Open Access in the Social and Cultural Anthropology Disciplines

In the social and cultural anthropology disciplines (ethnology, social and cultural anthropology, European ethnology, folklore studies or empirical cultural studies, and social anthropology or [socio-]cultural anthropology) open access is addressed and engaged with to a much lesser extent than in the sciences. In the social and cultural anthropology communities in the German-speaking area, open debate on open access is almost non-existent. None of the professional associations in these disciplines in the German-speaking area (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Volkskunde, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sozial- und Kulturanthropologie, Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Volkskunde, Schweizerische Ethnologische Gesellschaft, Verein für Volkskunde) have signed the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. Nor do any of their journals (Zeitschrift für Volkskunde, Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde, Tsanta and Österreichische Zeitschrift für Volkskunde) make their content immediately openly accessible at the time of publication ("full open access").

By contrast, the social and cultural anthropology disciplines in the English-speaking world have been openly and visibly engaging with open access for over ten years now. This is reflected in the number of OA journals and in the OA-related activities. However, the American Anthropological Association (AAA), the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI), and the Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth (ASA) have not signed the Berlin Declaration, either. The journals of these associations (American Anthropologist, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Anthropology Today) ara also neither open nor accessible free of charge.

The European Association of Social Anthropologists has not signed the Berlin Declaration as well, and its journal Social Anthropology is neither open nor accessible free of charge. Likewise, the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF) has not signed the Berlin Declaration and its journal Ethnologia Europaea is not open or freely accessible as well.

Monographs and Edited Volumes

Monographs and edited volumes play a major role in the social and cultural anthropology disciplines, compared to other scientific disciplines. Because of their specific approach, monographs, in particular, are considered to be the norm when putting years of research into writing (in the form of ethnographies). They are therefore associated with prestige; the publisher and the availability of a print version are important factors in this regard. However, relatively few books by representatives of the social and cultural anthropology disciplines are published in open access, although the number of open access books and corresponding initiatives has increased in recent years.

Monographs and edited volumes can be published in open access with the German-language university presses who are members of the working group of university presses, AG Universitätsverlage. This option is already being used for social and cultural anthropology research. Numerous British and North American university presses also offer open access options.

The following non-university publishers with which books from the social and cultural anthropology disciplines are frequently published explicitly offer an open access option (published simultaneously with the print edition):


HAU Books has been publishing anthropological classics and new works exclusively in open access since 2015. Open Anthropology Cooperative Press, Open Humanities Press, Ubiquity Press, and Mattering Press are open access publishers whose portfolio also includes social and cultural anthropology books.

Open access books on anthropological topics can be found in the OAPEN Online Library. The Directory of Open Access Books lists more than 300 books in the categories "Anthropology" and "Ethnology."

Open Access Journals

Representatives of the social and cultural anthropology disciplines publish their papers in disciplinary journals, on the one hand. On the other hand, they publish in field-related journals (e.g. journals of science and technology studies, migration studies, gender studies, museum studies, urban studies) and in region-related journals or journals of the various regional studies. The journals taken into consideration in what follows are mainly disciplinary publications.

EthnoScripts - Zeitschrift für aktuelle ethnologische Studien and the Hamburger Journal für Kulturanthropologie are two examples of German-language open access journals in the social and cultural anthropology disciplines; both are published by institutes at the University of Hamburg. The journal Forum Qualitative Social Research (FQS) is of relevance for social and cultural anthropology disciplines because of its focus on qualitative methods.

All volumes of the journal Zeitschrift für Volkskunde with the exception of the last six are freely available in digital form, as are all volumes of the journal Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde that are over two years old, and all volumes of the journal Österreichische Zeitschrift für Volkskunde up to 2015. Volumes of Ethnologia Europaea are freely available in digital form three years after initial publication.

