/ Samizdat Lessons: Three Dimensions of the Politics of Self-Publishing

Abstract

The term “mattering” in Mattering Press comes from science and technology studies (STS), which brings together a growing number social anthropologists, sociologists, human geographers, cultural economists, and many others with the aim of problematizing science’s self-understanding as a disembedded and disembodied undertaking. STS as a field was established in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the first ethnographic studies of some Western European and North American laboratories were published. Since then, STS scholars have extended their gaze to a wide range of sites, from hospitals through high-tech innovation centres to stock exchange trading rooms, in order to explore how scientific knowledge is being produced and distributed through seemingly trivial material practices—and how it could be produced and distributed differently. Ironically, what’s largely missing from the list of usual sites in STS-inspired works are the institutions that play one of the most important roles in shaping the academic world STS scholars themselves operate in, namely publishers. To address this hiatus, Mattering Press was established in 2012 by a small group of young STS scholars with the aim of better understanding current developments in academic publishing by actively participating in them. In this short paper, I will try to articulate what the politics of such an active participation might be using the case of illegal—samizdat—publishing in the 1970s and 1980s. First, I will briefly recount the history of samizdat production in Central and Eastern Europe in general and in Hungary in particular. Drawing on the insights of samizdat research, I will then identify three dimensions of the politics of self-publishing: materiality, experimentation, and the ethics of openness. Finally, by mobilizing some STS resources, I will discuss how these three dimensions can be simultaneously captured by the term “mattering,” and the publishing practices of Mattering Press.

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