The Latin American Studies Association is the ideal home for something as ambitious as the Latin American Research Commons (LARC). Having just completed its first half century, LASA continues to be a dominant player in promoting the dissemination of original research on Latin America, with over 10,000 members around the world. Its flagship publication, the Latin American Research Review, was one of the first major interdisciplinary journals in the social sciences and humanities to go fully open access in January 2017, confirming how LASA is second to none in its ability to produce and disseminate original research on the region. LARC is a fitting culmination of this long tradition.
Advances in information technology are rapidly transforming how research is disseminated. Yet this technological change has coincided with the growing dominance of North American approaches to the social sciences and humanities, including increased pressure for Latin American scholars to publish in English. This narrowing effect is rather paradoxical, since such technological change would normally be expected to lead to the proliferation of alternative academic viewpoints and perspectives, including those coming from Latin America. This same paradox highlights the importance of open access publishers like LARC, which provides alternative perspectives on today’s most important issues and the way we study them, while broadening opportunities for publication of the high-quality research that Latin American scholars have been producing for decades.
The biggest challenge facing research on Latin America and its dissemination is the need to legitimate the value and necessity of alternative perspectives about ways of understanding the world in which we live. That was ultimately one of the principal contributions to the social sciences and humanities that Latin American research became famous for in the 1960s and 1970s. Ironically, the gradual eclipsing of those contributions in the 1980s contributed to many subsequent political, social, and economic problems by creating an intellectual vacuum that quickly was filled by neoliberalism and the so-called Washington consensus.
This challenge also opens up tremendous opportunities for open access publishers like LARC. They can help keep alternative ways of thinking alive, providing the space for their elaboration and a platform for the growth of their influence. It is an opportunity that advances in information technology make possible through open access publishing, which can break down not only the segmentation of research markets but also the growing dominance of North American perspectives.
The current challenges facing publishers of research on Latin America like LARC need to be seen as opportunities that will help ensure the influence of research on Latin America in global and regional debates at a time when such influence is more important than ever before.