarians regarding how we came to call our services “customer services” is a case in point.11 Many participants raised critical voices that it is distorted labelling of what we do. Some thought, simply not a good framework to use. Others noted its connection to the demand for statistics by the administrators who need to justify the library’s value and worth to the local community and its governing body. One librarian, who is relatively new in the field, shared the uncomfortable angst she has been feeling because of the irreconcilable gap that she was experiencing between the value of public services that she associated with the profession and the contrasting reality on the ground.

The uneasiness some of us feel as public service librarians with the rise of the “customer services” discourse in the library land at the micro level is closely associated with today’s neoliberal social and political forces. Monbiot observes that neoliberalism is so pervasive that we don’t recognize it as an ideology and tend to accept it as “a natural force, a kind of biological law, like Darwin’s theory of evolution.”12 Monbiot identifies notable characteristics of neoliberalism as 1) the belief in the “market” as the ultimate mechanism for delivering benefits, 2) competitive human relations, 3) defining citizens as customers, 4) dislike of government interventions, 5) privatization of public services, 6) hostility against the collective bargaining by labour unions seen as “market distortion,” and 7) “a natural hierarchy of winners and losers,” among others.

The neoliberalization of higher education is a common concern among faculty unions and their members. It is a subject of discussion by many researchers worldwide.13 McInnis, the President of The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), a national umbrella association of faculty unions in Canada, writes and warns against rampant “managerialism, monetization and audit culture .”14 The same trend in higher education was noted by Chernomas, referring to the increase in bureaucracy and a threat of precarity of tenured and tenure-track positions .15 Furthermore, the publicly-funded colleges and universities across Canada heavily rely on sessional instructors, either on short-term contracts or part-time, and this translates to more and more long-term contractual employment among instructors, in effect creating a two-tiered system.16

On the policy front, governments’ and corporations’ expectations of higher education in the neoliberal climate have been shifting and shaping their approaches. Halborow, for example, critically analyzes the effects of the current national higher education policy in Ireland, which advances a skill-driven higher education by uncritically adopting human capital as a keyword:

…human capital represents a subtle masking of social conflict and expresses metaphorically the commodification of human abilities and an alienating notion of human potential, both of which sit ill with the goals of education.17

The neoliberal political-economic forces create and sustain systemic contradictions. For example, the OECD’s Global Science Forum recognizes the precarity of research careers as a shared concern among its member countries. They experience increasing doctoral holders and declining public funds to support and sustain full-time or secure research positions in their higher education institutions.18 The scholarly communication structure in which researchers engage is another case in point. Consider the dominance of a handful of oligopolistic publishing companies.19 Their conspicuous lucrative profit margins sharply contrast with the precarity of research careers experienced by researchers from the OECD member countries, while the OECD ironically points out that researchers are “the most important resource of research systems.” The profit margins of the top academic publishers are based not only on the voluntary labour of researchers in submitting papers and conducting peer reviews for quality control but also on vast public subsidies for their products through institutional subscriptions and additional support from public sources for APC charges for OA publications.20 Tennant writes about the exploitation of researchers’ free labour.21

Carrasco-Campos and Seperas use the term “neoliberal academia” to refer to the characteristics of the changes that academic institutions have undergone since the late 1980s, especially during the 1990s and 2000s, facilitated “by public administrations and private corporations in charge of higher education and research.”22 They construct an institutional framework consisting of three modalities of neoliberal academia. The second modality they refer to is the role of international associations in the field that play “a new hegemonic function regarding the definition of the field and the designation of research agendas and routines.”23 This modality similarly stimulates interest in investigating and shedding light on the functions of the intergovernmental, international and national, regional and professional associations and organizations that advance Open Access and Open Science. The first and third modalities help contextualize the Open Science discourse and provide a framework for further analysis.

