How Cultural Anthropology Operates

In light of the ongoing discussion about editorial practices at HAU, we as the incoming editors of Cultural Anthropology (CA) wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on what the journal does and how the journal does it. The Society for Cultural Anthropology (SCA), the section of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) that supports the journal and this website, has long had an interest in promoting open-access (OA) publishing within the AAA. Accounts of the chronology of that support can be found in a number of published articles and posts on this website (Otsuki 2013; Elfenbein 2014; Weiss 2014). These accounts emphasize that the primary motivation for the SCA to push for OA was a commitment to greater equity in scholarly publishing. In addition to the tremendous opportunity to reach an ever-wider audience interested in anthropological knowledge beyond the traditional centers of the discipline in the global North, we also saw OA as an important process by which to challenge the ways in which profits were generated from the uncompensated labor of authors, reviewers, and editors whose intellectual projects were then sold back to their home universities at an escalating cost—a process that inevitably does the greatest damage to smaller, less well-funded universities and colleges. In other words, a concern with challenging the exploitation of uncompensated labor and ensuring a more equitable use and distribution of the resources available to the global scholarly community has been at the foundation of the SCA’s efforts to promote OA.

There are features of the SCA’s publishing program—palpable structures—that we wish to explain and highlight. It is helpful, we think, to be transparent about these institutional processes in order to hold ourselves accountable to the high standards of equitable production that we strongly endorse. As a section of the AAA, the SCA is accountable to our parent organization in every way. Every penny the society spends must be authorized by the AAA. Every appointment it makes is confirmed by the AAA, and is authorized by a set of bylaws that the AAA has approved. The journal’s budget and financial reporting are subject each year to oversight by both the section’s executive board and the AAA. Currently, the SCA has exactly one half-time employee, our managing editor, Marcel LaFlamme, whom we pay a distinctly modest salary (including benefits). One of our home institutions also pays and provides benefits for a half-time editorial assistant, Jessica Lockrem. When the SCA committed itself to going OA in 2013, we changed the status of these positions from independent contractor to employee with benefits, thereby affirming the importance of equitable compensation in publishing. Thus far, we have been able to maintain these arrangements; however, our revenues (described below) remain limited and thus the future of this staffing model is far from secure.

We are in no position to comment on the operational practices at HAU, whether past or present. But we are concerned that recent allegations about them may lead some to the mistaken conclusion that the challenges of OA publishing demand untenable sacrifice. They don’t and they shouldn’t. At CA, the everyday management of the journal is achieved through a combination of paid labor (in addition to the managing editor and editorial assistant positions, the SCA pays a number of vendors and contractors, including a copyeditor, cover designer, typesetter, and web developer) and benefits from in-kind support (some course release from the home institutions of the editors) as well as volunteer effort (by members of the journal’s editorial boards and peer reviewers).

Additional volunteer effort goes into producing and curating content for the SCA website, through the various sections of the Fieldsights blog, and for the SCA’s vibrant social media accounts. The website does not generate any revenue for the journal or society, and in fact there are significant expenses associated with maintaining and upgrading it. The creative efforts of early-career scholars in the Contributing Editors Program (CEs) are not remunerated, just as the authors of our journal articles are not paid for their work. Our CEs come from a wide variety of institutions and work in collaborative teams to produce content for each of the Fieldsights sections. They also receive mentoring and skill-building opportunities, from our longstanding student–faculty workshops at the annual meeting of the AAA to more recent initiatives like the scholar-in-residence program and an article writing workshop led by the outgoing editors of the journal. The Contributing Editors Program is co-led by the managing editor and the student representative to the SCA’s executive board, currently Julia Sizek, who represents CE interests, concerns, and priorities to the rest of the board.

How do we fund the SCA website and the journal Cultural Anthropology? The short answer is that these funds are derived largely from the dues that our members pay and from royalties that the journal’s backfiles generate when they are accessed through AnthroSource and/or Wiley Online Library. (We also welcome contributions! Anyone can donate to the SCA’s publishing program—we recognize donations of $125 or more with a one-year print subscription to the journal—or to the independent nonprofit organization Friends of Cultural Anthropology). We have never required and are committed to never introducing article processing charges (APCs), a model of shifting the costs of publication to authors (while making content free to readers). Moreover, we waive the $25 submission fee that is charged to authors who are not members of the SCA in cases where the author cannot afford it. The challenge of making good on these commitments for the long term is real, but it is a challenge that we address week in and week out even as we craft the outstanding journal that our readers so clearly respect.

We spell all of this out here because it is important to specify the commitments of Cultural Anthropology and to show how our practices—which can always improve, and we are open to input on how to do that—are deeply embedded in institutionalized professional service. The jobs of the society’s executive board and the journal’s editorial boards, our own editorial collaborative, and the contributing editors are no mere honorifics: they are active service positions that ensure accountability to the members of the SCA, the AAA, and our readership. The position of editor comes with a defined four-year term by appointment of the SCA board, whose members are elected by the full membership of the section; each editorial team, in turn, appoints its own editorial board, also for a four-year term. It is all but impossible for any one person or even a cabal to run the SCA or the journal or the website according to their own, independent vision of what the society or journal or website ought to be. These are longstanding, collective modes of shared governance. We remain committed to these principles; indeed, we think they are indispensable to the spirit and the success of CA. More broadly, we feel strongly that OA publishing will thrive when it is supported by the collective efforts of partners—scholarly societies, libraries, funding agencies, and colleges and universities—who stand to mutually benefit from the broadest dissemination of scholarly, and specifically anthropological, knowledge.


Elfenbein, Timothy W. 2014. “Cultural Anthropology and the Infrastructure of Publishing.” Cultural Anthropology 29, no. 2: 288–303.

Otsuki, Grant Jun. 2013. “Read the Transcript of Our March 20th Live Discussion on Open Access.” SCA News, Cultural Anthropology website, March 31.

Weiss, Brad. 2014. “Opening Access: Publics, Publication, and a Path to Inclusion.” Cultural Anthropology 29, no. 1: 1–2.