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C-2 What about new ways to release research findings and "open science"?

Making Books Open Access: Interview series 3

Using KURA’s program to convert foreign-language books open access, more than 40 books/book chapters were made open access. In our interviews with researchers who used this program, we asked about the purpose and benefit of doing so.

Associate Professor Ishii Miho, Institute for Research in Humanities

Ph.D. (Human and Environmental Studies), Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies, Kyoto University. Assumed her current position after serving as an associate professor in Hitotsubashi University’s Graduate School of Social Sciences. Specializes in cultural anthropology and African and South Asian studies. Her research topics include indigenous religions and environmental movements, and she has conducted field research in Tanzania, Ghana, and South India. In addition to the open-access book discussed in this interview, her major publications include ‘Caring for Divine Infrastructures: Nature and Spirits in a Special Economic Zone in India’ (Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology 82(4):690-710, 2017), ‘The Code of Pangolins: Interspecies Ethics in the Face of SARS-CoV-2’ (Current Anthropology 62(5), 2021).

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Associate Professor Miho’s Modernity and Spirit Worship in India: An Anthropology of the Umwelt (Routledge, 2019) was made open access in the 2020 academic year. The original Japanese version is Kansekai no jinruigaku: Minami indo ni okeru yasei, kindai, shinrei saishi (Kyōtō Daigaku Gakujutsu Shuppankai, 2017).

■Differences Between the English and Japanese Versions

――You have published many books in both Japanese and English, and I was hoping you could talk about the position of your open access book. For example, you have books for a general audience, such as Megurinagareru mono no jinruigaku (Anthropology of things that flow; Seidosha), and academic books. Where does your Routledge book fit in?

Ishii: The original is a Japanese one published by Kyoto University Press in 2017, which was more of a cultural anthropology academic book. I did my doctoral research in the Republic of Ghana, and the first book I published in 2007, Seirei tachi no furontia (Frontier of spirits; Sekai Shisōsha, 2007), was about spirit worship there. After that, in 2008, I newly started my fieldwork in India. I did fieldwork on and off and, over ten years, put together the original, Kansekai no jinruigaku.

Seirei tachi no furontia was based on my dissertation, and I followed the common course of brushing up one’s dissertation and publishing it as an academic book. On the other hand, at the risk of sounding grandiose, Kansekai no jinruigaku was the first academic book I offered up to the world after switching my fieldwork to India. I hadn’t written a dissertation on this topic, so I brought together what I’d written in various places.

――I hear that the content of the Japanese book is slightly different from the English version―that the latter includes content from English-language papers submitted to international journals, and that some parts have been changed from the Japanese.

Ishii: After publishing Kansekai no jinruigaku, I reworked some parts as articles and submitted them to several international journals. They were peer-reviewed and, therefore, naturally needed to be rewritten. I also had taken another look at existing scholarship, which had grown. When bringing these articles together as a book, I also went through them and made them into a coherent whole. That kind of thing. The result was this English book.

――Were there any areas where you were a little conscious that you were writing for readers from the Anglosphere and therefore wrote differently? People often talk about, for example, putting the conclusion first. For readers, or rather the academic community. I have heard from overseas publishers and professors who have been doing research overseas for a long time that it is not possible to publish books directly translated from Japanese into English. Some researchers say there is a certain way to write a book for publication by an overseas publisher. I wonder if you also had this kind of thing in mind.

Ishii: I think I learned how to do that to some extent by submitting my papers to international journals and rewriting them while communicating with peer-reviewers and editors.

It’s also easier sometimes to write in English. For example, you can take an argument from a study in English and incorporate it into your discussion without translating it back into Japanese. In this way, some aspects are actually easier.

――Did you do all the translation work when you published the English version?

Ishii: Generally yes. When I was working on Modernity and Spirit Worship in India, it was as if I was engaging in monastic training, making sure that I translated a certain number of paragraphs a day. After that, I had it edited by a native English speaker I knew, who did so while understanding what I was trying to say. However, I asked a Japanese person who is fluent in English to translate two chapters.

――There was a native speaker who made sure to understand your intentions, to whom you could entrust some of the work.

Ishii: That was really big. The person I asked to edit my manuscript was not a specialist in cultural anthropology, but he paid attention to the feeling and naturalness in English, and approached editing by thinking about what sounds best in English. It was probably good that he didn’t comment on the more specialized subject matter.

■The Book’s Content

――This book’s a compilation of ten years of research, so it covers a very wide range of topics, and you did a lot of field research for it. Could you briefly discuss its content? Modernity, religion, spirit worship, environmental movements, and India are its five keywords, so perhaps you could touch on them.

