Ethnological Disciplines

Open Access in 60 Seconds

Video about Open Access. (CC BY 3.0 DE)
Source: Brinken, H., Hauss, J. &  Rücknagel, J. (2021). Open Access in 60 seconds,

Open Access in the Professional Associations

Since around 2019, visible developments on open access have also gained momentum in the professional associations of the ethnological disciplines. However, despite increasing engagement with open access, none of these associations have signed the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities.

The International Society for Ethnology and Folklore converted its journal Ethnologia Europaea to open access in 2019. In 2020, the Swiss Anthropological Association converted its journal Tsantsa from delayed to immediate open access; in 2021, the Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Volkskunde did the same for its journal Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde. Although some of the publications of the Österreichische Fachverband für Volkskunde (Austrian Association for Folklore) are open access, the association does not publish a journal. The Österreichische Zeitschrift für Volkskunde, which is edited on behalf of the Association for Austrian Folk Life (Verein für Volkskunde), is not open access immediately but rather after expiry of a six-month embargo period. The European Association of Social Anthropologists has announced its intention to transform its journal Social Anthropology to open access in 2022 (European Association of Social Anthropologists, 2021; Berghahn Books, 2021). The German Anthropological Association (GAA) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Volkskunde intend to convert their journals to open access in the near future. The Anthropological Society in Vienna does not publish its journal open access. To date, the professional associations in the English-speaking area (Royal Anthropological Institute, Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth, American Anthropological Association) have not transformed their primary journals to open access. 

Open Access in the Ethnological Disciplines

The ethnological disciplines are understood here to comprise, in particular, ethnology, social and cultural anthropology, European ethnology, empirical/comparative cultural studies, and folklore studies. The information provided relates mainly to the German- and English-speaking areas.

In the ethnological disciplines, the spread of open access is comparatively limited. Open access has not yet established itself as the standard in scholarly publishing; the majority of journals and books published in this field are closed access. However, the increasing transformation of journals to open access, the growing number of open access books, and the increasing engagement with open access in the ethnological disciplines are clear signs of a positive trend, and underscore the fact that acceptance of open access exists in principle in the ethnological disciplines.

Moreover, the share of open access publications in the ethnological disciplines has increased significantly in recent years, especially among journal articles. However, this is likely to be due more to the increasing mandating and promotion of open access by scholarly institutions and research funding agencies and to transformative agreements negotiated with major publishers than to a fundamental change in the publication culture of these disciplines. For example, the self-archiving of preprints and post-prints in repositories is still uncommon in the ethnological disciplines. Yet, this is precisely where great potential for more open access lies – potential that can be used by the individual scholars themselves. Book publications are also widespread in the ethnological disciplines. Besides edited collections, the textualisation of years of research in the form of a monographic ethnography is considered standard and is particularly prestigious. However, comparatively few books from the ethnological disciplines are published open access, although their number has been increasing steadily in recent years.

The topic of open access was addressed visibly for the first time in the ethnological disciplines in North America in 2004. From around 2007 onwards, engagement with open access intensified, albeit in niches and limited to the English-speaking area. A number of individual developments in the ethnological disciplines led to greater attention being given to the topic. These developments included, among other things, the establishment of several open access journals in 2011, and the first transformations of prestigious journals to open access (e.g. Cultural Anthropology in 2014). A further contributing development was the founding in 2015 of the network Libraria by scholars from the ethnological disciplines with the aim of changing the publishing system in the social sciences. Internal controversies and the failure of the open access model at HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, which was established in 2011, brought open access into the limelight in 2018 – in a negative way. In the German-speaking area, there had been little debate on open access in the ethnological disciplines before then. From around 2016 onwards, the discussion had focussed mainly on the publication of research data. With the increased addressing of the topic both in the German- and the English-speaking areas, and the growth in the number of journals transformed to open access – or in declarations of intention in this regard – open access made it onto the discussion agenda and became mainstream in the ethnological disciplines by 2019.

Open Access Journals

As of July 2021, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) listed 114 entries in the subject area “Ethnology. Social and cultural anthropology”.

Scholars in the ethnological disciplines publish in subject-specific journals, field-specific journals (e.g. science studies, migration research, gender studies, museum research, urban research), and region-specific journals. The main focus in what follows is on subject-specific journals.

