Citation Politics and Practices

This week, I’m traveling a bit and am taking a bit of vacation. That said, a long drive and a bit of escape from the day-to-day has given me just enough space to think a bit about how I’m going to revise my book manuscript this fall. A couple of weeks ago, I received reviewers comments on my book on the archaeology of contemporary American experience and have been turning them over in my mind since then.

You can check out the book here and download the bibliography here.

One of the reviewer comments that stung the most was that my book was very white male in both the authors who I discussed, the case studies that I selected and my citation practices. This is disappointing because early in my writing project I pledged in my own mind to work to balance my citations and my case studies. It’s clear that as I wrote and drifted from my deliberate scheme and perhaps reverted to my tendency (and to be fair, a tendency that has defined most scholarly work) to cite more men than women.

In any event, this is something that I want to rectify and I’ve already taken step to understand the problem.

1. A Quick Survey of my Citations. The first thing that I did was go to my bibliography and do a very simple coding. For each citation I noted whether it had a male author or a female author (as a start, I didn’t note non-binary authors, in large part because this will involve a bit more work on my part and this is a very preliminary audit) and whether the citation has multiple authors or not. 

This showed me that 78% of my 493 citations had at least one male author and 35% had at least one female author. 26% had multiple authors. These numbers are not stellar, but they are roughly comparable to the numbers from the Rodney Harrison and Esther Breithoff’s 2017 article length survey of the field “Archaeologies of the Contemporary World” in the Annual Review of Anthropology. This article had 236 citations with 78% with at least one male author and 42% with at least one female author. 

I have pulled the citations from Alfredo Gonzalez-Ruibal’s recent book An Archaeology of the Contemporary Era (2019), but not coded them yet. Between Harrison and Breifhoff and Gonzalez-Ruibal, I should have a baseline for the gender balance in the field more broadly.

2. Coding Chronologically. One of the other critiques that stung a bit is that my work did not do enough to amplify the voices of younger scholars and did not fully engaged the bleeding edge of the discipline. As with so many fields, this gives too much weight to the “grand old men” of the discipline and not downplays the changing character of archaeology and particularly archaeology of the contemporary world. 

One of the next things, then, that I plan to do is to code my citations by date to see how I do and compare my data to Harrison and Breifhoff and Gonzalez-Ruibal (and perhaps some other works). My desperate hope is that this analysis will show that my work is “trending” in the right direction or at least trending with the growing diversity of the field, but I also expect that it will show that I need to do more to make my book reflect contemporary trends.

3. Unpacking my Text. Of course, it is only too easy to “fix” the problem of gender bias by adding some citations to the book and leaving the text unchanged. This is less than optimal. 

One thing that I will also do is go through and code my text by author. I want to drop my manuscript into Voyant Tools, for example, and pull all the references to authors which should give me a sense for who I cite most frequently and discuss in the body of my text. Knowing this should help me address my reviewers’ critiques in a detailed and specific way, but more importantly, it should guide my own revisions and show my how my well meaning efforts to balance my citations went off the rails.  

4. Transparency. Finally, I want to include a discussion of my citations and my in-text references in an appendix to my book perhaps modeled on Catherine D’Ignazio and Lauren Klein’s remarkably honest assessment of their own citation practices in Data Feminism. I will also make my data available and the comparable data (within the limits of copyright) available for my comparable data sets.


Of course, none of this matters if I don’t also dig deeper into what I did and try to change my practices throughout my texts. But the first step is understanding how and where my effort to balance my assessment of the field fell short and to be as transparent as possible about how my citational practices followed or deviated from those in the wider field. The hope is that my practices can deviate in ways that can contribute in some way to how we appreciate the field of archaeology of the contemporary and citational politics more broadly. 

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