#DiversityinHigherEd – Racial exclusions in scholarly citations

As diversity in higher education becomes more of a focal point and a means to reflect on our own institutions and practices as academics, we will be re-posting material related to these issues on the first Thursday of every month. This post is borrowed from Conditionally Accepted.

The Racial Politics of Citation

 By Victor Ray

Citation is political. Since Richard Delgado’s groundbreaking article “The Imperial Scholar,” critical race theorists have been interested in how the politics of citation shape both disciplinary knowledge and the career trajectories of scholars of color. Delgado argued that racial exclusion deeply shaped legal scholarship on African-American civil rights. Top (white) civil rights scholars tended to rely upon a closed circle of citation that reinforced the very barriers to racial inclusion that their scholarship was ostensibly designed to undermine. Delgado identified potential problems introduced to legal scholarship by racially biased citation. White civil rights scholars may have a different set of interests than scholars of color, subtly influencing their reasoning. Or white scholars may be inadequate defenders of the rights of people of color.

Racially biased citations patterns are by no means limited to law. Scholars have also noted the deep racial inequality in disciplines such as philosophy and the history of anthropology. And sociologists, for their part, have recently turned their attention to the how racial exclusion has shaped their discipline, as reflected in the omission of W. E. B. Du Bois and the Atlanta Sociological Laboratory from the sociological canon, the minimization of racism in empirical findings, and much more. Just this week, a group of communications scholars analyzed citation patterns over the last 10 years. Looking at 12 journals, the authors found that scholars of color remain undercited and are less likely to serve on editorial boards.

Much of the bias in citation patterns may be unintentional, as a path of dependency is built into them that reflects, reproduces and legitimates racial inequality. Inequality is reflected through a veneration of the classics. In the social sciences and humanities, many of these works were written during a period when racial and gender exclusion was simply expected and taken for granted. What counts as canonical is shaped by who had access to existing knowledge and the tools and institutional resources to produce new knowledge.

Inequality is reproduced (and whiteness is institutionalized) by citation patterns as earlier periods of overt exclusion are legitimated by an almost ritualistic citation of certain thinkers. Finally, this process is legitimated when citation metrics are interpreted as simply meritorious, rather than shaped by explicit racial exclusion. For instance, on Twitter, I saw this list of the most influential sociological books of the 20th century. It is, as far as I can tell, a list of all white men. The discipline of sociology is interested in processes of racial, gender and class exclusion. Yet our citation practices may end up replicating the same types of social closure and status seeking that we condemn elsewhere.

The racial politics of citation have real effects. Citations draw our attention to the ideas that supposedly matter, they are a measure of one’s intellectual influence and they shape what we are able to think about a given field. Citations, or a lack thereof, bolster reputations and facilitate or exclude one from subsequent opportunities. Segregated scholarly networks impoverish knowledge and produce what Jennifer C. Mueller, a sociologist at Skidmore College, calls a type of white ignorance about race. Data showing that scholars of color are underrepresented in publications, citation rates or other venues can be explained away as the personal failings of unproductive researchers rather than the result of systematic exclusion. That allows whites to maintain a type of studied ignorance that furthers racial dominance and forecloses potentially valuable avenues of intellectual inquiry. Beyond this, biased citation patterns are simply bad for the accumulation of knowledge.

When I think about citation patterns, and the politics of peer review more broadly, I am often reminded that the Black Panthers argued black people in the United States were never tried by a jury of their peers. White people nearly always controlled access to jury pools. In many disciplines, peer review, access to publishing opportunities and suggestions on whose work should be cited must pass through white gatekeepers. Intentionally or not, strong evidence shows that bias can inform the types of research that is considered valid and worthy of citation. Like the recent calls for inclusion riders in Hollywood to ensure minority representation, scholars and editors should take proactive measures to make sure researchers are citing relevant work by underrepresented scholars.

I anticipate objections to this argument, being that I am advocating for a form of affirmative action or that citations are an objective measure of intellectual worth. But objecting to the need to cite more scholars of color on these grounds is simply wrongheaded. First, if affirmative action is a policy of intervention aimed at lessening historical and current racial inequalities, it is hard to argue that academe has sufficiently addressed these issues. Higher education, despite some representational inroads, remains a white institutional space, with highly racialized patterns of access, resources and rewards. If advocating for a more racially balanced pattern of citation is unfavorable treatment, there are a lot of white scholars out there who have greatly benefited from such treatment.

Second, this history of racial exclusion in academe makes it difficult to claim that citation patterns are neutral measures. Like teaching evaluations and tenure reviews, patterns of citation are influenced by the long — and continuing — history of unequal racial power in the academy.


Photo of Victor RayVictor Ray is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. His research examines race and gender discrimination in organizations. His commentary has appeared in Newsweek, Boston Review, and Gawker. He is the editor of “Conditionally Accepted,” an Inside Higher Ed career advice column for marginalized academics. You can follow him on Twitter at @victorerikray.


This post originally appeared in Conditionally Accepted, a column of Inside Higher Ed, on April 27, 2018.


CFP Collective Action, Social Movements and Digital Technology

View Articles published in Information and OrganizationInformation & Organization

Special Issue on: “Collective Action, Social Movements and Digital Technology”
Special Issue Editors: Lisen Selander, University of Gothenburg
Amber Young, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Emmanuelle Vaast, McGill University
Elizabeth Davidson, University of Hawai’i

Motivation and Overview

Technological advances have revolutionized both the means and ends of collection actions and movements. It seems what we are witnessing is not only changes in how individuals approach protest and resistance, but also what it means to /be/ organized.  This fundamental shift in the nature of organization beyond formal boundaries of established organizations and firms demands a renewed effort to understand organization and organizing in its current form (Winter et al., 2014). On the one hand, digital technologies bring unprecedented opportunities to organize masses of individuals in democratic actions, lower participation costs, and foster new information and action repertoires that go beyond offline communities. On the other hand, questions remain regarding the actual impact of technology-enabled collective action, its consequences for inequality, and the ethical implications of ideologies championed through collective action.