1. The publishing industry, bibliographical databases, and citation indexes: Besides their traditional function in the dissemination of knowledge, these institutional agents have assumed new duties related to the promotion of research interests and standards[…, and;]

3. Institutions for the evaluation of research activity and reputation: This recent modality is closely linked to neoliberal academia and includes institutions such as international academic rankings and university rating agencies.24

For example, Global University Rankings and the Politics of Knowledge, published in 2021, offers detailed global dynamics in the workings of institutional frameworks similar to those that Carrasco-Campos and Saperas identified as “neoliberal academia.”25 Open Science is subject to the influential roles commercial publishers play, as manifested by the close ties between their journals, metrics (such as Clarivate’s Impact Factor), database platforms and the researcher’s reputation, career advancement, institutional reputations and their global rankings. Open Science is thus closely tied to and shaped by the prevailing neoliberal practices in higher education.25


1. Chuang, Tyng-Ruey, Rebecca C. Fan, Ming-Syuan Ho, and Kalpana Tyagi. “Openness.” Internet Policy Review 11, no. 1 (March 30, 2022). https://policyreview.info/glossary/openness

2. Chuang, et al., 6.

3. Roberts, A. S. (2015). Too much transparency? How critics of openness misunderstand administrative development. SSRN Electronic Journal. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2601356 cited in: #1 Chuang, Tyng-Ruey, Rebecca C. Fan, Ming-Syuan Ho, and Kalpana Tyagi. Page 7.

4. Moore, Samuel A. “A Genealogy of Open Access: Negotiations between Openness and Access to Research.” Revue Française Des Sciences de l’information et de La Communication, no. 11 (August 1, 2017). https://doi.org/10.4000/rfsic.3220

4a. Moore, Samuel A., Line 62.

4b. Moore, Samuel A., line 34

5. “Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002).” Accessed August 15, 2022. https://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/boai20/

6. “Budapest Open Access Initiative,” para 6.

7. UNESCO. (2021) UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000379949

8. https://www.unesco.org/en/natural-sciences/open-science as accessed in November 2022.

9. Larivière, Vincent, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon. “The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era.” PLOS ONE 10, no. 6 (June 10, 2015): e0127502. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0127502.

10. Gerstle, Gary. The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order: America and the World in the Free Market Era. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2022.

Jacobin Magazine. “The Neoliberal Order Is Crumbling. It’s Up to Us What Comes Next.” Jacobin Magazine (blog), July 12, 2022. https://jacobin.com/2022/07/neoliberal-order-new-deal-recession-sanders-trump-new-left.

The Rise and Fall of the Neo-Liberal Order | LSE Event, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVq6LH8nzSs.

11. Library Freedom Project members group chat, some time in fall, 2022.

12. Monbiot, George. “Neoliberalism – the Ideology at the Root of All Our Problems.” The Guardian, April 15, 2016, sec. Books. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/15/neoliberalism-ideology-problem-george-monbiot, para 3.

13. For example:

Gupta, Suman, Jernej Habjan, and Hrvoje Tutek, eds. Academic Labour, Unemployment and Global Higher Education: Neoliberal Policies of Funding and Management. 1st ed. 2016 edition. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

Muzzatti, Stephen L. “Strange Bedfellows: Austerity and Social Justice at the Neoliberal University.” Critical Criminology 30, no. 3 (September 1, 2022): 495–507. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-022-09646-9.

14. “President’s Message / The Growing Precarity of Tenure-Track Positions in Canada | CAUT.” Accessed October 26, 2022. https://www.caut.ca/bulletin/2022/09/presidents-message-growing-precarity-tenure-track-positions-canada, para 5.

15.. “Rallying the Neoliberal Administrators.” Accessed October 26, 2022. https://bulletin-archives.caut.ca/bulletin/articles/2014/10/rallying-the-neoliberal-administrators.

16. McKeen, Alex. “Majority of Canadian University Appointments Now Precarious Gigs,” November 1, 2018. https://www.thestar.com/vancouver/2018/11/01/majority-of-canadian-university-appointments-now-precarious-gigs.html.

