Post by: Jenna Dufour, Research Librarian for Visual Arts, University of California Irvine

Intellectual Credit: This blog post is based on what I learned watching a “Decolonizing Citations” virtual workshop facilitated by Bronwen McKie student librarian at the University of British Columbia X̱wi7x̱wa Library branch) in October 2020

What Is Citational Politics?

As librarians with instruction portfolios, we are often tasked with teaching students about citations. This usually involves contextualizing citation as giving credit to the intellectual work of others, as a way to provide readers with necessary information to locate a specific source, and that the rules for citing are rooted in formatting practices that are discipline-specific. In other words, we teach the functional aspects of citation: how, what, and why citation is needed in scholarly discourse. 

But beyond the functional, thinking about citing practices through the lens of citational politics encourages librarians to examine and question the power structures created and perpetuated: when we cite someone, we are contributing to a process of intellectual inquiry and knowledge production (or re-production), which influences how knowledge is framed and remembered within a discipline. As Professor Sarah Hunt* points out in an interview, citational politics “is really about who we cite in our work — whose work we hold up, which really validates and legitimizes that as knowledge. [It is] the core of where we trace the roots of our own thinking.”

While it can be challenging in one-shot instruction, focusing on the politics of citation in a workshop can be a fruitful effort in acknowledging and teaching about the power structures that exist within academia. Citational politics interrogates the ethics of representation in citing, including issues such as:

  • Overciting famous scholars 
  • Celebrating the ‘canon’ 
  • Reaffirming and reproducing while excluding others
  • Excessive self-citing
  • Citing too narrowly

Where Can I Learn More About Citational Politics?

As a starting point to learn more about the politics of citation, here are a few excellent resources to engage your own learning and exploration:

1. Listen to this podcast episode: The politics of citation: Is the peer review process biased against Indigenous academics? 

From CBC Unreserved (13 min 43 sec, February 2018)

  • A podcast that interviews Sarah Hunt (assistant professor of First Nations and Indigenous Studies at University of British Columbia and Kyle Powys Whyte (professor at Michigan State University) who share their first hand experience of how difficult the peer review process can be for Indigenous academics. 

2. Watch this virtual recorded workshop: Decolonizing Citations 

Workshop from X̱wi7x̱wa Library, University of British Columbia (70 mins, October 2020)

  • Are citation practices fair to Indigenous scholars? Frequently, Indigenous ways of knowing (oral teachings and histories in particular) are delegitimized in academia by citational politics.
  • In this session, learn more about “citational politics,” the existing templates for citing Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers, and about the current initiatives at X̱wi7x̱wa to further legitimize citing Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers in academia.
  • Facilitated by Bronwen McKie (student Librarian at X̱wi7x̱wa Library and a senior MASLIS candidate at the UBC iSchool) in collaboration with Indigenous Initiatives at UBC’s Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology.

3: Read a few articles in this preliminary bibliography. I welcome suggestions for further reading & resources. The bibliography above is a starting point and includes a few helpful links such as:

  • Blog posts
  • Academic Articles
  • Collectives to support

”Always citing the same small circle of voices is both harmful to the health of [a] field and
disrespectful to the many fine scholars and writers whose work informs, enhances, challenges,
and complicates our broader conversation. It’s also a political choice that too often silences the
less empowered and enfranchised, who are often the ones with the most trenchant

–Daniel Heath Justice in Why Indigenous Literatures Matter (2018)

*Sarah Hunt is Assistant professor of First Nations and Indigenous Studies at University of British Columbia, Canada.