by Max Liboiron, with Rui Li
This post is part of CLEAR’s Citational Politics Working Group series

Critiques of scholarly citation and the way they “screen” some bodies and types of thought out of science so it seems that knowledge is mainly created by predominantly white, cis, male thinkers from the global north are plentiful (e.g. Ahmed 2013; 2014; Mott and Cokayne 2017; Belcher 2018, and more). 

Text: From the CoralCoE account: “Congratulations to #CoralCoE’s 11 outstanding #researchers who made it onto @webofscinece’s list of 2020 #HighlyCitedResearchers! Their papers are ranked in the top 1% by citations in their field! Well done everyone!”. A photo of 11 white men follows. A comment by AssocProf Bradley Moggridge says, “Congratulations to all. However a #sausagefest.” Similar comments followed. The original tweet is here.

We believe these critiques about the way some knowledge is cited and circulated while others are not, often called “citational politics.” Not only do we believe them from reading studies and reports that clearly show gender and racial bias in citation trends, but also because it confirms our own experiences. Some of us have been unable to publish path-breaking work from non-dominant perspectives. Some have had our public intellectualism used but not cited in works by dominant actors, even as we’re celebrated by those same actors as being generous and brilliant. Most of us have been bumped down or removed from authorship on projects we are involved in. We know citation and reference practices are places where power is exercised. As such, we–with many others!–are dedicated to citing in ways that challenge these power dynamics.

The question is: how? It is necessary but insufficient to want to do better, and hope actions fall into place through intention. Indeed, we have understood ourselves as a feminist lab since our inception, but when we look at one of our fairly recent papers on plastic ingestion in fish (our bailiwick research topic), we found that we cited only ~20% women authors, and nearly ~60% White authors (Liboiron et al. 2019). Intentions, even when clearly stated and revisited, are not enough to change norms. 

Tight places

Part of the citational baggage in a baseline article on plastic pollution is our white and male-dominated field and the type of references baseline research requires to be valid. The methodological thrust of baseline studies is to compare current pollution figures to existing ones to see if there is change and/or to compare our baseline to other areas to evaluate relative levels of pollution. Here’s an example of a type of paragraph that is ubiquitous in our research, taken from the paper mentioned above (Liboiron et al., 2019):

The ingestion of plastics by Atlantic cod has been examined over a wide geographic range beyond this study, with a particular focus on the Northeast Atlantic. The reported results from this region have been highly variable. Rummel et al. (2016) and Bråte et al. (2016) report % FO values of ≤3% for the species in the North, Baltic and Norwegian seas. By contrast, earlier studies reported higher %FO values for Atlantic cod in the same region ranging from 13% (Foekema et al., 2013) to 39% (Lenz et al., 2015) in the North Sea, and 21% in the Baltic Sea (Lenz et al., 2015). Low plastic ingestion levels reported for Atlantic cod (< 3%FO) that are complementary to the results reported here stem from studies that similarly rely on the visual identification of plastics (Bråte et al., 2016; Rummel et al., 2016).

To work as scientific knowledge, to be valid and useful, baseline studies must cite other baselines, but how do we cite with equity, diversity, and humility in mind when there are only a handful of sources to use and every one of those studies are done by teams of white, cis men from the global north? How do you show that knowledge does not only come from white men when it is only white men that are published? This is one (of many) examples of wanting to cite differently in what I call “tight places” where not only the norms of citation (of the cannon) but also the structure of knowledge or research overdetermines what might be done. Or does it? This post looks for the wiggle room in these tight citational places, taking a baseline study as a model. 

At the end of this piece, you’ll see the results of an “experiment” we did as a lab where we took three paragraphs from the above-mentioned baseline paper (Liboiron et al. 2019)–one from the introduction, one from methods, and one from the baseline comparison section–and then edited those paragraphs in an effort to cite differently. This experiment is the basis of the insights below.

Domains of imperceptibility

In every instance of trying to cite differently that the CLEAR working group on citational politics has attempted, we find that barriers are systemic and infrastructural. Sometimes it is nearly impossible to cite differently with the tools at hand (the English language and search engine bias, among others) because those tools construct the barriers, silences, and erasures we seek to mitigate. Often, we can’t see outside of the knowledge domain–literature reviews require literature, baseline studies require other baseline studies for comparison in order to be valid. Indigenous Science and Technology Studies scholar Michelle Murphy might call this a domain of in/perceptibility:

Domains of imperceptibility [are] the inevitable results of the tangible ways scientists and laypeople came to render chemical exposures measurable, quantifiable, assessable, and knowable in some ways and not others. Domains of imperceptibility were produced by limits in the capacities of knowledge practices, limits that were inevitable—every discipline of knowledge studies some things and not others; every scientific instrument can detect some things and not others; every experiment includes some variables and not others.