17. Holborow, Marnie. “Neoliberalism, Human Capital and the Skills Agenda in Higher Education–The Irish Case.” Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies 10, no. 1 (April 2012): 93–111. Page 93.

18. OECD. “Research Precariat – OECD.” Accessed November 2, 2022. https://www-oecd-org.uml.idm.oclc.org/sti/science-technology-innovation-outlook/research-precariat/.

19. According to SPARC, Elsevier’s revenue on journals, for example, was $1,756 billion USD, coming from 55% of the company business. In 2017, the company operated at a profit margin of 37%. https://infrastructure.sparcopen.org/landscape-analysis/elsevier#:~:text=Elsevier%20operates%20at%20a%2037,operates%20at%20a%2023%25%20margin

20. Buranyi, Stephen. “Is the Staggeringly Profitable Business of Scientific Publishing Bad for Science?” The Guardian, June 27, 2017, sec. Science. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jun/27/profitable-business-scientific-publishing-bad-for-science.

Butler, Leigh-Ann, Lisa Matthias, Marc-André Simard, Phil Mongeon, and Stefanie Haustein. “The Oligopoly’s Shift to Open Access Publishing: How for-Profit Publishers Benefit from Gold and Hybrid Article Processing Charges.” Proceedings of the Annual Conference of CAIS / Actes Du Congrès Annuel de l’ACSI, August 6, 2022. https://doi.org/10.29173/cais1262.

Larivière, Vincent, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon. “The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era.” PLOS ONE 10, no. 6 (June 10, 2015): e0127502. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0127502.

21. Tennant, Jonathan. “Time to Stop the Exploitation of Free Academic Labour.” SocArXiv, March 7, 2020. https://doi.org/10.31235/osf.io/6quxg

22. Carrasco-Campos, Ángel, and Enric Saperas. “Neoliberalism and Academia in Communication and Media Studies: A New Institutional Framework.” TripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique. Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society 19, no. 1 (2021): 195–211. https://doi.org/10.31269/triplec.v19i1.1190, 204.

23. Corrasco-Campos and Saperas, 196.

24. Carrasco-Campos and Saperas, 199.

25. Stack, Michelle. ed. Global University Rankings and the Politics of Knowledge. Toronto [Ontario] ; University of Toronto Press, 2021.

  • The book, consisting of 10 chapters, provides detailed accounts of the business model tied to the global university rankings. The book is divided into three themes: 1) Geopolitics, rankings, and Journal Impact Factors; 2) Costs of knowledge, rankings, and Journal Impact Factors; and 3) The influence of rankings on institutional and individual well-being. The global university rankings have been around for about 20 years and promote a neoliberal logic of competition. They became of interest to parents, future students and university administrators and powerfully influence university operations. In addition, the book covers the detailed implications of the rankings in the Global South and argues that it is a type of cultural imperialism by promoting the Western, Anglo-Saxon model of elite research institutions.
  • See also: Book Launch for Global University Rankings and the Politics of Knowledge, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTXlFxCO2W8.

25. When considering the colonial origin of higher education, how they plan to participate in Open Science is closely related to how universities address Indigenization and Decolonization. Many universities across Canada have engaged in establishing policies related to Indigenization and Decolonization in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. However, the following two articles point out the limitation of such policies in addressing colonialism in universities.

Gaudry, Adam, and Danielle Lorenz. “Indigenization as Inclusion, Reconciliation, and Decolonization: Navigating the Different Visions for Indigenizing the Canadian Academy.” AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples 14, no. 3 (September 1, 2018): 218–27. https://doi.org/10.1177/1177180118785382.

Brunette-Debassige, Candace. “Questioning Colonialism in University Administration.” University Affairs. January 11, 2022. Accessed August 8, 2022. https://www.universityaffairs.ca/opinion/in-my-opinion/questioning-colonialism-in-university-administration/.

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