Open Access in gender research

As a scientific field in which both disciplinary and interdisciplinary work is conducted, gender research does not have uniform publishing practices. The dominant publishing models are those that prevail in the respective disciplines. Interdisciplinary publishing venues provided by some publishers in the form of journals or book series are characterised mainly by the relatively traditional conventions of the social sciences and the humanities.

Hence, the opportunities afforded by electronic publishing, and especially by open access (OA), are still little used in gender research. In particular, there is a limited willingness to adopt models for the publication of journals and monographs that have been developed, and have partly taken root, in other scientific fields. In a field that is, to a certain extent, still fighting for scientific recognition, this limited willingness is due, among other things, to the risk of experimenting with new publishing models and thereby being faced with reservations at additional levels.

There are few OA publications in German-language gender research. This applies also, and in particular, to journals. Some journals make individual contributions accessible free of charge. And some publishers of works in the field of gender research  make articles available free of charge after an embargo period. For example, Barbara Budrich Publishers provides free access to articles in the journal Gender two years after publication.

OA monographs (primary publications) are rare, and genuinely OA book series with a focus on gender research are unknown. Internationally, most publications in gender research are published by large commercial publishers and are not, as a rule, freely accessible. Increasingly, publishers are offering authors OA options against payment of an additional fee. However, these options are rarely used by gender researchers.

And yet, OA publishing offers huge opportunities – especially for gender research. The results of gender research are still subject to reception barriers (because of reservations towards gender research and because of its unclear location). Thanks  to the greater visibility and the direct access to full texts afforded by OA, openly accessible gender research publications can overcome these barriers, emerge from their present niche, and, thus, prove their quality. Moreover, increased visibility will probably lead to greater pressure on authors to produce high-quality work.

There is also a demand for OA on the part of gender researchers. Because of the change in funding practice with regard to publication allowances, and also because of the fascination exerted by the new technical possibilities, there is an increased demand for alternative publishing models and venues.

The DFG-funded project Geschlechterforschung und Open Access. Ein Publikationsmodell für ein inter-/transdisziplinäres Forschungsfeld (Gender Research and Open Access. A Publishing Model for an Inter-/Transdisciplinary Research Field) conducted at the Freie Universität Berlin (1. May 2011 – 15 Nov. 2012) analysed the opportunities and challenges of OA publishing in gender research. The results are ambivalent. On the one hand, all the technical and legal means of implementing an exemplary quality-assured OA publishing offering exist. On the other hand, opportunities for independent, non-commercial solutions that are adapted to the demands of smaller scientific subject areas have shrunk. OA publishing and electronic publishing workflows bring additional challenges, for example clear assignment of roles, clarification of rights, and adaptation to transdisciplinary and transnational standards. These additional demands are often considered to be excessive. In this case, it is advisable to initiate “beacon projects” and to gradually introduce the community to new forms of publishing, rather than focusing on large centralised solutions.

Open Access journals

As a rule, the better-known journals in Germany that are of relevance to gender research are not freely usable – that is, they are neither free or charge (gratis OA) nor free of charge and other access barriers (libre OA). This applies to the journals Feministische Studien and Frauen Kunst Wissenschaft (both of which are edited by associations of supporters), femina politica, and Freiburger GeschlechterStudien (Barbara Budrich Publishers). The journal Gender. Zeitschrift für Geschlecht, Kultur und Gesellschaft (Barbara Budrich Publishers) has recently started making its contributions available free of charge after an embargo period of two years. IFF OnZeit and onlinejournal kultur & geschlecht are two examples of journals that can be read free of charge (although the information provided regarding copyright and rights of use is very unclear). The review journal querelles-net and the periodical QJB (Querelles. Jahrbuch für Frauen- und Geschlechterforschung) are published as genuinely OA journals.

From an international perspective, most journals in gender research that are listed in the Electronic Journals Library (EZB) (under the keyword “gender”, the database currently lists over 170 journals) can be read and used only to a limited extent. Under the search term “gender”, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) currently lists 57 electronically published journals (with a greater or lesser focus on gender research). Only in 29 of these journals are the contributions published under a Creative Commons licence, and, of these, only the following 15 journals use the Creative Commons Attribution licence, CC BY 3.0:

Disciplinary repositories

The same difficulties that are encountered with the disciplinary classification of gender research are met with in relation to publishing and self-archiving venues. To date, there are no OA repositories explicitly devoted to gender research (cf. the entries in the Directory of Open Access Repositories – OpenDOAR). Even when the quality of the metadata is good, various search strategies with different storage locations, keywords, and disciplines are always necessary. Disciplinary repositories from neighbouring disciplines often make texts in gender research accessible – cf., for example, the Social Science Open Access Repository (SSOAR). Depending on the orientation of the institution in question, gender research texts may be found in institutional repositories, for example in the repository of the London School of Economics and Political Science or in the repository of the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin (only a few texts in the latter case). Cross-repository searches can be conducted via OAIster and BASE, for example, or on various web pages devoted to digitized resources, such as gdz and zvdd.

To remedy this unsatisfactory situation, and to make the results of gender research available on a long-term basis, a project group comprising  the Freie Universität Berlin, the Humboldt Universität Berlin, and the Technische Universität (TU) Berlin has applied for DFG funding to build a disciplinary repository in gender research on the basis of existing technology. This repository will also be a platform for independent publishing in gender research, in the sense of a beacon project that serves to modernise the publishing models within a research field that is influenced by very traditional disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary research- and publication procedures. The aim is to promote community building with the help of the repository – that is, to strengthen the identity and cohesion of the gender research community – without having to decide whether gender research should be a discipline in its own right or a part of every discipline. At the same time, the repository will enable a bridge to be built between the history of research in women’s studies and gender research in Germany, which now spans several decades, and the sustainability of this field as a recognised, visible, and well-networked research area. The experiences gained when building the repository will be made available to other inter- and transdisciplinary fields.

Literature searches in gender research

Because, to date, there are few explicitly OA projects in gender research, reference should also be made here to databases, text collections, and information offerings that contain or list electronic publications (some of which are closed-access). In addition to journals that may be used free of charge, and those that are free of charge but may be used only subject to limitations, this relates, in particular, to the area of databases and archives. In connection with the documentation of the history of female intellectuality and the (re)discovery of women authors and artists, archive holdings and public domain texts are being made available online, and databases are being established both in the German-speaking area and in the Anglo-Saxon countries. They enable better access to, and a better overview of, the material that is available in libraries and archives, and include, for example:

In addition, there are databases of women’s studies, gender research, and feminist theory building, and portals that offer better access to relevant library holdings and new releases. They include, for example:

  • The KVINNSAM database – Universität Göteborg
  • Genderbibliothek oder Informations- und Dokumentationsstelle (IuD) (Gender Library or Information- and Documentation Unit) of the Centre for Transdisciplinary Gender Studies (ZtG) at the Humboldt Universität Berlin

Content editors of this web page: Anita Runge and Marco Tullney