Ishii: I did my fieldwork in Mangaluru, on the coast of Karnataka in South India, where I encountered spirit (būta) worship practices. These practices are indigenous and deeply connected to the local natural environment. In the area, rice farming flourishes, and through rituals, the wild animal spirits held to be in the mountains, fields, and forests are welcomed into the paddy fields to bring the fertility of the wild into the farmland. This has similarities with Japanese agricultural rituals. At the base is a reciprocal relationship between the wild and the human world. However, from a historical viewpoint, such relationships are also inextricably linked to the ways society works, such as the control of land and the distribution of agricultural products by the local land-owning class. The main topic is how such practices and the lives of the people connected with them have been sustained while changing due to British colonization, land reform, and large-scale development.

When I thought about how to understand such phenomena from a cultural anthropological viewpoint, I did not just see them as changes caused by modernization. I tried to depict how local logics and practices are connected to and intertwined with events and institutions from the modern period onwards and continuously transform.

This is where the term “umwelt,” which is in the title, becomes important. When I tried to think more abstractly about the concrete things happening on the ground, I was inspired by this idea in Der Gestaltkreis, a book by the German physician Viktor von Weizsäcker. He talks about the dynamic relationship between, on the one hand, the lives of living beings that are being generated and change amidst great transformations, and, on the other hand, the world around these beings. Based on this idea, I tried to depict the relationship between people and deities as they go through various social changes.

■Why Open Access (OA)?

――The English version of your book was first published as a paper book and an e-book, and then you decided to make it open access. Why?

Ishii: The price of this book has dropped a little now, but when the hardcover was first published, it was expensive―about ¥20,000. So I couldn’t casually give out copies. The people who helped me the most in writing this book were locals in the field, but it was very difficult for them to buy it and for me to give it to them. Also, I don’t think the paperback was initially available. It would be great, I thought, if the book was made open access. People in India who may not have access to the book itself would be able to easily download and read it. So I applied.

――Has anyone in the field in India contacted you after reading it?

Ishii: The person who helped me with my fieldwork from the very beginning was majoring in folklore at Mangalore University, and I had been doing fieldwork in the village where their family lived. So I sent the open access version link to that person, and they replied that it was a wonderful gift. I think it will serve as a very important record for the local people. Also, at the same time, people point out small errors, such as misspelled words in the local language, so I think it was very good in both directions.

■Effects of Open Access

――Comparing the number of downloads in 2020 (before your book became open access) and 2021 (after your book became open access), the number of downloads increased right away―by about 29 times

Ishii: Now it’s also available on Amazon Kindle for free. I think those numbers are a reflection of the people of India reading it.

――Amazon’s Kindle count may not have been included in the Routledge data, so it may actually be more widely read than those numbers indicate. I think it being available for free on Kindle has quite an impact. People look at Amazon frequently. If a book is posted only on the publisher’s website, it will only be seen by a certain group of readers, but on Amazon, related books appear regardless of the publisher, making it easy for a variety of people to notice it. Suggested books related to cultural anthropology and India come up.

Ishii: Was it automatically posted on Amazon when it was made open access?

――I think Routledge did so. Items from other publishers that have been made open access are not on Amazon like this. A scholar whose Routledge book became open access had an abrupt increase in the number of downloads when it became free on Kindle, and became the top download in its genre, which I thought was amazing. This way of disseminating academic books makes it really easy for the general public to access them. English books are big and heavy, but they don’t take up much space if you put them on a Kindle. It’s very handy, and many researchers use it. In that sense, I think Routledge has handled it well.

Ishii: My book is one of the books in Routledge’s South Asian studies series, so it will automatically appear as a related book when you buy another one of the books in the series. In this way as well, I think it’s easy to come across.

■Open Access: Impact and Benefits

――I mentioned download numbers, but how about the actual impact of making it open access? For example, has the number of citations increased, or have you found out about how the book has had an influence? You mentioned earlier hearing from people in India. What has been the impact or influence of making the book open access?

Ishii: I have received some inquiries about the content of this book from people who are doing related research. However, I’m not sure if there has been any particular increase in citations or anything like that. You can find the number of citations for papers and other publications, but I’m not sure about monographs.

――Did your book becoming open access lead to any new developments? For example, perhaps it had an impact on a person in a neighboring field of research, or you may have sent it to an international joint research colleague before proceeding to actual research. I’m wondering because one scholar said open access books are great for sending as reference material to collaborating researchers before starting the next research stage. Some people take the open access route because they want to send books to collaborators.

Ishii: That’s true. It’s like a letter of introduction. When only physical copies existed, the book was very expensive, and I couldn’t ship it overseas because of the pandemic, but now it’s open access and easily accessible, which is really great.

