Feminist profs: Citations perpetuate 'white heteromasculinity'

In a recent academic journal article, two feminist professors claim that citing sources in scholarly articles contributes to “white heteromasculinity.”

Rutgers University professor Carrie Mott and University of Waterloo professor Daniel Cockayne advance the claim in an article published last month in the Feminist Journal of Geography, but also suggest that citation can serve as “a feminist and anti-racist technology of resistance” if references are chosen with the explicit intent of promoting “those authors and voices we want to carry forward.”

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Mott and Cockayne say citation practices are an issue of scholarly concern because whether a professor's work is cited by other scholars has strong implications for hiring, promotion, tenure, and how “certain voices are represented over others” in academia.

“To cite only white men…or to only cite established scholars…does a disservice to researchers and writers who are othered by white heteromasculinism,” they argue, defining “white heteromasculinism” as “an intersectional system of oppression describing on-going processes that bolster the status of those who are white, male, able-bodied, economically privileged, heterosexual, and cisgendered.”

The authors claim that this oppressive tradition contributes to the “marginalization of women, people of color, and those othered through white heteromasculine hegemony,” asserting that “particular voices and bodies are persistently left out of the conversation altogether.”

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Mott, one of the co-authors, told Campus Reform that she and Cockayne were inspired to write about citation practices after observing that “white men tend to be cited in much higher numbers than people from other backgrounds,” explaining that “we started looking into research that had been done in other fields about similar topics, and wanted to write something specifically for Geographers to think about the relationship between knowledge production and identity.”

According to Mott, women and minorities “have contributed a lot to Geographic research,” but those contributions have largely been overlooked by other researchers, which not only hinders the professional advancement of individual scholars, but also denies the benefit that their diverse perspectives might offer to the discipline.

“When it is predominantly white, heteronormative males who are cited, this means that the views and knowledge that are represented do not reflect the experience of people from other backgrounds,” she asserted. “When scholars continue to cite only white men on a given topic, they ignore the broader diversity of voices and researchers that are also doing important work on a that topic.”

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According to the most recent research by the American Association of Geographers, however, women only account for 37 percent of geography professors, and only publish 33 percent of research articles related to geography.

Campus Reform inquired as to whether the citational disparity might simply reflect the relative preponderance of white men in the field, but Cockayne rebuffed that suggestion, saying, “the point we are trying to make is that important research done by traditionally marginalized voices…is often ignored by 'mainstream' and very well-established scholars—which means, in geography at least, white male Marxists.”

The professors conclude their paper by suggesting that researchers practice “conscientious engagement” in their citations “as a way to self-consciously draw attention to those whose work is being reproduced.”

Specifically, they urge their fellow scholars to “think through how many women, people of color, early career scholars, graduate students, and non-academics are cited,” saying this will call attention to “the power dynamics that are unintentionally reproduced therein.”

They caution, however, that this approach entails a certain risk of “basing assumptions of gender or cisnormativity on particularly gendered names.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen