Open Access Repositories in the Cultural Configuration of Disciplines
Applying Actor-Network Theory to Knowledge Production by Astronomers and Philosophers of Science
This qualitative study provides an understanding of the role of self-archived disciplinary open access repositories in the cultural configuration of scholarly disciplines. It examines the implications of the technological and organizational layers of access tools and open access repositories and researchers' lived experiences and perceptions layer on researchers' localized knowledge production context and the construction of disciplinary knowledge production contexts. The actor-network theory, which posits that technological and social actors reciprocally affect each other, is applied to compare and contrast the information practices of two groups of researchers: the use of arXiv by astronomers, and the use of PhilSci by philosophers of science. Six astronomers and five philosophers of science were identified through purposeful selection. The interviews with the researchers were conducted over a period of five months, ranging in length between 40-75 minutes. Primary documentary evidence, describing open access repositories and access tools, is also used for the analysis. The findings show that the open access repositories, the access tools, and researchers' individual knowledge production contexts are co-constructed as researchers search, discover and access scholarly artifacts. Open access has impacted researchers' knowledge production by realigning the existing processes and by instigating the emergence of new actors and constructs. Four themes emerge as researchers articulate their perceptions about the value and the role of open access: impact on scholarly process, impact on scholarly output, integration with scholarly context, and democratization of the scholarly discourse. Congruent with the domain-analytic approach, two distinct socio-technological models emerge. Astronomers perceive arXiv as important and critical in their scholarly information practices, with a central role in their discipline. However, philosophers of science perceive PhilSci as having a limited value in their scholarly information practices and rather minimal role in their discipline. The properties of disciplinary cultures, such as the mutual dependence between researchers and the task uncertainty in a specific discipline, are implicated in the appropriation of the open access repositories and access tools at individual and disciplinary level. The socio-technological co-constructionist approach emerges as a viable theoretical and methodological framework to explicate complex socio-technological contexts.