Well-known German-language open access journals include:

Well-known English-language open access journals include:

Because of the breadth of publications in the ethnological disciplines, and the fact that these disciplines are assigned to the social sciences, the humanities, and the cultural sciences, field-specific and transdisciplinary open access journals are suitable publication venues. They include, for example:

Also worthy of mention is the Journal of Political Ecology, which is in part anthropologically oriented. It has been published open access since 1994, and is thus one of the first and oldest open access journals in the social sciences.

Via a subscribe-to-open model, numerous journals published by Berghahn Books were converted to open access in 2020.

It should also be mentioned that the archives of back issues of numerous journals are open access. Via a digitisation project conducted by the Specialised Information Service Social and Cultural Anthropology (FID SKA), the volumes of many German-language ethnological journals are freely accessible. The respective time delays between the open access volumes and the current issues differ. The journals in question include Anthropos, Baessler-Archiv, Sociologus, the Zeitschrift für Volkskunde and the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie. The archive of the journal Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde is completely open access. All volumes of the Österreichische Zeitschrift für Volkskunde are open access online after a six-month embargo period. The entire archive of Ethnologia Europaea is open access. The American Anthropological Association makes all issues of its primary journal, American Anthropologist, that are over 35 years old open access.

Open access is remarkably widespread among journals in the ethnological disciplines from the Ibero-American area, where open access is, however, generally more well established. Spanish-language journals from the ethological disciplines are almost without exception open access. Well-known publications include AIBR – Revista de Antropología Iberoamericana, Chungara, Etnográfica, Horizontes Antropológicos, Intersecciones en Antropologia and Mana – Estudos de Antropologia Social.

Financing of Open Access Articles. [german] (CC BY 3.0 DE)
Source: Brinken, H. (2020). Finanzierung von Open-Access-Artikeln,

Open Access Books

As of July 2021, the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) listed 263 titles in the subject area “Social & cultural anthropology, ethnography” and 166 titles under “Anthropology”. The OAPEN Library listed over 400 titles from ethnological disciplines (as of July 2021).

HAU Books and the Open Anthropology Cooperative Press are publishers that exclusively or mainly publish books in the ethnographic disciplines open access. Publishers that often publish English- or German-language open access books from the ethnological disciplines include ANU Press, Duke University Press, Mattering Press, Open Humanities Press, Transcript, UCL Press, and University of California Press.

Disciplinary Repositories

The most important repositories in the ethnological disciplines include:

In addition, the Specialised Information Service Social and Cultural Anthropology (FID SKA) provides a trans-institutional repository – EthnOA – in which documents can be published for the first time (gold open access) or documents published elsewhere can be self-archived (green open access). The offering is addressed particularly to researchers who are not affiliated with an institution, or who do not have access to an institutional repository.

Because of the previously mentioned multi-disciplinarity of the field, repositories for specific lines of research are also an option. They include, for example, CrossAsia-Repository for Asia studies, GenderOpen for gender studies, MENAdoc for Middle East and Islamic studies, and OstDok for research on Eastern, Central Eastern, and South-Eastern Europe.

An overview of further possibly relevant repositories is also provided by the Open Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR).

Source: Brehm, E. (2021). Zweitveröffentlichungsrecht für Wissenschaftler*innen [german], Brinken, Helene. (CC BY 3.0 DE)

Other Offerings

EVIFA, which is managed by the Specialised Information Service Social and Cultural Anthropology (FID SKA), is a central subject portal for the ethnological disciplines in the German-speaking area via which open access literature can be searched and accessed. It contains, among other things, digitised editions of German-language journals and monographs from over two hundred years of research. In addition, the FID SKA offers free access to selected online resources that are otherwise subject to licensing fees.

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology is an open access resource in which peer-reviewed introductory articles on subject-specific topics and concepts are published. The Open Folklore portal lists open access resources in the field of folklore studies.

The Anthropology Book Forum, a project of the journal Anthropology News, publishes English-language book reviews open access. The history portal H-Soz-Kult publishes inter alia open access research reports, reviews, and news, also in the category “European Ethnology and Historical Anthropology”.

In the database information system DBIS, numerous other open access subject-specific databases and offerings can be found in the category “Ethnologie (Volks- und Völkerkunde)”.

The online archives JSTOR and Project MUSE now also provide open access content of relevance to the ethnological disciplines.

Open Science in the Ethnological Disciplines

The aspiration of open science to extend the principle of openness to the entire research cycle – from the first idea to the final publication – and thus to make all forms of scholarly knowledge open access, transparent, and reusable, has far-reaching consequences and brings significant challenges for ethnological disciplines and ethnographic research.