For example, when asked to write a book chapter, I can include this book as a reference, which makes it easier for people to know my research as a whole. Rather than listing some papers, just saying, have a look at this book.

――In the humanities, it’s really important to have a monograph, and when interacting with researchers, it’ll be easier to give them copies. It seems that one of your acquaintances, a researcher, has become interested in this open access program. What do you feel was particularly beneficial when it comes to open access, and what do you want to recommend to others?

Ishii: It’s great that the number and scope of the people who pick up your book increase.
Readers aren’t limited to just a certain segment of people.

For example, I think it’s meaningful for students and the general public to be able to casually download and read one’s book, even if only part of it.

――Open access is great for students. Before a book is made open access, it might be ¥20,000, but then it’s free, and, amidst the pandemic, available through the internet. I think that the value of open access has heightened amidst the pandemic. It feels like the environment, the academic environment, is changing so much. People can now access these books from around the world without going to a library.

■Trends in Open Science

――I would like to next ask about trends in open science. This program makes books open access, but are you familiar with the broader trends in open access and open science, for example, preprints Researchers post preprints of their papers before journal submission and get people’s opinions.

When there is a rush to publish research results, such as those regarding the coronavirus, increasingly researchers post preprints to quickly release what is known from current research, while making clear that it has not been peer-reviewed, and to see others’ reactions. Preprints are attracting more attention as a new form of non-journal publication in the sciences and other fields. However, in the humanities, only researchers in certain fields use them.

I heard about a field where only a few people understand the research, so it’s moving towards uploading and discussing books online instead of publishing them. Do you sense that how books exist is changing or will change due to open access?

Ishii: Certainly, that trend is accelerating in the sciences. New ideas are published on websites and discussed for some years in mathematics and other fields. In the humanities, many people post their papers on academic platforms such as ResearchGate and If their work has not yet been formally accepted, it seems that it can be released like that without copyright issues. By putting them on such platforms, anyone can download them. Things become very accessible.

For example, if you are a researcher who does not belong to a research institution like a university, you might not be able to pay a lot for one paper, but if a paper is published on such a platform, you can access it for free. Also, you can contact the author of the paper directly. It encourages such interactions. Research results are now being distributed as a commons and can be accessed by anyone. I think this is a positive change.

On the other hand, the negative side is that the researchers themselves become very concerned about their reputations on such platforms. Researchers, especially early career ones, tend to get caught up in reductive numbers: how many times an article was accessed, quoted, etc.

Some journals provide data, such as how often your paper was viewed and who cited it, but I always wonder whether it is a good thing to reduce research results to such quantifiable data and whether this is in line with the methods and ideas of humanities scholarship.

■The Relationship Between Articles and Books, and Toward Internationalization

――You have published several papers and books overseas. What is their relationship―relative weight, priority―in your mind?

Ishii: A paper is like going for a short run, and a book is like going for a long run. When you do fieldwork for a long time, you accumulate a lot of data, and an ethnography is the best way to synthesize it. The beauty of ethnography is that it can describe details that would be left out of an academic paper, such as the subtleties of locals’ lives and personalities.

On the other hand, each journal has its own characteristics. To a certain extent, the advantage of this is that one can focus, deciding on a topic and narrowing down the prior research. This way, you can release your research in a compact form.

――So in some ways they each have their strengths, and monographs are better for developing data in various ways.

A monograph is a lot of work, but it’s filled with so much.

――Looking at your work in the context of humanities and social science research as a whole, it seems like it is relatively easy for you to connect with various international trends; you have published articles and books in both Japanese and English, and then there’s also the nature of the field of cultural anthropology. What do you think about the issue of publication language?

Ishii: That’s a hard one. In the case of cultural anthropology, it’s perhaps easier to communicate in English compared with other humanities and social science fields. Academically speaking, the center of academia is still in the Western world, and major theories are still centered in the West. I think it is really meaningful in this context to, as a Japanese researcher, share what I have been thinking in Japanese in another language.

In my case, I have been greatly influenced by Japan’s philosophy and thought, including the ideas of Kimura Bin and Sakabe Megumi. When I published a paper in English with this kind of intellectual background, surprisingly people found it really interesting, so I think that encouraged me to submit articles in English. However, I think there are times when people, before they have had that kind of experience, hesitate to publish in English, for language, systemic, and other reasons. However, this situation will probably change if, for example, more people obtain their degrees overseas.

――We’ve covered a wide range of issues―not only open access, but also publishing overseas, the characteristics of your field, and properly evaluating scholarship. Thank you for your time.



Interview Date: 15 December 2021