Murphy 2006: 9-10

Plastic pollution baselines do not and cannot recognize other forms of evidence, other ways of knowing, that fall outside their domain. Baselines can only be used with other quantitative studies of the same pollutant using the same methods. How else would we measure pollution, after all? Baselines are the only way to be sure of pollution levels in an area. Right? Murphy continues:

Regimes of perceptibility are about more than just what we can see. As regimes, they were often understood by the historical actors employing them as natural or inevitable outcomes of social and technical arrangements. Produced by assemblages that are anchored in material culture, regimes of perceptibility establish what phenomena become perceptible, and thus what phenomena come into being for us, giving objects boundaries and imbuing them with qualities. Regimes of perceptibility populate our world with some objects and not others, and they allow certain actions to be performed on those objects.

Murphy 2006: 24

Put another way, baseline studies make it seem like the only way to study plastic pollution are baseline studies. This makes pollution into a particular kind of thing, though many studies have shown a wide range of ontologies of pollution, over time and from different perspectives (e.g. Balayannis and Garnett 2020; Liboiron 2013; 2021a; Murphy 2017; 2018). In the same vein, there are certainly other ways to know plastic pollution beyond a baseline study, such as living in a place and watching the shoreline over years or generations, noting changes and how changes in plastic pollution relate to weather, seasons, and geomorphological phenomena (like big rocks). But those ways of knowing are not usually published and when they do come up, they tend to be dismissed by dominant science communities and often are not believed at all unless they verify existing studies or can be used as data in those studies (see Liboiron 2021b). Based on the published literature, a particular domain if in/perceptibility, all roads lead to baseline studies.

Firsting, Onlying, and the limits of authorship

Regimes of in/perceptibility, including the ones in baseline pollution studies, have specific relations that are patriarchal, elitist, ethnocentric, and colonial, among other power relations. That is, certain genders, credentials, trainings, and relationships to land are more likely to be understood as truthy and sciencey than others. CLEAR has a specific commitment to thinking about and resisting colonial land relations in research, so we’ll focus on that later. Let’s talk about colonial relationships in citing practices, including but not limited to baseline pollution studies:

In order to undo the ongoing realities of colonial projects, this necessarily requires making visible the embedded and often hidden practices of settler colonialism. Within settler colonialism, these practices are many and varied, as they mirror the logic of settler colonialism’s well-worn habits and traditions of erasure, including orders, classifications, and modalities of organization that persist in marginalizing Indigenous peoples’ voices and perspectives.

Anderson and Christen 2019: 115

This includes the ways baselines erase other ways of knowing plastic pollution that we would like to cite, though orders, classifications, and modalities of organizing knowledge. The frequency of occurrence metric (FO%) is a pretty specific, and thus limited, way to understand pollution. We are talking about structures of knowledge here, not the good or bad decisions of specific settler scientists. We’ve just submitted a baseline study on the abundance of plastic pollution in surface water in the Eastern Arctic, including areas of Inuit Nunangat (Inuit homelands). In the literature review, we found something interesting:

while the vast majority of plastic pollution studies in the circumpolar Arctic are on surface water, in Inuit Nunangat they are focused heavily on plastic ingestion (of 65 sites, 77%), and mainly in birds (54% of all species and sites). We hypothesize that this is due to the low diversity of published researchers working in this area, resulting in an overall regional skew of knowledge in the direction of one particular research leads’ interests and skills, even when they work with Inuit partners.

Liboiron et al. 2021:18

These settler research leads are from the south, not Inuit Nunangat. We even made a map of where research teams in our lit review were based. 

From the article: “Places associated with marine surface water plastic research in the Eastern Arctic. Mapped elements include baseline study research sites, researcher home bases for first authors on all published baseline studies on plastics in water in the region, and Inuit settlements in homelands. Inuit Nunangat is coloured for reference with different regions of Inuit Nunangat in different shades (Nunatsiavut in orange, Nunavut in yellow, and Nunavik in green), and settlements in Inuit Nunangat are coloured orange. The map shows a clear trend of researchers in the south producing all research in the north on plastic pollution. This map was originally published in Liboiron et. al (2021), “Abundance and types of plastic pollution in surface waters in the eastern Arctic (Inuit Nunangat) and the case for reconciliation science” (Liboiron et al. 2021).

The skew of knowledge holders is clear and it is complete, meaning that there is nothing except non-Inuit southerners heading north to create knowledge about plastic pollution in Inuit homelands. “But isn’t this the only stuff to cite? What’s the problem? They were first. If you have a problem with representation, you just have to recruit and train Inuit to do baseline studies.”

