Books on shelves in a library

With ‘Saluting our Sisters’ as the theme for this year’s Black History Month, it is an opportune moment to raise awareness of citation justice and highlight how Black women are consistently undercited within academic literature. Building on calls from the Cite Black Women collective, take a moment to understand the power your citation practices can have in ‘Saluting our Sisters’.

The power of citations

Citations play a powerful role in academia, both institutionally and for individual careers. They form the bedrock of research assessment practices and are increasingly influential in job applications, promotions, grant applications and university rankings. There is no denying that citations matter. However, there is increasing evidence that women, people of colour, and other minoritised groups are systemically under cited, serving to exclude and silence many voices from scholarly and academic debates. Take a look at the paper you’re writing, or the texts in your reading lists: how many of these authors are men and/or white? How many women or people of colour have you cited? Are those that you are citing only established authors, or have you made space for new and emerging voices? All of these questions will reflect the extent to which you are representing the diversity of thought and authorship in your field.

From a research point of view, a lack of diversity in the knowledge we discover is problematic, but often overlooked, as it has historically been the norm. As Priyamvada Gopal puts it, 'a largely white or largely male curriculum is not politically incorrect, as is often believed, but intellectually unsound. Monocultures do not produce good thinking and are in themselves a lethal form of unmarked narrow identity politics.'

Alongside strengthening our own teaching and research practices, institutional pledges for equality, diversity and inclusion are increasing across the sector (see University of Birmingham’s policy). Questioning established practices and addressing citation justice is central to these commitments.

What is citation justice?

Citation justice is using the power of citations to address the historical and persistent undercitation of certain groups by changing citation practices. As part of Birmingham Business School’s Decolonisation Project, we have been exploring the issue of citation justice within our own research culture. Working closely with the Library Services team, we’ve begun to look at citations in both our research and our teaching, to understand how these can be changed. A central aim of the Decolonisation Project is to question the prevalence of established ways of thinking and working within our academic systems: interrogating the knowledge that we’re using is an important part of this. The aim of this work is to raise awareness of citation justice and highlight how citation practices can be examined and changed to ensure they reflect the stance on equality and inclusion within the Business School, and in academic practice more widely.

How can you practice citation justice?

Earlier this year, we ran a university-wide workshop in partnership with the Library Services team at the University of Birmingham. We were joined by FEM Maastricht, who spoke about their own research in this area and the citation guide they have developed as a result. The session culminated in a workshop style activity to explore the concept of Citation Diversity Statements, a way for authors to increase awareness about citation bias and help to mitigate it. View some examples of citation diversity statements.

In addition, here are our top tips on practising citation justice in your own work or in your own School or department.

  • Look for guidance - There is much to learn from others, such as the FEMS group in Maastricht, who are offering practical approaches such as citation style guidance.
  • Raise awareness of the range of bibliographic databases available, to reduce bias in literature searching.
  • Look at resources such as the University of Leeds excellent 'global south' databases list.
  • Create, contribute to and/or promote a homegrown EDI resource list.
  • Create and/or promote initiatives such as More Books (for PGRs and students) – an initiative which encourages users to recommend texts for purchase to diversify Library collections.
  • Create an online ‘Inclusive Researcher’ course and include a section on citation justice. There is potential to commission various researchers to add sections to the course over time.
  • Talk to groups of researchers about citation diversity statements and discuss how these can be tailored to be appropriate for specific approaches and/or disciplines.
  • Attend a workshop from the Library Services team. The Library Services at the University of Birmingham now run regular workshops on citation justice 

The collaboration between Library Services and Birmingham Business School Decolonisation Project has been a truly valuable partnership between academic colleagues and the Library, contributing to the promotion of using citation statements when thinking of decolonising academia. Research cultures are intricately bound up with citation practices and acknowledging the inherent bias in the ‘canon’ of research literature is essential if we are to begin to move towards equity and more decolonised systems of knowledge.