Citation is a crucial aspect of academic writing, as it acknowledges the ideas and work of authors that have influenced and informed our own writing. It demonstrates academic rigor and legitimacy. However, the politics of citation are complex and can reinforce biased power structures, particularly in relation to race, gender, and other less-represented identities.
Richard Delgado coined the term "politics of citation" to describe the exclusion of African-American, Hispanic, and Native-American scholars in civil rights scholarship, where a small group of white male professors dominated scholarly discourse and cited only amongst themselves. Citation practices draw attention to the ideas that matter, shape what we think about a field, and impact intellectual influence and reputation.
Dr. Sara Ahmed describes citation as a "successful reproductive technology" that reinforces the intellectual influence of certain thinkers, typically white, male, and heteronormative, over others who are often less represented such as people of colour or women. Indigenous scholars have reported facing challenges with citation, as they are often encouraged to acknowledge non-Indigenous academics instead of the knowledge cited from emerging Indigenous researchers or First Nations communities.
However, conscientious citation practices can amplify diverse voices in research, encouraging us to cite people because they have good ideas rather than status. This promotes a more inclusive and diverse discipline, challenging traditional academic hierarchies.
Ahmed, S. (2013). Making Feminist Points. Feministkilljoys. https://feministkilljoys.com/2013/09/11/making-feminist-points/
This blog post is widely considered to be one of the foundational texts on citation politics. Ahmed discusses how the citational structures that form some disciplines exclude the work of certain bodies whilst privileging others.
Ray, V. (2018). The Racial Politics of Citation. Insider Higher ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2018/04/27/racial-exclusions-scholarly-citations-opinion
Ray argues that while racially biased citation patterns may be unintentional, the practice of framing new works in relation to canonical works can perpetuate inequality. Ray encourages scholars to proactively cite relevant research from underrepresented academics in their field.
CBC Radio. (2018) The politics of citation: Is the peer review process biased against Indigenous academics? www-cbc-ca.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.cbc.ca/amp/1.4547468
This interview focuses on the experiences of two Indigenous scholars: Kyle Powys Whyte, a professor at Michigan State University, and Sarah Hunt, an assistant professor of First Nations and Indigenous Studies at University of British Columbia. Powys Whyte and Hunt draw attention to biases in the peer review process and citation patterns, which have implications for research grants, career progression and succeeding in academia.
Mott, C., & Cockayne, D. (2017). Citation matters: mobilizing the politics of citation toward a practice of ‘conscientious engagement’. Gender, Place & Culture, 24(7), 954-973. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0966369X.2017.1339022
Mott and Cockayne argue for the importance of being mindful of the impact of citation.
Delgado, R. (1984). The imperial scholar: Reflections on a review of civil rights literature. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 132.https://scholarship.law.ua.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1210&context=fac_working_papers
This seminal article is illustrative of the effects of biased citation practices. In the field of Civil Rights law scholarship, Delgado highlights that the dominance of literature produced by a small group of white scholars and the resulting exclusion of the work of minority scholars, lead to knowledge production about race, racism and American Law that was "blunted, skewed and riddled with omissions".
Eidinger, A. (2019). Cultivating a conscientious citation practice. Unwritten histories. www.unwrittenhistories.com/cultivating-a-conscientious-citation-practice/
The following resources can support you to:
Use the following evaluation checklist to examine your sources.
Evaluating sources: citation politics
In this guide you will find tips for evaluating your sources and prompts for reflecting on your citation practices.
This blog post, by historian Andrea Eidinger, is about how citation politics connect with teaching practice.
"What You Can Do to Cultivate a Conscientious Citational Practice" and "Other things you can do" provide ways you can develop a proactive approach to examining the citations used in curriculum design or research and writing.
This web based tool estimates the gender balance in syllabi and bibliographies
The Gray Test
Does your bibliography complies with the “Gray test”?
To pass, your work must cite the scholarship of at least two women and two scholars of color and must discuss the work meaningfully in the text (named after Kishonna Gray’s (@KishonnaGray) #citeherwork
The following guide includes resources that reflect Indigenous perspectives, knowledges, and histories and works by Australian Indigenous authors.
We recommend these pages:
The search tools listed here are a selection of databases which index sources from the Education field and multidisciplinary databases which encompass a broad range of disciplinary knowledge and sources.
Less ‘prestigious’ journals can contain more diverse research, by citing them we can shape a more just politics of citation by Shannon Mason and Margaret K. Merga
The research of Mason and Merga highlights the "persistent western hegemony" in published work within their own field of higher education and the problematic nature of citation based metrics in connection to privileging research from anglophone countries.
Their blog post suggests practical ways that researchers can draw on relevant scholarship from less cited nations and academics to promote greater diversity in published research:
"Bibliometric studies in various fields have shown that the ‘top’ journals are heavily dominated by research produced in and about a small number of ‘core’ countries, mostly the USA and the UK, and thus reproduce existing global power imbalances within and beyond academia.”
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