Something that has always bothered me about research in general and plastic pollution research, in particular, is the value-laden declaration of being the first to do a baseline study in an area, or the first to find plastics in a place. Firstness is bestness. Onlyness is even better! Let’s talk about firstness, onlyness and colonial dispossession. (Foreshadowing terra nullius!). Later we can talk about the problem of inclusion implied in the idea that we should just train more Inuit to do baseline studies so we can diversify our author lists. One step at a time.

Historian Jean O’Brien (2010) and library and information scientists Jane Anderson and Kimberly Christen (2019) have studied firstness and onlyness in writing, including in the attribution of knowledge about a place:

The strategic deployment of a language of firsting created epistemological pathways for re-imagining territorial acquisition through the idea of the eradication of Native peoples from the landscape and from a presence in the modern political settler world order. Here, we see a settler remaking of place as theirs and a positioning of Indigenous peoples as part of a past. This enunciative power works to justify settler presence on the land owing to a complementary constructed language about the “demise” of Indigenous peoples—the last Mohegan, the last Nipmuc, the last Wampanoag. … Firsting is a linguistic act that supports and makes possible the physical act of taking: it is, fundamentally, an act of settler-colonial attribution. Firsting names something in order to erase what was before it—eliding both a previous existence and continued presence. Firsting, then, is a mechanism that supports a colonial property paradigm of possession through taking, naming, and attributing

Anderson & Christen 2019: 120, 121

Firstness and onlyness is based on what Raweyn Connell articulates as, “Terra nullius, the colonizer’s dream… a sinister presupposition for social [and natural] science. It is invoked every time we try to theorise … from scratch, in a blank space. Whenever we see the words ‘building block’ in a treatise of social theory, we should be asking who used to occupy the land” (2016). Or who still does. Ahem. 

CLEAR works with the Nunatsiavut Government’s Inuit researchers to study plastic pollution. The reason we were invited is that those researchers already knew there was a plastic problem, despite a lack of baseline studies. Nain, the most northern settled community in Nunatsiavut, is where one of the first bag bans in Canada was declared in 2009 because they knew there was a plastic pollution problem (Pijogge and Liboiron, 2021). Nain has a research centre that focuses on environmental monitoring. Nunatsiavummiuk knowledge of and actions against pollution show us that it would have been impossible for a researcher trained in dominance science to think they were the first or only person to know about plastics in the region. Two decades after the bag ban, Nunatsiavut research staff invited me to be part of a baseline study (Pijogge and Liboiron, 2021).

“But can’t Inuit or other folks write up their knowledge? Intellectual property protects all knowers!” Andersen and Christen remind us: “Copyright ownership is potentially possible for anyone who is an author. The problem, however, is that not everyone can be an author. Like a real property holder, the author is a modern social political subject” (2019: 122. Seth 2009).

Today I’m attending the last day of the ArcticChange 2020 conference (AC2020). I have watched several presenters credit the researchers involved in a paper: They name accredited researchers with degrees and then say “and Inuit hunters” or “and community youth,” who are never named and so never citable. For some reason, no one reverses the trend and says “Mary, Carla, and Liz, and several academics.” Not here, anyhow. I watch some audience members congratulate accredited researchers for including “Inuit hunters and youth” in their research. Some others do indeed name their Inuit co-researchers, but for some reason those folks are not presenting. They are last on the authors list if they make it out of the acknowledgment section. I nod my head when I read Andersen and Christen:

authorship as both a site of colonial power and as one of settler colonialism’s flexible legal devices for maintaining control and possession of knowledge upon Indigenous lands, even as those lands are subjected to projects of expropriation (Anderson 2013; Bhandar 2018, 24). As a legal, social and cultural construct that maintains specific exclusions and relations of power within settler-colonial contexts, authoring becomes a supplementary mechanism for dispossessing— another means for physically and ideologically writing Indigenous peoples out of existence (O’Brien 2010)…. Pay closer attention to the property that research makes, who benefits from this property, and how colonial proprietary relations are normalized through the various lives that this property goes on to have in social memory, as well as in libraries and archives

(2019: 123, 136)

“Well, then they should be included better! Maybe train those Inuit up so they can be ‘real’ co-authors, real authors of baseline studies.” Inclusion of Inuit and others that are usually left out of authorship doesn’t change the dominant dynamic. This move is popularly critiqued as “inclusion into empire” where legitimacy is conferred by meeting the standards of the dominant knowledge system and regimes of perceptibility, including citing the (white, male) cannon (Daswani 2021) and learning how to reproduce dominant domains of im/percebtibility. Making Inuit and other knowledge holders into proper authoring subjects is actually a goal of colonial science; since the Enlightenment, science was seen as a core gift that imperial powers brought to colonies, part of their civilizing mission of bringing light to the darkness of primitivism. The replacement of local forms of knowledge with Western science was a mark of a developing civilization and imperial success. This type of inclusion does nothing to change the regime of perceptibility or power dynamics so that diverse forms of knowledge can know and be credited on their own terms.

Screenshot of edits-in-progress to the introductory paragraph of a published paper to investigate methods for citing differently.

How, Then?

Critique is great, but have you ever tried doing something differently to address those critiques? CLEAR believes in critiques of citation and referencing, but we’re still scientists in the dominant tradition of Western science. At the end of the day, we still put on our lab coats, write papers, and need to cite knowledge about plastic pollution, including baseline studies. We are committed to the question of how to cite differently in these tight places. In this final section, I’ll look at some tactics for doing citational politics in tight places where citing against norms seems improbable or even impossible: interdisciplinarity, seeding self-citation, citing local knowledge, refusal, and leaving critique in place. These can act synergistically or independently. This is not an exhaustive list. 

I’ve tested these tactics. Evaluation is a core feminist method to see if your theory of change works and how it works, or not (Podems 2010). When we began the CLEAR citational working group a year ago, we pulled three archetypal paragraphs from one of our existing papers as the “testing ground” for citations. The first was from the paper’s introduction, which talked about the stakes of plastic pollution research in Newfoundland and Labrador. The second was a description of our method, which had little citation to begin with. The third was the baseline comparison of looking at our findings in comparison to data of the same type in other areas. In each paragraph, we looked at how we already cited as a feminist and anticolonial lab, where we fell short, and we tried different strategies to cite differently (which we called “treatments,” since we’re scientists doing an experiment, obv). I’ve attached the treatment for citing in tight places as an appendix so you can “see the work,” to quote everyone’s math teacher. 

Testing is crucial because while all methods address citational representation in one way or another, they don’t necessarily all address regimes of perceptibility, power dynamics in knowledge production, or other root causes of inequitable citational politics. Moreover, some of the “compromised agencies” (Liboiron 2017) of these tactics are evident by writing about them, but others become apparent by doing them. The list below was created before testing, but changed radically after trying the ideas out. The text below reflects this iterative process.  

Tactic: Interdisciplinarity

Tight places are often produced through disciplines. Certain fields of academic knowledge–marine pollution science, sociology of work, analytic philosophy–have foundational methods, metrics, thinkers, and theories that determine its regimes of perceptibility. It would follow that conducting research using several different disciplinary forms of knowledge would multiply and thus expand disciplinary regimes of perceptibility, reducing blindspots as the same issue was looked at from different perspectives (this is akin to the theory of change championed in feminist strong objectivity. See Harding 2004). Indeed, in the case of plastic pollution there are government reports on waste management that discuss plastics long before marine plastic pollution was articulated as a scientific subfield. There are material histories of plastic fishing gear and consumer goods in the area. And, of course, there is lay expertise and knowledge. 

The introductory paragraph about the stakes of plastic pollution research in the province already had interdisciplinary citations via sociology/food studies/regional studies: “(Lowitt, 2013)”. I could not think of a way to add other disciplinary knowledge to the highly disciplined sections on how we used a microscope (methods) and a comparison of baseline figures (findings). However, after the baseline section was significantly rewritten based on the social infrastructure strategy discussed below, it made room for other disciplinary knowledge (in this case, “(Maurstad, 2002),” which is a great, great paper on the politics of local and meaningful knowledge that all marine scientists should read so it was a pleasure and a politic to cite). 

A shortcoming of this technique of citational politics is that if it does not have a mechanism of change beyond cracking open the door of what type of academic work might be cited. In other words, as a tactic of citational politics, interdisciplinarity can multiply regimes of imperceptibility without changing them, and it certainly does not address the wider power dynamics of what does and does not count as legitimate knowledge, knowledgeable subjects, or the limits of academic authorship (even when we cited the Maurstad piece that takes up this issue–in an academic, peer-reviewed format). It attempts to deal with disciplinary shortcomings using more disciplines, which continues to depend on disciplinary knowledge. Indeed, the technique did not even “diversify empire” so much as draw on several realms of empire-ical knowledge.

Does this mean it’s “bad”? Well, it did make wiggle room in a tight place. Sometimes it’s nice to breathe a little. Moreover, it provides an important example of how methodologies that aim to change citational politics are often acts of “compromised agency,” where acts of resistance and change are “partly implicated in the very systems of oppression they set out to oppose” (Hale 2006, 98) and thereby end up reproducing them in some way, even if partially or unfaithfully. Elsewhere I have argued that agency is always compromised in places with asymmetrical power relations “that no amount of individual or networked agency can influence” and where agency itself is determined by such structures (Liboiron 2017: 502). 

