I Ain’t ‘Fraid of No Ghost Syndrome

Last week, the Open Con community held its monthly call focused on the topic of imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the pervasive and often unsubstantiated feeling that you are under-qualified for your particular role, task, or responsibilities. And it has very racialized and gendered aspects. While I wasn’t able to make the Open Con call last month, I hear the conversation was a good one.

Looking over the notes from the call and thinking about the open movement as a whole, however, has me thinking not about imposter syndrome but about its inverse: what I’m calling ghost syndrome. I see ghost syndrome as the pervasive and often substantiated belief that your contributions have been co-opted by a colleague who is more male, more white, and better resourced than you are. Thus, like imposter syndrome, ghost syndrome has very racialized and gendered aspects. Ghost syndrome, particularly in academia— particularly, particularly in the scholarly communications and open movement—means hearing your ideas parroted back to you, without attribution, from your whiter, maler, resource-wealthier colleagues. If you are a woman or non-binary person, it means watching men take over the work you’re doing in the open space. If you’re a person of color, it means watching white people co-opt your contributions for the sake of “openness.” If you’re native and/or from Latin America, Asia, or Africa, it means watching colonizing North Americans and Europeans pretend like they invented scholarly communication and the very notion of commons-based, open scholarship.

Ghost syndrome makes you feel like maybe you don’t exist. Or maybe you hadn’t done what you thought you’d done in the field. Ghost syndrome feeds into imposter syndrome; and in turn, imposter syndrome gaslights you into believing that your ghost syndrome is a reality, that you are, in fact, a ghost.

I guess the title of this post is a lie: I am afraid of ghost syndrome.

It’s because of the dangers of ghost syndrome that my friend and colleague Vicky Steeves and I created the database of Women Working in the Open. It’s why I so appreciate the work of Lorraine Chuen and her colleagues in building the Open Con Conference Planning Report on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. It’s why I appreciate being a part of the Force11 Scholarly Commons: Self-Critique Working Group, led by Gimena del Rio Riande and Robin Champieux.

Because it’s easy to look at phenomena like imposter syndrome and ghost syndrome and pretend that they’re internal, individual, personal problems. But the truth is, they are born out of the broader inequities of our society. And their antidotes are going to require the widespread effort of all of us, working to dismantle oppression and build a more equitable open.

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