“I want the work I am involved in to be discoverable and accessible to an audience beyond the Ivory Tower, Westminster and Whitehall”

Celebrating Dr Michelle Addison: Associate Professor, Department of Sociology – International Open Access Week 2023

A post by Open Access Publications Officer, Katie Skellett

The theme of International Open Access Week 2023 is ‘Community over Commercialization’-spotlighting focus on supporting communities to seize the ‘opportunity to join together, take action, and raise awareness around the importance of community control of knowledge sharing systems’.

As Open Access Publications Officer at the University, the announcement of this year’s theme made me wonder…how do our researchers relate to the idea of knowledge sharing systems when embarking on iterative research processes, and is this idea of ‘community control’ over emerging knowledge a part of our researchers’ consciousness? Certainly, within the Open Research Team we understand that community control can be a valuable form of protection for researchers against inequalities that exist in the academic publishing space. We also realise though that it’s our occupational ‘bread and butter’ to consider these things, and that, we aren’t, for the most part, engaged in day-to-day research processes that might distract from exploring inequalities in this arena.

Dr Michelle Addison, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology

With these questions in mind, I reached out to Dr Michelle Addison, Associate Professor of the Department of Sociology.

Beyond Michelle’s role at the University, she also engages in a roster of impressive professional commitments: Michelle sits on the Editorial Board for The British Journal of Criminology, is Co-Lead of the International First-Generation Scholars Writing Exchange Programme (in partnership with California State University, Los Angeles, USA; FGS articles available here), is a Board Member of ‘Is it a Crime to be Poor?’: a UK alliance of academics, policymakers and practitioners addressing the criminalisation of poverty, and is a Health Equity North board representative: a virtual institute focused on place-based solutions to public health problems and health inequalities from the Northern Health Science Alliance.

As someone I therefore knew to be a prominent researcher of social inequalities across contexts, I anticipated Michelle would have some interesting insights for me here. So, staying true to the 2023 OA Week directive, I ‘seized’ my opportunity to ask her thoughts, as well as more questions about the evolution of her research career to date…

Michelle – firstly – could you summarise your research interests for us and how have these evolved over the course of your career?

“My research is broadly concerned with a key long-term vision of social justice for those facing the greatest social and health disadvantages in society. I focus on social harm and the experiences of people subjected to marginalisation, minoritisation, and oppression – particularly around gender, class and ‘criminalisation’. I am a first-generation scholar and grew up in a working-class community in north-east England. I learned quickly that inequalities matter and can lead to social harms that impact the most disadvantaged in society. This is unfair and unjust – challenging this and addressing inequality is what motivates me and has underpinned my research interests across my career. Right now, I am interested in stigma and its harmful effects: seeing people become stigmatised because of who they are, where they are from, and for what they do is wrong, and I have felt deeply compelled to try and do something about this through my research”

You’ve recently been accepted to The Sociological Review to publish research on framing stigma as an avoidable social harm that widens inequality (congrats!) … Can you tell us more about that research?

This article discusses the social harms arising out of stigma experienced by people who use drugs (PWUD), and how stigmatisation compromises ‘human flourishing’ and constrains ‘life choices’. This draws on my Wellcome Trust qualitative research using in-depth, semi-structured interview data (N = 24) with people who use heroin, crack cocaine, spice and amphetamine. In my paper I talk about how stigma is operationalised relationally between people via a lens of class talk and drug use predicated on normative ideas of ‘valued personhood’. I then look at how stigma is weaponised in social relations to keep people ‘down’, and internalised as blame and shame, and felt deeply ‘under the skin’ as ‘ugly feelings’”

What are the potential implications of this research? And what difference does it make to publish this research open access upon the research community and beyond?

“Findings from my study show that stigma harms mental health, inhibits access to services, increases feelings of isolation, and corrodes a person’s sense of self-worth as a valued human being. These relentless negotiations of stigma are painful, exhausting and damaging for PWUD, culminating in, as I argue, everyday acts of social harm that come to be normalised. I presented this research, focusing on how stigma makes mental health worse, as keynote discussant at the recent Health and Justice Summit (2023) in Belfast to a room of over 400 policymakers, practitioners, clinicians, and experts by experience who are connected to the criminal justice system. The fact that my research papers from this study are all open access meant that everyone present, their networks, and delegates online, were able to access my ideas and learn more about the implications of my research – there were no barriers preventing access. This is exciting because OA helps to facilitate change if people can access our ideas – for me, OA enables the potential for real change in practice and policy with regards to how stigma is conceptualised, as well as developing ways to reduce health & social harms experienced as a result of stigmatisation”

What (if any) have you found the benefits of publishing open access to be and how does this link with issues of inequality in academic publishing?