Tactic: Citational seeds

In the original paper we workshopped with our new, shiny citation methods, there is an instance of self-citation in the methods section that was orchestrated well in advance so we could make certain moves later on. The line reads, “Acid digestion protocols are not suitable to the long-term monitoring developed by CLEAR for its accessibility to citizen scientists and so are not used in this study (see Liboiron et al., 2016).” We wanted to make wiggle room for diverse methods of research that align with discussions we’ve had with locals (including the locals in our lab) about the kinds of studies they wished to carry out without academic scientists and what methods those studies would and would not entail. These methods are not scientific norms and some are even against scientific norms. So in one of our first papers we mentioned, deliberately and in passing, that certain types of methods were better or worse for community monitoring. After that paper went through peer review, we had a peer-reviewed precedent to cite. It’s kind of like sneaking a small, controversial rider on a sure-to-win political bill. There are two other places in the original paper we do this: using the term “threads” as a morphology and mentioning burning or melting as erosion patterns. Neither are standard in plastic pollution research (which is allllll about standardizing these things for comparability), but are crucial to understanding plastics here in Newfoundland and Labrador. We put them in all our papers and then back-cite.

Setting precedent is a tactic for change that uses the master’s tools and their associated regimes of perceptibility. Radical mathematician Rochelle Gutiérrez and I have discussed “how important setting precedents is! They make other worlds possible. We were saying history denaturalizes the present by showing us how other worlds have existed, and precedents are for making diverse futures more likely, more normal” (Gutiérrez and Liboiron 2020). That includes making the citations you need later, today.

Tactic: Citing social knowledge infrastructures (aka having relationships with people)

Angela Okune and colleagues, have written about how “The concept of knowledge infrastructure can be applied to a construct that is neither physical nor technical but purely social (Okune et al. 2018). At the same time, social infrastructures have many of the same qualities as other forms of infrastructure: they are mostly invisible, form the groundwork and networks for other key livelihood activities, and demand time and skill to create and maintain” (Okune et al. 2018: 4). While there are ways to reference individual people in academic texts (e.g. “Flintstone, W. Personal communication, 2021”), Okune and colleagues, are talking about something else: entire knowledge systems that are passed between people and do not necessarily get caught up on academic structures. This means that they will never be fully represented in academic spaces, but as Anita Maurstad has written, nor should they be, as such social infrastructure includes relations of accountability and trust that should not and really cannot be removed (2002). This is where methodologies of refusal are paramount, where some knowledge should simply not enter the academy (see the section on refusal below).

At the same time, many of us work with, are part of, and know things from community and social infrastructure where that trust and accountability do exist, and we want to reference that knowledge as legitimate and foundational. Insofar as the different ethical and epistemological worlds can come together, we can cite individuals, meetings, and places. There are MLA formats for all that (see Dermody 2022). In the treatment, I cite my research partner in Nunatsiavut, Liz Pijogge, who is home in that knowledge community while I am a sometimes-rude visitor.

Introductory paragraph edits (in white) show changes in citation to reflect community knowledge holders and researchers.

Social knowledge infrastructures are not antithetical to written knowledge. Indeed, many social knowledge networks produce texts. When looking to update knowledge for the baseline paper, I knew from living here in Newfoundland and Labrador to look for reports produced by institutions that bridge communities and governing/state institutions, like FoodFirstNL (a food security NGO, partner on all of the citations in the last line above), Fishing for Success (a women and girl’s fishing CBO, cited about as Orren n.d.), and the Nunatsiavut Government (an Indigenous government). Reports by these bodies are now referenced in the text. None of these reports came up on Google Scholars or university search engines, so being at least acquainted with social knowledge infrastructure of a place is crucial for this strategy, and it won’t align well with parachute research (where researchers pop into places to do research, then go home). An interesting side effect of citing these organizations is that it also moved the bibliography towards gender equity, as the majority of authors in this case are women (see changed bibliography at the end of this post). 

Tactic: Absences and refusal

Sometimes you want to cite something but it isn’t there. In the most material and banal case, our scientific paper notes, “Particles that could not be weighed (because they were lost prior to weighing or were too small to register) were assigned a mass of 0 g for calculations” (Liboiron et al. 2019: 246)  and “This analysis was not available for the Atlantic cod collected in 2015” (Liboiron et al. 2019: 246). These were written into the original published study to normalize loss by marking it rather than erasing it, which is common in scientific studies. Sometimes these loses are noted in methods, but often not. Marking loss, rather than replacing it with a proxy or otherwise erasing it, has also been proposed in archival studies: “following discussions of absence in archives that fail to archive certain forms of life and knowledge so that they can never be recovered, you can mark that absence, noting that there should be information there but there isn’t” (Falzetti 2015: 140). 

But Falzetti and others are not talking about lost plastics. They’re talking about power relations that make certain types of things apparent and others unavailable for citation. When we were experimenting with an existing paper to cite differently, one lab member, Natasha Healy, was tasked with citing local knowledge. For the findings section, where we compare our results to other plastic ingestion baseline studies by professional scientists on the same species, she couldn’t find any so she simply deleted the entire paragraph. My approach was to hem and haw and tweak and come up with wonderfully nuanced ideas about regimes of imperceptibility (see above), but the section stayed basically the same. I have to admire the boldness of Natasha’s approach.