There are, however, many more open access journals in other languages, especially in English. The Journal of Political Ecology, whose scope includes anthropology, was one of the first open access journals in the social sciences - it is also one of the oldest, as it was established in 1994. The journal Anthropology Matters has been in existence since 1999, the Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics since 2007, the new, online-only series of the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford since 2009, and the Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology since 2010. Three new, purely open access journals commenced publication in 2011: HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, Urbanities - Journal of Urban Ethnography, and Teaching Anthropology. The journal Cultural Anthropology, which was established in 1986, went open access in 2014 (all issues since 2014 are thus freely available online). Moreover, all volumes of the American Anthropological Association's flagship journal, American Anthropologist, up to 1982 are freely accessible.

Due to the publication breadth in the social and cultural anthropology disciplines and the fact that they are allocated to the social sciences and the humanities, as well as to cultural studies, relevant field-related and interdisciplinary open access journals are, in principle, also an option:


Multidisciplinary open access journals include, for example, Open Library of Humanities, Heliyon and PLOS ONE. In 2016, the journal Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften, which is edited by representatives of various fields of cultural studies, adopted a publication model whereby all issues from 2014 onwards are freely available in digital form twelve months after publication. However, an open license is missing.

The Directory of Open Access Journals lists over 70 journals in the sub-category "Ethnology/Social and Cultural Anthropology," many of which are in languages other than German or English. However, a number of open access journals are missing from the list.

Disciplinary Repositories

There are no disciplinary repositories specifically for social and cultural anthropology. However, the Social Science Open Access Repository, SocArXiv, and the Social Sciences Research Network can be used by members of these disciplines. The multidisciplinary repositories Zenodo and OSF Registries are suitable options for data other than text publications. Because of the aforementioned multidisciplinary orientation of the social and cultural anthropology disciplines, specialized repositories, for example SavifaDok for South Asia studies or GenderOpen for gender studies, AfricArXiv for preprints from African Studies, OstDok for publications on Eastern, East Central and South Eastern Europe or MENAdoc for publications related to the MENA region and Islam are also an option.

The publication of preprints and postprints is relatively uncommon in the social and cultural anthropology disciplines. The collection EVIFA-Schriften on the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin's open access publication server, edoc, offers a (cross-institutional) possibility of making manuscripts of out-of-print scholarly publications available to the public.

Literature and Information Searches in the Social and Cultural Anthropology Disciplines

Specialised Portals and Platforms

One central specialised portal for the social and cultural anthropology disciplines  in the German-speaking area is EVIFA - Virtuelle Fachbibliothek Ethnologie. It was developed and is operated by the University Library of the Humboldt University Berlin (where the Fachinformationsdienst Sozial- und Kulturanthropologie [Scientific Information Service Social and Cultural Anthropology] is located).

Journals and journal articles, as well as anthropological films, can be searched with the help of the Anthropological Index Online. AnthroGuide is an information service of the American Anthropological Association. H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online is an English-language, multidisciplinary information service that also lists information from and for the social and cultural anthropology disciplines, among others. The history portal H-Soz-Kult also publishes research reports, reviews, and news in the category "European Ethnology and Historical Anthropology," among other categories.

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Anthropology, in which all entries are published in open access, was established at the end of 2017. The portal Open Folklore lists freely available resources (e.g. journals, books, and grey literature) from the domain of folklore studies.


The database information system DBIS currently lists more than 300 discipline-specific databases in the category "Ethnologie (Volks- und Völkerkunde) [Ethnology and Folklore Studies]."

Open Science

The aspiration of open science to make all types of scientific knowledge freely and openly available and to open up the scientific process as far as possible has far-reaching consequences for the social and cultural anthropology disciplines and presents them with major challenges. The Open Anthropology Cooperative is a discipline-specific network that deals with this area. Another network, which was formed from within the social and cultural anthropology disciplines but which focusses on changing the publication system in the social sciences, is Libraria.

