Citation Practices

I’m trying to think carefully about a friend’s concerns of citation practices.  I have to confess that until she brought her concern to my attention, I hadn’t thought about this issue.  My unconcern may very well be a consequence of my gender–and I think that’s both obvious and possible.  Although I’m a working-class academic, I’m a male, and a white male at that.  When we belong to a privileged social group, we obviously try to hide that sense of privilege and disguise our accomplishments as meritocratic.

My friend has made me rethink citation practices.  If I get her argument, it’s like this: citations count (duh–more obvious in the sciences than the humanities, but . . . ); there is some kind of editorial convention to encourage authors to privilege citations from  privileged people (mostly male) in the field, erasing citations of emerging scholars.

I suspect that such a practice operates on different levels within different disciplines.  But I also think that no matter what our area, there are some residual constructions that make us privilege conversations (citations) from some social groups over others.  all of this seems obvious, no matter how we try to describe it within the incredibly fallacious meritocratocracy frame.

I am only now thinking about citation.  I’ve generally ignored it–I’ve adhered to the conventions just to acknowledge where others have moved me in my thinking.  I realize mine is a radically circumscribed notion of citation others–a more expansive view is that you want to point readers to others who have done work in this area.  Then mixed in this–a notion that I have not thought of–is citing others on the basis of their importance in the field–i.e., one cites only the more important figures in order to link your thinking to theirs (ignoring the work of more recent and unacknowledged scholars).  Hmmmm.  I wonder about the degree to which this is the underlife of citation.  This may be a convention in the sciences.  I wonder about the degree to which that has leaked into our field.  And of course I wonder about the entire practice of citation.  This is just a note of wonder.  Maybe it’s a question about the economy of citation–or about the construction of being cited, of being noticed, of being acknowledged.  And one always has to wonder about the link between how one is acknowledged and the social position one occupies–which I think is the question my friend has highlighted.   The real question here, I suppose, is the link between Capitalism and citation practices (and by Capitalism, I am referring to a system of maintaining unequal distributions of wealth, privilege, and status).  Late night wandering of the mind, I suppose.

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