“This is an important and deeply complex question I think – bear with me, I’m a Sociologist at heart so I have to think about this one! What gets ‘published’ frames with conviction what we know about the world and how it will be remembered. As scholars we position ourselves as an authority on a given topic, we provide ‘evidence’, and this is legitimated via peer review. Then, this polished work goes out into the world to be absorbed by others in the hope that it will somehow challenge and transform thinking. So, this process, put simply, means that what we say about the world is given power and can be very influential. However, the creation and validation of ‘knowledge’, and importantly, how it is shared, is not a fair playing field. This is what is meant by epistemic injustice – the formation and endorsement of knowledge about people, communities and society by those in positions of power, and knowledge that is retained and shared in narrow and exclusive ways that serves the interests of some whilst perpetuating inequalities. Knowledge creation is socially and historically located in structures of power and can be extremely harmful to certain individuals and communities that are frequently marginalised and silenced. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, in her critical essay titled Can the Subaltern Speak? (1988) refers to this as the prevailing western hegemonic epistemic apparatus.

Equal and open access to knowledge, and greater transparency about how it is created and validated, is essential to a fairer and more just society. Open Access is an important step in the direction towards epistemic justice – by removing paywalls and institutional gateways that hinder, and often prevent, reader access, and making the process of knowledge production more transparent for the end user. What is more, I also want the work I am involved in to be discoverable and accessible to an audience beyond the Ivory Tower, Westminster and Whitehall. I want my ideas to reach lots of people – isn’t this what we hope for when we talk about impact? There is still much work to be done of course but making knowledge accessible is a start. Going back to your question – I think we all stand to benefit from Open Access because it operates with epistemic justice as its core principle”  

How would you like to see the open access landscape change or develop in the future?

“The funding model of OA is not without its problems and I’m mindful of sounding idealistic in my previous answer. Publication fees are charged to the authors so this builds in inequalities to the process of knowledge production – in this regard, monetising knowledge production severely curtails who is published, what is published, and where it is published. Those with access to block funding (Block Award funding), and I acknowledge my own privileges here, are able to access capital that will cover the cost of publication fees. At different stages in my career, particularly early on, this hasn’t always been possible, and so has limited the platform from which I could share my knowledge and ideas.

High impact journals charge eye watering prices to publish work as Open Access, and unless you have access to research funding, then the choice of where to publish is often limited. In contrast, publishing can also be a highly predatory space and there are poor quality journals that can be highly exploitative and offer to publish work as open access with low fees, but then this journal will likely have a poor reach and is not discoverable to intended readers. These predatory journals often have inconsistent or non-existent peer review processes, which means that some work can be published before it has received critical peer review that would’ve actually been really beneficial for the paper. I don’t know how these particular problems with OA can change unless it is extracted from a capitalist system of profit – it’s a wider problem with the higher education sector more generally too. 

Navigating Open Access systems and processes can be tricky and time-consuming even for established academics, and especially for ECRs who may not know anything about the process! But I have to say, I think we’re really lucky at Durham University – Katie Skellett you have made the process so much smoother and quicker because of your knowledge and skills operating in this open access landscape. I recently tried to get a book chapter published Open Access and it felt very complex identifying where the funds would come from – was it the funder directly, or the institutional block funding? Who receives the funding – was it then the publisher directly, or my institution from the funder, who would then pass it on to the publisher? I have to admit I was lost in a web of emails some days. However – Katie came to my rescue and really helped me settle this. So, I think having someone who is really knowledgeable about the OA space is essential and certainly helps in making Open Access publishing more accessible!”

(*Author note: Michelle is very kind to me here but should take an enormous amount of credit for her own OA investigative work!)

And what’s next for your research?

“I’m working on two large ESRC grants just now so will be looking to share our work across Open Access platforms in the near future. I’d like to look into publishing a short book as Open Access that is written and shared in a way that is more accessible to the general public. I’m also curious about audio as Open Access and how this can help to make my work more available to a wider audience”


We hope that reading Michelle’s responses gave you as much food for thought about inequalities in the academic publishing space as they did us. For that, her patience, and for sharing his thought-provoking research in such an accessible way, we owe Michelle a big ‘thank you’! (And if – like me – you’re in awe of Michelle’s extraordinarily impressive professional endeavours – be reassured! Michelle extracurricular activities are actually very relatable: coastal walks, watching documentaries, and reading 😊)

Further information on Open Access Week 2023 and open access at Durham

What is International Open Access Week? Open Access Week is a global event, aimed at promoting and informing the academic and research community about the benefits of open access. Open Access is the free & immediate online access to the results of scholarly research, and the granting of rights to share, use and re-use those results.

For more insight on the community control of knowledge from the perspective of preserving authors’ rights, Martin Gleghorn, Repository Coordinator, further reflects on the launch and impact of the University’s Research Publications Policy, in his recent blog for 2023 Open Access Week here.

You can also find out more about Open Access at Durham University here.

Remember: any full text research publication you access from Durham Research Online, an author at Durham has made the effort to ensure that research is available for free to anyone, with the assistance of colleagues from Durham University Library and Collections, and departmental administrative staff across the University.

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