The most obvious issue of absence is a lack of citatable local knowledge. This is not because there isn’t’ local knowledge, but because it is not in a citable form. By definition, it’s local so travels along local networks that rarely touch academia. But it might also be a plan. There are many, many examples of local groups, whether fishermen or Indigenous people, who actively refuse to provide information (e.g. Maurstad 2002, Simpson 2007, Zahara 2016).

Silence may be a plan/ rigorously executed

the blueprint to a life

It is a presence/ it has a history a form

Do not confuse it/ with any kind of absence

Adrienne Rich, “Cartographies of Silence” (1975[1996])

To assume that inclusion into citable formats and forums is inherently good or desirable, or that all absences should be “corrected,” is arrogance (Carter 2006: 227). And we can’t know which is which most of the time. In the case of our baseline paper, the absence of local knowledge in the published record may be an active choice towards refusal by locals who do not want to share their knowledge with outside researchers. But it might also be simple indifference- there’s no particular reason that local knowledge holders would desire to create a baseline study, after all. So we mark the absence. That’s it.  

Tactic: Engage your citational uglies

In the previous section, I noted that removing forms of existing knowledge, problematic as they might be, isn’t the same as noting things that are not there to cite to begin with. Katherine McKittrick thinks about political projects premised on techniques of exclusion:

Sara Ahmed makes the very smart observation that citation practices are gendered and racialized. Citation decisions are a political project for Ahmed because, she argues, absenting white men (from our bibliographies, references, footnotes) reorganizes our feminist knowledge worlds. By excluding white men from her (our) bibliographies she (we) can generate new ideas and chip away at, and possibly break down, the walls of patriarchy that have excluded and refuse feminist ways of knowing.21 Decentering the citations, and thus the experiences, of white men unmakes a scholarly sys­tem that champions and normalizes white patriarchal schol­arly traditions. I struggle with the outcome of this citation project. I wonder how it inadvertently turns on impossible foreclosures: What does it mean to read Jacques Derrida and abandon Derrida and retain Derrida’s spirit (or specter!)? Do we unlearn whom we do not cite? … I do not believe that citation, as a practice that includes or excludes, is useful. I am not interested in citations as quotable value. I want to refer­ence other possibilities such as, citations as learning, as coun­sel, as sharing. … How do our questions change if we are not interested in exclusion?

McKittrick 2021: 27, 29, 31

In tight places, we are often (maybe always) going to cite in ways we do not love and that do not love us. When that is on the page, you can critique the colonial nature of those citations and referential norms, you can point out the regime(s) of imperceptibility. I would think of these critiques, these engagements, as sharing how it is that we deal with tight places. Here’s McKittrick again (you might just go read the “footnotes” section of Dear Science and Other Stories): “the works in the works cited are helping us understand and talk about and theorize how to know the world differently. The praxis, then, is not about who belongs and who does not belong in the index or the endnotes; rather, it is about how we, collectively, are working against racial apartheid and differ­ent kinds and types of violence,” (2021: 31) including, in my interpretation: the violence of missing forms of knowledge, of firsting and onlying within limited regimes of perceptibility, of not being able to cite social knowledge structures because your tenure clock and grants do not have the time or money to allow you to properly learn from certain places… and on and on. But more importantly, or at least more in line with the methodological commitments of CLEAR, these engagements with ugly citing can show “how we, collectively, are working” in tight places in good ways. Share our tactics, strategies, methodologies, and alternative reading lists. That’s really what this text is. 

Screenshot of editing-in-progress to condense the published baseline portion of the original publication into a single sentence, and instead, highlight other knowledge infrastructures.

What did this look like in the edits to our baseline paper? Inspired by Natasha’s bold deletion, I turned the entire comparison of our study to other baselines into one sentence, rather than a paragraph. It still cites all the same papers, but it give them little air time. I then rewrite the section to focus on what comparisons or foci are important locally, drawing on the social infrastructure the lab is part of (the fishing communities that lab members live, work, and grow up in) and citations from local NGOs and CBOs. This edit implies that the scientific baselines are not important, which might get flagged in scientific review but I am willing to massage the paragraph to*just* the point where it addresses reviewer comments but doesn’t change the spirit of the edit. This edit didn’t move baselines out of the citation list, but it did add more citations and it changed how texts were engaged and valued. That’s still citation!

Final version of edited baseline paragraph.


