To PID or not to PID? That is the question

Author: Dr Muriel Swijghuisen Reigersberg (The Open University, UK)

As an ethnomusicologist (essentially an anthropologist of music) and senior research impact and knowledge exchange manager with a passion for open research, I spend a lot of time thinking about how new technologies influence human behaviours and thinking.

During my ponderings I have asked myself how Persistent Identifiers (PIDS) implemented at scale have the potential to significantly influence researcher and other behaviours and therefore also the creation of new knowledge and the disciplinary formats that this new knowledge takes.

In theory at least, an increased use of PIDS should make research more discoverable, linked, and replicable (if as a researcher you are in the business of replication, and not all researchers are, of course). In the longer term this should ensure there is less duplication of effort because it will be easier to discover whether something has already been researched or not.

Seems like a no-brainer then, to engage with PIDS, some might argue. Well, not all researchers would agree, and this is where different academic disciplinary practices, technical challenges and research ethics and integrity come in.

What is clear, is that it is not simply a matter of using PIDs more widely. We should not assume that as more types of PID are included into our ‘business as usual’ information eco-system more people will want to use them. Things are a bit more complicated than that.

PIDs carry social significance. Ethnomusicological data and its ‘PID-ing potential’ for example, are influenced by copyright, intellectual property and Indigenous rights to culture (1, 7, 10). Data management, sharing and repatriation practices are important ethical issues relevant to ethnomusicological data labelling. PIDs are not just there to facilitate academic career progression, knowledge creation, sharing and reporting on research within academia itself.

Ethnomusicologists generate information about other human beings and their creative outputs such as music, dance, stories and paintings. All of these may feature in our publications and other research outputs that are PID-able, particularly now that open access monographs are becoming an option, at least technologically. Our research content can therefore be commercialized as music and is affected by copyright law and cultural ownership (10).

This being the case, ethnomusicologists, like some other social scientists, have slightly different concerns to our colleagues working in the sciences. For reasons of confidentiality and the ‘do no harm’ diktat, we may not want our data to be openly available or even PID-able as it might cause grievous human upset and economic disadvantage (2, 10).

It has been successfully shown for example that inappropriate sharing mechanisms and increased discoverability in the academy and industry perpetuate the hegemonic, inaccessible colonial systems which fail to acknowledge the significant contributions Indigenous knowledge bearers make to the global research endeavour (8, 11).

Indigenous knowledges have been ruthlessly exploited during the development of life-saving medicines and Indigenous cultural property made accessible through archival technologies has been appropriated for commercial gain without the right host community seeing a penny of the returns (1, 3).

Unlike some other researchers using ethnography, ethnomusicologists do not always like anonymising their data either, precisely because we work with creative outputs. These outputs are not always our own creations, but those of the people we research with (3, 10).

Our field collaborators in the field are co-creators of our knowledge and in some cases custodians of the knowledge embedded in our research outputs, informing our research enquiry. As knowledge holders they deserve recognition, not anonymisation. Because they are rarely researchers by profession however, it is harder to acknowledge Indigenous contributors using PIDs such as ORCIDs and other mechanisms that bestow academic esteem or indicate ‘ownership’ of knowledge (1, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11).

In fact, some Indigenous contributors may not want to be acknowledged by a PID no matter what kind. Knowledge may be owned by a kinship group, rather than individuals and PIDs crucially are not names (1). In Indigenous Australian culture for example, naming something or someone appropriately indicates respect. Allocating people and places PIDS therefore could be culturally sensitive, not in the least due to Australia’s troubled colonial and scientific history.

In Australia, the inappropriate labelling, extrapolation and the non-sharing of research outputs and results supported discriminatory scientific trends such as phrenology and social Darwinism (8). These could not be contested by Indigenous people themselves. Appropriately sharing research information about Indigenous Australian culture and people with Indigenous people is consequently a profoundly socially meaningful, egalitarian act (4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11).

Therefore, I wonder whether there might be ways in which researchers could explore the use of PIDS in contexts like those in Australia so see if there might be culturally appropriate ways of sharing information using PIDS that are both respectful of the traditional knowledge bearers and make sure cultural protocols are reflected in the naming and subsequent use of PID technologies. After all, technologies are still only as impactful as the humans designing and using them.



[1] Brown, M. F. (2003) Who Owns Native Culture? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

[2] Christen, K. (2012) ‘Does Information Really want to be Free? Indigenous Knowledge Systems and the Question of Openness’, International Journal of Communication, 6, pp. 2870-93.

[3] Feld, S. (1996) ‘Pygmy POP. A Genealogy of Schizophonic Mimesis’, Yearbook for Traditional Music, 28, pp. 1-35.

[4] Hinson, G. (November 1999) “You’ve Got to Include an Invitation”: Engaged Reciprocity and Negotiated Purpose in Collaborative Ethnography’. Paper presented at the 98th annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Chicago, Illinois, November 1999.

[5] Janke, T. (1998) Our Culture, Our Future: Report on Australian Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights. Report for the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the Australian and Torres Strait Islander Commission[2]%20copy.pdf
[6] Janke, T. (2010) Excerpt from Who Owns Story by Terri Janke presented at Sydney Writers Festival 2010 is copyright, and reproduced with the kind permission of the author by Australian Institute for Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)

[7] Mills, S. (1996) “Indigenous Music and the Law: An Analysis of National and International Legislation”, Yearbook of Traditional Music, 28, 57-86.

[8] Nakata, M. (2007) Disciplining the Savages: Savaging the Disciplines. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.

[9] Swijghuisen Reigersberg, M. E. and Lloyd, J. (2019) ‘To write or not to write? That is the question: Practice as research, Indigenous methodologies, conciliation and the hegemony of academic authorship’, International Journal of Community Music, 12:3, pp. 383–400,

[10] Swijghuisen Reigersberg, M.E. (2019) “Ethical Scholarly Publishing Practices Copyright and Open Access: A view from ethnomusicology and anthropology.” in Whose Book is it Anyway? A View from Elsewhere on Publishing, Copyright and Creativity, edited Janis Jeffries and Sarah Kember, pp. 309 – 345 (Cambridge, UK: OpenBook Publishers)

[11] Tuhiwai Smith, L. (2012) Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. 2nd. Ed. (London: Zed Books)




Twitter: @MurielSR; @OUMusic