Recently at the Open Anthropology Cooperative (OAC), there has been a great controversy over whether or not the group should change its name. Max Forte, the owner of the Open Anthropology Project (OAP), leveled a valid complaint that the OAC, by using a similar name, had co-opted (no pun intended) the political movement that he has worked for several years to promote (see here, here, here, and here - also see here and here for discussion on the OAC forum).
Although this controversy was part of my decision to leave the OAC, it wasn't the only factor that came into play. I am not a minion of Max, as some of the admins have claimed, but my quarrel with the OAC goes back to the start of the Ning site and my own time as an admin.
I left the admin team (before Max), because of a dispute over the structure of the administration and because a post of mine, which critiqued the admin structure and proposed a new, more diffuse one, was deleted arbitrarily followed by a message from one of the admins, who has repeatedly shown a tendency for abrupt and temperamental action.
Since I left the admin team, I have been doing what I can inside the site, working on my own small projects and advocating for more fundamental changes. Unfortunately, little has changed, and this most recent controversy sent me over the edge. Here are a few of my complaints against the OAC:
1) That the admins continue to discuss OAC policy behind closed doors. I don't buy Keith's rhetoric that it is necessary to keep certain things closed in order to make other things open. There is nothing either in the organization of the group or the structure of the Ning site that requires the admins to hide their discussion. Whether or not those policies are far-reaching or strict is irrelevant; the fact that the discussion is not open to the public or to public debate is unconscionable in a supposedly “open” group.
2) That the structure of the admin team was decided in a closed way, and resulted in a hierarchical, concentrated system of power, rather than the diffuse network that the word "open" implies to me. This power structure is not obligated by Ning either, which allows administration to be tuned so finely that a person could be in charge of a single page in the site.
3) That the OAC implemented a policy of not allowing users to share materials, other than those they have "rights" to, through the site. The policy is not written down anywhere (it's phrased officially as "users agree to follow the terms and conditions of Ning" which include a clause against using the site for file-sharing, but comes with a promise on the part of the admins to self-police rather than leaving it up to Ning), but there was a discussion early on (the reason why Max left originally) in which the policy was decided by only a handful of members. To me this is a group-wide disavowal of the principles of Open Access and Open Anthropology, which, despite claims by the admins to the contrary, was part of the original idea behind the formation of the group.
4) That the Ning site amounts to little more than a discussion area in which few people actually participating (the recent poll had over 200 respondents, but there were perhaps only 30 people participating in the discussion and even fewer initially). In my opinion, Ning is both too vast and too limiting to be genuinely considered "open." There is far too much space inside of Ning to navigate making it a little daunting to potential members who don't know their way around. This automatically reduces the membership to those who 1) have a computer and internet access and 2) those who are comfortable moving around in these types of sites. I have consistently complained about this, but received little response - at the very least, the admins could organize the site better to make it more accessible to outsiders. Ning is too limiting because it doesn't foster genuine collaboration – only discussion. The abrupt and unilateral decision to start the Ning group was, to me, the beginning of its downfall. In my opinion, unless the OAC expands beyond Ning, nothing significant will ever come from it.
5) That “no-one is ever kicked out of the OAC.” In fact, that's true. Instead they are bullied relentlessly until they “leave of their own accord.” This, to me, highlights the childishness that is brought out in any group by “social networking” sites – clearly, anthropologists are not immune.
Despite the fact that I was involved in the OAC from the beginning and that I contributed (I hope meaningfully) to many of the discussions there, I doubt that my presence will be missed. My leaving is not meant to be vindictive, but merely to separate myself from a project that, I believe, has taken a wrong turn, and to give me more time to work on other things. I'll consider returning to the OAC, if and when the problems I mentioned are remedied. Until then, however, there are far better things I could be doing, but I will continue to promote Open Anthropology and Open Access in my own way.