Today, more and more research data is made publicly accessible (open data). In the case of qualitative data (especially data gathered by the use of ethnographic methods, such as interviews and field notes which may entail personal, sensible or confidential information), aspects such as privacy, anonymity and consent (data protection, in general) as well as issues of authorship of the data are essentially affected. For one thing this has to be borne in mind during the entire research process, thereby changing the process itself. Whether this is possible in principle is a key question. Moreover, data management frameworks must be capable of fully implementing these requirements in order to store corresponding data (see Rosado Murillo 2018). In any case it should be noted that, in this respect, qualitative research data must be viewed and handled differently than quantitative research data.

Adequate disciplinary data repositories for the social and cultural anthropology disciplines do not yet exist in Germany. However, this matter is already being addressed. For example, one focus of the Fachinformationsdienst Sozial- und Kulturanthropologie (Scientific Information Service Social and Cultural Anthropology), which is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), is to survey and analyse the handling of research data in social and cultural anthropology and the possibilities for archiving and reusing these data.

The publication or provision of research data via appropriate repositories such as Zenodo is already possible in principle.

Open peer review would also be possible in the social and cultural anthropology disciplines, as there is no appreciable difference between social and cultural anthropology and other disciplines in this regard. As yet, no disciplinary journals or other discipline-specific publication models in the social and cultural anthropology disciplines practise open peer review.

For the social and cultural anthropology disciplines, the aspects "open source" (i.e., publicly and freely available software source codes; in a broader sense, the term refers to making process steps/instructions publicly and freely available, as well) and "open methodology" ultimately lead to one question: How transparent and reproducible is the research process, including the methods used, and how can greater openness be achieved? However, this is not a new question for the social and cultural anthropology disciplines. Rather, it has been the subject of constant debate for some time now. Because the disclosure and explanation of the research process and the methods used traditionally takes place in text form, the connection with, and the relevance of, open access must be stressed. In this respect, too, there are fundamental differences between the social and cultural anthropology disciplines and disciplines whose work is more quantitatively oriented. However, in the case of the application of quantitative methods in the social and cultural anthropology disciplines (e.g., text mining), corresponding other principles of open methodology and open source should be observed.

The provision of open educational resources is closely linked to the publication of books and journals in open access. For example, Perspectives: An Open Invitation to Cultural Anthropology, which was published in 2017, was the first textbook to be described as "a peer-reviewed open access textbook for cultural anthropology courses."




  • Christopher M. Kelty: "Anthropology and the Open Access Debate". Anthropology News 45 (7), p. 14-15. 2004. DOI: 10.1111/an.2004. (not available in open access)
  • Christopher Kelty: "The State of Open Access Anthropology". Anthropology News 49 (2), p. 9-10. 2008. DOI: 10.1525/an.2008.49.2.9
  • Christopher M. Kelty, Michael M. J. Fischer, et al.: "Anthropology of/in Circulation: The Future of Open Access and Scholarly Societies". Cultural Anthropology 23 (3), p. 559-588. 2008. DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1360.2008.00018.x (OA Version)
  • Daniel Miller, Amita Baviskar, et al.: "Open Access, Scholarship and Digital Anthropology". HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 2 (1), p. 385-411. 2012. DOI: 10.14318/hau2.1.016
  • Jason Baird Jackson, Ryan Anderson: "Anthropology and Open Access". Cultural Anthropology 29 (2), p. 263-263. 2014. DOI: 10.14506/ca29.2.04
  • Ainhoa Montoya, Marta Pérez, et al. (Hrsg.): FAQs about Open Access: The Political Economy of Publishing in Anthropology and Beyond. Madrid. 2014. URL:
  • Grégory Dallemagne, Víctor del Arco, et al.: "The Value of Open Access in Anthropology and Beyond". Anthropology in Action 22 (2), p. 42-48. 2015. DOI: 10.3167/aia.2015.220206
  • Luis Felipe Rosado Murillo: "What Does "Open Data" Mean for Ethnographic Research?" American Anthropologist 120 (3), p. 577-582. 2018. DOI: 10.1111/aman.13088


Author: Marc Lange, Humboldt University Berlin (ORCiD: 0000-0002-7742-3867)