When we think of citation politics at CLEAR, Raweyn Connell’s warning that there is no “blank slate” to start from, no outside of the system we are trying to change (2007: 46). We know that when we change citational politics, we will also be reproducing structures of citation that we have a problem with. This is a tight space. As such, the issues and tactics we outline here are dedicated to working within these tight space rather than fantaizing our ways outside of them. Thinking with la paperson’s A Third University is Possible (2007), we are not interested in citations that have been modified to be in good relations as if they are settled, but rather citations that enact good relations, even when they are still in problematic structures and standards. We hope this experiment in finding our way through a tight space is useful to your own efforts at change. 

This piece is part of CLEAR’s Citational Politics working group. Our citational politics public Zotero library on key sources about the politics of citation can be found here. Other writing from the working group includes:
Molly Rivers, Waking up to the politics of citation
Kaitlyn Hawkins, The researchers that search engines make invisible
Max Liboiron, Firsting in Research
Max Liboiron, Citational Politics in Tight Places
Alex Flynn, Catching an Authentic Lake Trout: Knowledge Legitimization in Academia



Ahmed, Sara. 2013. “Making Feminist Points.” Feministkilljoys. Retrieved August 26, 2018 (

Ahmed, Sara. 2014. “White Men.” Feministkilljoys. Retrieved May 21, 2021 (

Airhart, Jill, Kelly Janes, and Kristie Jameson. 2011. Food Security Upper Lake Melville Community-Led Food Assessment: 2010-2011. The Food Security Network of Newfoundland & Labrador.

Anderson, Jane, and Kimberly Christen. 2019. “Decolonizing Attribution: Traditions of Exclusion.” Journal of Radical Librarianship 5:113–52.

Appleby, Trina, Kimberley Armstrong, Donna Nolan, and Kristie Jameson. 2011. The Burin Peninsula Community Led Food Assessment: 2010-2011. The Food Security Network of Newfoundland and Labrador.

ArcticNet. 2022. “Arctic Change 2020.” AC2020. Retrieved February 4, 2022 (

Balayannis, Angeliki, and Emma Garnett. 2020. “Chemical Kinship.” Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 6(1).

Belcher, Wendy Laura. 2018. “To Pass the Gray Test, Which I Named after Kishonna Gray Who Invented the Hashtag #citeherwork in 2015, a Journal Article Must Not Only Cite the Scholarship of at Least Two Women and Two Non-White People but Must Discuss It in the Body of the Text. #12WeekArticle #acwri #PhD.” Twitter. Retrieved February 4, 2022 (

Bennett, Samantha, and Sarah Frank. 2011. Labrador West Community-Led Food Assessment: 2010-2011. The Food Security Network of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Bråte, Inger Lise N., David P. Eidsvoll, Calin Constantin Steindal, and Kevin V. Thomas. 2016. “Plastic Ingestion by Atlantic Cod (Gadus Morhua) from the Norwegian Coast.” Marine Pollution Bulletin 112(1–2):105–10.

Carter, Rodney G. S. 2006. “Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences, and Power in Silence.” Archivaria 215–33.

Connell, Raewyn. 2007a. Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science. Allen & Unwin.

Connell, Raewyn. 2007b. Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science. Cambridge: Polity.

Daswani, Girish. 2021. “On the Whiteness of Academia.” Everyday Orientalism. Retrieved February 4, 2022 (

Dermody, Kelly. 2022. “Research Guides: Citation Guide (APA and Other Styles): Citing Indigenous Knowledge.” Retrieved February 16, 2022 (

Falzetti, Ashley Glassburn. 2015. “Archival Absence: The Burden of History.” Settler Colonial Studies 5(2):128–44. doi: 10.1080/2201473X.2014.957258.

Flowers, Juliana, Susan Nochasak, and Kristie Jameson. 2010. NiKigijavut Hopedalimi “Our Food in Hopedale.” The Food Security Network of Newfoundland & Labrado.

Foekema, Edwin M., Corine De Gruijter, Mekuria T. Mergia, Jan Andries van Franeker, AlberTinka J. Murk, and Albert A. Koelmans. 2013. “Plastic in North Sea Fish.” Environmental Science & Technology 130711150255009. doi: 10.1021/es400931b.

Gutiérrez, Rochelle, and Max Liboiron. 2020. “Strong Animals: Humility in Science.” Science for the People Magazine, January 22.

Harding, Sandra G. 2004. The Feminist Standpoint Theory Reader: Intellectual and Political Controversies. Psychology Press.

Hawkins, Kaitlyn. 2021. “The Researchers That Search Engines Make Invisible.” CLEAR. Retrieved February 16, 2022 (

Lenz, Robin, Kristina Enders, Colin A. Stedmon, David M. A. Mackenzie, and Torkel Gissel Nielsen. 2015. “A Critical Assessment of Visual Identification of Marine Microplastic Using Raman Spectroscopy for Analysis Improvement.” Marine Pollution Bulletin 100(1):82–91. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2015.09.026.

