Open Access - A Panacea? Science, Society, Democracy, Digital Divide

First Monday, Vol. 15, No. 2

15 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2008 Last revised: 12 Feb 2010

See all articles by Ulrich Herb

Ulrich Herb

./scidecode science consulting & research; Saarland University and State Library

Date Written: November 3, 2008


Claims for Open Access are mostly underpinned with:

a) science-related arguments (Open Access accelerates scientific communication) b) financial arguments (Open Access relieves the serials crisis), c) social (Open Access reduces the Digital Divide), d) democracy-related arguments (Open Access facilitates participation) e) and socio-political arguments (Open Access levels disparities).

Using sociological concepts and notions this article analyses some of the presumptions mentioned. It focuses strongly on Pierre Bourdieu's theory of (scientific) capital and its implications for the acceptance of Open Access, Michel Foucault's discourse analysis and the implications of Open Access for the Digital Divide concept. Bourdieu's theory of capital implies that the acceptance of Open Access depends on the logic of power and the accumulation of scientific capital. It does not depend on slogans derived from hagiographic self-perceptions of science (e.g. the acceleration of scientific communication) and scientists (e.g. their will to share their information freely). According to Bourdieu's theory it is crucial for Open Access (and associated concepts like alternative impact metrics) how scientists perceive its potential influence on existing processes of capital accumulation and how it will affect their demand for distinction. Considering the Digital Divide concept Foucault's discourse analysis suggests that Open Access may intensify disparities, scientocentrisms and ethnocentrisms. Additionally several concepts from the philosophy of sciences (by Karl Raimund Popper, Samuel Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend) and their implicit connection to the concept of Open Access are described.

Keywords: Open Access, Scientific Publishing, Scientific Communication, Theory of Science, Sociology, Democracy, Digital Divide, Pierre Bourdieu, Social Capital, Scientific Capital, Journal Impact Factor, Michel Foucault, Discourse Analysis

Suggested Citation

Herb, Ulrich, Open Access - A Panacea? Science, Society, Democracy, Digital Divide (November 3, 2008). First Monday, Vol. 15, No. 2, Available at SSRN:

Ulrich Herb (Contact Author)

./scidecode science consulting & research ( email )

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