There is an emerging literature on the uses of Internet and social media technologies in social protests and in technology use for collective actions within the communications field (cf. Bennett & Segerberg, 2012; Bimber et al., 2012), but research on digital technologies’ implication for organizing, or the ability to help reach collective action goals is nascent in the information and organizational fields. Topics that have been addressed include: digital action repertoires of social movement organizations (Selander & Jarvenpaa, 2016), cyberactivism (Benjamin, Chen & Zimbra, 2014; Yetgin, Young & Miranda, 2012), systems standardization as collective action (Markus, Steinfield, Wigand & Minton, 2006), collective efforts to complete tasks in a dispersed work context (Subramaniam, Nandhakumar & Baptista, 2013), collective action and knowledge contribution in voluntary, computer-mediated settings (Wasko, Faraj & Teigland, 2004), and ICT tool use in social movements (Young, 2017).

Important research opportunities yet to be explored include using collective action and social movements lenses to consider organization more broadly, including large-group collaboration phenomena such as collaborative innovation networks or crowd funding. This research stream has the potential to contribute to IS and reference discipline theories as well as develop practical insights for organizations, practitioners, activists, and policy makers.

Scope and Focus of the Special Issue

The purpose of this special issue is to develop understanding around the roles of digital technologies in collective action and movement phenomena and to contribute theoretical insights related to collective actions in the digital age. We encourage submissions that explore the roles of digital technology in collective action generally as well as those focused social movement phenomena. In keeping with the aims and scope of /Information & Organization/, we are particularly interested in papers that examine in depth the social and material interplay of information technologies and organizational and organizing phenomena.

Possible topics include, but are not limited to the following:
* Online resource mobilization and digital opportunity structures for
collective action
* Social and material implications of digital activism
* Fake news movements, propaganda diffusion and organizing responses
* Corporate strategy / involvement in social movements to shape public
* Botivists (web bot programmed for activism), online petitions, and
other tools for digital protest and engagement
* Digital marketing of social agendas
* Empowerment / marginalization campaigns enacted in online digital
* Social media capabilities and facilitation of echo chambers
* Media capabilities for voice-giving and perspective-shaping
* Financing of social agendas through crowd funding or bitcoin exchanges
* Crowd funding, bitcoin exchange or similar phenomena examined as
social movements or collective actions
* Privacy and ethical issues in researching online collective action
* Methodological challenges in researching collective action and new
digital technologies

Special issue timeframe

Submission Deadline: November 1, 2017

First round decisions: March 1, 2018
Revisions due:            July 1, 2018
Second round review: October 1, 2018
Final papers due:        December 1, 2018
Publication:                Issue 1, 2019 (available online approximately 1/1/2019)


Benjamin, Victor, Hsinchun Chen, and David Zimbra. “Bridging the virtual and real: the relationship between web content, linkage, and geographical proximity of social movements.” /Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology/ 65.11 (2014): 2210-2222.

Bennett, W. Lance, and Alexandra Segerberg. “The logic of connective action: Digital media and the personalization of contentious politics.” /Information, Communication & Society/ 15.5 (2012): 739-768.

Bimber, Bruce, Andrew Flanagin, and Cynthia Stohl. Collective action in organizations: Interaction and engagement in an era of technological change. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Markus, M. Lynne, Charles W. Steinfield, and Rolf T. Wigand. “Standards, Collective Action and IS Development-Vertical Information Systems Standards in the US Home Mortgage Industry.” /MIS Quarterly/ 30 (2006): 439-465.

Selander, Lisen, and Sirkka L. Jarvenpaa. “Digital Action Repertoires and Transforming a Social Movement Organization.” /MIS Quarterly/ 40.2 (2016): 331-352.

Subramaniam, Niran, Joe Nandhakumar, and John Baptista. “Exploring social network interactions in enterprise systems: the role of virtual co‐presence.” /Info Systems J./ 23.6 (2013): 475-499.

Wasko, Molly McLure, Samer Faraj, and Robin Teigland. “Collective action and knowledge contribution in electronic networks of practice.” /Journal of the Association for Information Systems/ 5.11 (2004): 2.

Winter, Susan, et al. “Beyond the organizational ‘container’: Conceptualizing 21st century sociotechnical work.” /Information and Organization/ 24.4 (2014): 250-269.

Yetgin, Emre, Amber G. Young, and Shaila M. Miranda. “Cultural production of protest frames and tactics: Cybermediaries and the SOPA movement.” /International Conference on Information Systems /(2012).

Young, Amber G. “Using ICT for social good: Cultural identity restoration through emancipatory pedagogy.” /Info Systems J./ 2017. https://doi.org/10.1111/isj.12142

Publishing an Edited Volume Workshop

Yesterday we hosted a workshop for phd students and young scholars entitled, “How to Publish an Edited Volume.” We thank both Jason Smith (George Mason University) and Bhoomi Thakore (Elmhurst College) for leading the workshop and discussing their experience publishing their own edited volume, Race and Contention in Twenty-first Century U.S. Media (Routledge, 2016).

The slides from the workshop are available for viewing.

Publishing an edited volume