This becomes particularly clear in the case of open data – that is, the provision of open access to research data. Since about 2017, the topic of open data has been addressed more intensively in the context of engagement with the increasing requirements for handling research data imposed by science policy demands and the stipulations of research funding agencies. What is problematic for the ethnological disciplines – and for other social sciences – is that the specific characteristics of qualitative data, and especially data from ethnographic research, are not taken into account. Rather, the requirements are based on an understanding of data in the sense of raw data and primary data as found in particular in the natural science disciplines and quantitatively oriented research areas. Although open data and the reuse of research data are also possible in the ethnological disciplines, the provision of open access to research data as a matter of principle will not be possible in many research scenarios, or will be possible only in a limited way. Rather, openness must be considered and weighed up in dependence on research practice and research-ethical and legal aspects. Relevant aspects and important issues include (a) whether consent to publication has been obtained from individuals in the field, or whether it is even possible to obtain such consent in the first place; (b) whether research data belong only to the researchers (e.g. in the case of interviews or recordings of conversational situations); (c) whether research data –in view of the mostly unique and complex research contexts in which they arise and their often necessary pseudonymisation or anonymisation – are meaningfully reusable at all; (d) whether suitable data repositories and archives are available; and (e) whether obligations to provide open access to research data render research in particularly confidential and sensitive contexts more difficult or even impossible (for more information on these and other aspects, as well as on the topic in general, see Imeri, 2018 and 2019). In view of this situation, several professional associations have issued position papers on the discipline-specific requirements for handling research data, and have addressed this topic in contributions and debates in scholarly publications. The Specialised Information Service Social and Cultural Anthropology’s subject portal EVIFA provides comprehensive information on research data in the ethnological disciplines.

Open methodology – that is, the disclosure of methods developed or used in the research process – is not essentially new for the ethnological disciplines. As a rule, methods are disclosed and discussed in publications, especially in monographic ethnographies. When doing so, the consequences of the chosen approach for the research process are reflected upon. In this regard, the connection with and the relevance of open access should be stressed. The situation is different in cases where the disclosure of methods is expected to take place during the research process, and thus open methodology in the broader sense is also understood as the transparent and open documentation of the steps in the research process. Because of the close links with the research field and the research data, the challenges and thus also the complex issues that arise here are similar to those that arise in the case of open data.

Open source – that is, making source code open access – plays hardly any role in the ethnological disciplines, because programs and software are seldom developed in this area of research. However, there are no fundamental arguments against open source. In the case of software used in research in the ethnological disciplines, especially for qualitative data analysis, there is indeed potential for increasing support for the development and use of open source software. This is relevant not least because the functioning of the often-used proprietary software is a black box, and disclosure of this part of the method is thus not completely possible.

In the case of open evaluation, there is no notable difference between the ethnological disciplines and other fields. Thus, open peer review would be just as possible in the ethnological disciplines as in other disciplines. To date, however, no journals or other publication models in the ethnological disciplines use open peer review.

The provision of open and free-of-charge access to teaching materials (open educational resources, OER) is closely linked to the publication of books and journals in open access. For example, the introductory textbook Perspectives: An Open Invitation to Cultural Anthropology was published open access in 2017.


Further Reading

  • Jackson, J. B., & Anderson, R. (2014). Anthropology and Open Access. Cultural Anthropology, 29(2), 236–263.
  • Kelty, C. M., Fischer, M. M. J., Golub, A., Jackson, J. B., Christen, K., Brown, M. F., & Boellstorff, T. (2008). Anthropology of/in Circulation. The Future of Open Access and Scholarly Societies. Cultural Anthropology, 23(3), 559–588.
  • Miller, D. (2012). Open access, scholarship,  and digital anthropology. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 2(1), 385–411.
  • Zeitlyn, D., Corsín Jimenez, A., Willinsky, J., Waterston, A., Tritton, R., Kelty, C. M., Ardevol, E., Jemielnak, D., Sanchez-Criado, T., Abadal, E., Gatti, R., García, B., Rasero, V., Nugent, S., Gideon, J., Aibar, E., Malo de Molina, T., & Rodríguez Lópes, J. (2014). Preguntas frecuentes sobre acceso abierto - La economía política en torno a las publicaciones en antropología y otras ciencias sociales. FAQs About Open Access – The Political Economy of Publishing in Anthropology and Beyond (A. Montoya, M. Pérez, G. Dallemagne, & V. del Arco, Eds.).

Content editor of this page: Marc Lange, University Library of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (Last updated: July 2021)