Why We Need To Cite Marginalised Writers

I have been reading Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. It is a carefully researched, intelligently structured and well-written book, and I am a lifelong feminist, yet I find it difficult to read. Its subtitle is Exposing Data Bias In A World Designed For Men and it sheds light on areas of discrimination I hadn’t even considered, like the design of outdoor spaces. And with the areas of discrimination I had considered, after reading this book I have to acknowledge that I hadn’t considered them enough or worked hard enough to tackle them. This is thoroughly uncomfortable, and I value the discomfort for helping me to think and act.

Having said that, it is not always easy to know where and how to act – or to act effectively even if you do know. I have witnessed prejudice and thought ‘I should challenge that’ but not figured out how to do so effectively until after the event. Sometimes I have challenged prejudice and that challenge has been ineffective. Understanding all the different forms of discrimination, and how they manifest, is probably impossible, particularly as knowledge in these areas is developing all the time. And the structural fault-lines of inequality that run through our societies are too big for any individual to change; those need collective action. But there are actions we can make as individuals, safely and effectively, which will make a difference.

In Euro-Western academia, the upper echelons are dominated by white, middle-class or upper-class men (that’s on p 95 of Invisible Women, not that I think anyone disputes this any more). There is tons of research to demonstrate that people of other genders are disadvantaged in academic careers, particularly if they choose and are able to have children. Even if they are performing well, academics who are not white men are less likely to get jobs, have their work cited, gain promotion or tenure (pp 95-6). And we know it’s not just academics from non-male genders and/or working class backgrounds who struggle, but also academics of colour, disabled academics, queer academics, Indigenous academics, unemployed academics, trans academics, and so on. We also know about intersectionality, so we understand that an academic may be working-class and disabled and trans, and that their struggle will be even harder.

I am not in a position to give work to an academic who needs it, or to bestow promotion, or tenure, or employment rights. But one thing I can do is read and cite work by marginalised scholars. And so can you. This is particularly important if you are a white middle- or upper-class male, because your work carries more weight whether you believe it, or like it, or not. But it is very much worth doing whatever your own attributes.

If you haven’t thought about this before, analyse your most recent bibliography. How many of the people you cite are men? How many are middle- or upper-class white men? How many are women, people of colour, disabled, queer, trans? This may take some time as it will not be obvious from people’s names alone. In some cases you are likely to know the answers, in others you may have to do some digging online. You’re not likely to find all of the relevant information, but you should be able to find much of what you need.

In most fields it is reasonably easy to find work to cite by women and by academics of colour. It can be more difficult to find work by others such as Indigenous academics, particularly in some fields, and trans academics. Every citation counts. Of course their work does need to be relevant to yours; I’m not suggesting you perform scholarly contortions to ram in a citation. Having said that, though, reading beyond your own field or discipline can be surprisingly useful. And the work of marginalised scholars may be invaluable for the insights only they can generate and the connections only they can make.

A lot of marginalised scholars, understandably, work on their own area. So to find disabled academics you could check out disability studies, and trans studies for trans academics, and so on. But then, crucially, investigate the scholars you find there to see what other work they are doing. And when you find marginalised scholars doing work that is relevant to your own, use your authorial power to amplify their voices.

There are many more marginalised scholars around than you would think from reading the standard literature, and the numbers are growing. In a 2019 article Emmett Harsin Drager said they were a member of a Facebook group with over 500 other trans-identified doctoral students, some of whom will now be post-docs – and no doubt that Facebook group is larger now.

Citations are not the only way forward. If you have the power, it is also useful to invite marginalised scholars on to panels, in to study groups, or in research teams (as paid staff, not volunteers). There are some useful articles here on how to include Indigenous researchers and Indigenous knowledge in academia/research. But citations are a way in which every single one of us can take action.

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