Liboiron, Max. 2013. “Plasticizers: A Twenty-First-Century Miasma.” Pp. 22–44 in Accumulation: The Material Politics of Plastic. Routledge.

Liboiron, Max. 2017. “Compromised Agency: The Case of BabyLegs.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 3(September):499.

Liboiron, Max. 2021. Pollution Is Colonialism. Duke University Press.

Liboiron, Max. 2021b. “Firsting in Research.” Discard Studies. Retrieved May 21, 2021 (

Liboiron, Max, Jessica Melvin, Natalie Richárd, Jacquelyn Saturno, Justine Ammendolia, France Liboiron, Louis Charron, and Charles Mather. 2019. “Low Incidence of Plastic Ingestion among Three Fish Species Significant for Human Consumption on the Island of Newfoundland, Canada.” Marine Pollution Bulletin 141:244–48. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2019.02.057.

Liboiron, Max, Alex Zahara, Kaitlyn Hawkins, Christina Crespo, Bárbara de Moura Neves, Vonda Wareham-Hayes, Evan Edinger, Charlotte Muise, Mary Jane Walzak, and Rebecca Sarazen. 2021. “Abundance and Types of Plastic Pollution in Surface Waters in the Eastern Arctic (Inuit Nunangat) and the Case for Reconciliation Science.” Science of The Total Environment 782:146809.

Liboiron, Max, Alex Zahara, and Ignace Schoot. 2018. “Community Peer Review: A Method to Bring Consent and Self-Determination into the Sciences.” Preprints.Org.

Lowitt, Kristen. 2013. “Examining Fisheries Contributions to Community Food Security: Findings from a Household Seafood Consumption Survey on the West Coast of Newfoundland.” Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition 8(2):221–41.

Maurstad, Anita. 2002. “Fishing in Murky Waters—Ethics and Politics of Research on Fisher Knowledge.” Marine Policy 26(3):159–66.

McKittrick, Katherine. 2021. Dear Science and Other Stories. Duke University Press.

Mott, Carrie, and Daniel Cockayne. 2017. “Citation Matters: Mobilizing the Politics of Citation toward a Practice of ‘Conscientious Engagement.’” Gender, Place & Culture 24(7):954–73.

Murphy, Michelle. 2006. Sick Building Syndrome and the Problem of Uncertainty: Environmental Politics, Technoscience, and Women Workers. Duke University Press.

Murphy, Michelle. 2017. “Alterlife and Decolonial Chemical Relations.” Cultural Anthropology 32(4):494–503.

Murphy, Michelle. 2018. “Against Population, Towards Alterlife.” Pp. 101–24 in Making kin not population, edited by A. E. Clarke and D. J. Haraway. Prickly Paradigm Press.

OBrien, Jean M. 2010. Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England. U of Minnesota Press.

Okune, A., R. Hillyer, D. Albornoz, A. Posada, and L. Chan. 2018. “Whose Infrastructure? Towards Inclusive and Collaborative Knowledge Infrastructures in Open Science. ELPUB 2018, June 2018, Toronto, Canada.”

Orren, Kimberly. n.d. “20 Voices from 20 Years: Kimberly Orren.” Food First NL. Retrieved February 16, 2022 (

paperson, la. 2017. A Third University Is Possible. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Pijogge, Liz, and Max Liboiron. 2021.“Nunalinni Kamatsianik Palastikkinik IgitauKattatunik Nunatsiavummi (Community-Based Monitoring of Plastic Pollution in Nunatsiavut).” Presented at the Northern Contaminants Program Results Workshop, October 21, online.

Podems, Donna R. 2010. “Feminist Evaluation and Gender Approaches: There’sa Difference.” Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation 6(14):1–17.

Rich, Adrienne Cecile. 1996. Cartographies of Silence. Kore Press.

Rummel, Christoph D., Martin GJ Löder, Nicolai F. Fricke, Thomas Lang, Eva-Maria Griebeler, Michael Janke, and Gunnar Gerdts. 2016. “Plastic Ingestion by Pelagic and Demersal Fish from the North Sea and Baltic Sea.” Marine Pollution Bulletin 102(1):134–41.

Seth, Suman. 2009. “Putting Knowledge in Its Place: Science, Colonialism, and the Postcolonial.” Postcolonial Studies 12(4):373–88.

Simpson, Audra. 2007. “On Ethnographic Refusal: Indigeneity, ‘Voice’ and Colonial Citizenship.” Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue (9).

Zahara, Alex. 2016. “Refusal as Research Method in Discard Studies.” Discard Studies. Retrieved October 6, 2016 (


Treatment paragraph 1: Introduction.
Treatment paragraph 2: methods section
Treatment paragraph 3: findings and discussion of baseline
Treatment section 4: The bibliogrpahy