By: Rui Liu, with Dome Lombeida, Christina Crespo, and Max Liboiron

A familiar scenario: X academic’s work is introduced in class and celebrated as “foundational” to a particular discipline. Later, you find out that this scholar was embroiled in a grisly sexual harassment lawsuit, or had controversial political allegiances to right-wing movements, or is shrouded by a network of whispers warning subordinates against their abusive behaviour. When you bring up this context in class, these so-called details are dismissed as eclectic character traits or a regrettable but unavoidable symptom of their time – details that ultimately have little bearing on the significance of their scholarly work. Of course, this scenario is not unique to academia and can be easily transplanted to other industries characterized by close-knit concentrations of power, like broadcast news, electoral politics, or professional sports. Yet there’s a particular way in which academic knowledge is framed as emancipated from their contexts. Here I want to think through the politics and ethics of citing against harm in academia, especially since there doesn’t seem to be any formal journal or editorial guidelines for these situations.[1]

The question of if and how to cite knowledge produced by those that have done harm is intimately connected to the individual’s position and rank in the academy. It also concerns how harm is defined. And lastly, it’s bound up in the question of how community is enacted in relation to harm. How do we, if at all, cite people that have committed harm? And the larger problem: how are we to enact relations with people that have done harm?[2] If, according to Sara Ahmed, citation is a “reproductive technology,” how can we refuse the reproduction and futurity of harm that occurs when we cite? How do we deal with perhaps amplifying the credibility of someone that has committed and may continue to commit harm?[3]

Locating and Scaling Harm

How harm is committed, experienced, attributed, and held to account occurs unevenly across populations marked or unmarked by colonization, class, race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, geography, citizenship, and nationality. The difficulty of locating harm is compounded by the fact that individual acts of harm are often entangled in, and symptomatic of, larger networks of complicity and structural violence. For example, domestic violence is not merely an interpersonal issue but a manifestation of cisheteropatriarchal violence, which is co-constituted with projects of racial capitalism and settler colonialism. It requires collusion in the form of bystanders, discriminatory legal, political, and economic systems, and a misogynistic cultural landscape. Relatedly, the degree to which an individual can resist citing someone that has done harm corresponds with their structural position in academia and society. Within her article on whether academics should cite sexual harrassers and sexist scholars, journalism scholar Nikki Usher highlights the structural constraints and vulnerabilities faced by junior scholars, who are often disciplined into citing certain figures by editors, reviewers, and publishers. She asserts that “trying to avoid citing someone because you don’t like them is impossible if their work is important in your field.”[4] To meaningful address harm and enact resistance against harm, individual instances of harm and resistance must be situated alongside larger scales of violence and agency.

Canceled? Or Accountability?

What happens when folks are removed from citation? What happens when we refuse to reproduce the work of certain people?[5] When powerful figures complain about getting “canceled” in experiencing criticisms or consequences for their wrongdoings, they’re evading accountability through a misnomer that imbues minor consequences with the gravity of incarceration and other forms of actual abuse.[6] That is, they are “[narrativizing] being canceled into a moral panic akin to actual harm.”[7] Media studies scholar Meredith D. Clark traces the etymology of the practice of canceling to Black Twitter and disputes how the term has been misappropriated by social elites to silence and delegitimize the dissent of marginalized people.[8] For Clark, canceling emerges as a “discursive accountability praxis” deployed by disempowered groups for navigating and countering public spheres marked by deeply uneven power relations.[9] What Clark’s work tells us then is that when powerful figures self-characterize as “canceled” or “censored” when others criticize their work in light of known acts of abuse (or when faced with other forms of accountability), they’re conflating consequences and calls for accountability by marginalized subjects with structural abuse and oppression.

I want to be clear about the incarceration metaphor that is often used by those being held to account: not getting cited, being deplatformed, feeling discomfort over being called to account for one’s harmful actions, or even being fired from an academic appointment, are not the same as incarceration – which is an exceptional form of social exile and dispossession incomparable to community enactments of accountability.[10]

A Toolkit of Compromised Tools

Until the colonial university is abolished, until carceral society is abolished, there is no innocent, easy, standard, cut-and-dry way out of the problem of citing against harm. Although having ready-made solutions is not a prerequisite for critiquing something oppressive, or desiring something else, I’m interested in fleshing out how citation can be used as a non-innocent technology for change.[11] Here’s a mixed bag of strategies for citing against harm that foreground accountability and structural violence:

Exclusion, or Not Citing

Sometimes accountability can be as straightforward as not citing the person that has done harm until they and/or their institution take steps toward repair, redress, and transformation, especially if the harmful behaviours of the person (and the colonial, heteropatriarchal, white supremacist, and capitalist norms they reinforce) are still enabled through the authority of their reputation and the circulation of their work. On the blog Feminist Philosophers, philosopher Jenny Saul suggests avoiding teaching and discussing the work of scholars with known histories of misconduct, if possible. This does not equate to erasing or censoring the intellectual contribution of their work since, a) individual acts of refusing citation do not amount to institutional or structural erasure (in the sense that many will continue to cite along the grain under the alibi of so-called intellectual objectivity), and b) exclusion can be temporary and contingent on whether the person has undertaken accountability for the harm they’ve caused.[12] As I noted earlier, junior scholars and scholars from marginalized backgrounds may have less latitude with their individual citation practices so ideally, tenured faculty who are empowered enough to exclusively cite should work toward collective accountability protocols within and across departments, institutions, and disciplines.

An example of what this can look like can be found in the Censure UofT campaign mounted in 2021 by a wide-ranging group of faculty from the University of Toronto and beyond in response to UofT leaders’ rescindment of an offer of employment to Dr. Valentina Azarova due to the nature of her research, which critically examines the Israeli occupation of Palestine. This campaign effectively put pressure on the University of Toronto to reverse the donor-influenced rescindment of employment to Dr. Azarova. It also framed the problem of intellectual censorship as structural rather than exceptional to the actions of specific senior administrators at the University of Toronto. Notably, the censure was lifted after the campaign achieved one of its major goals, the reviving of the offer of employment to Dr. Azarova. Organizing collective solidarity around this issue not only protected marginalized scholars but also helped abate systemic encroachments on academic freedom.

Foregrounding Harm

Another strategy for citing against harm is to integrate the context of harm into the interpretation of the harming person’s work. It means situating and qualifying the author’s knowledge production through their social location and by the knowledge’s inherent partiality – insights that have been well explored by feminist standpoint theory and feminist theorizations of situated knowledges. Foregrounding harm helps us get past “the binary of cite or not cite.”[13] For example, Black studies scholar Tiffany Lethabo King incorporates allegations of misogynistic abuse against the Dominican American writer Junot Díaz within her 2019 analysis of his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Woo (2007). King recognizes the significance of Díaz’s works. For her, they help articulate “Black ‘grammars’ of conquest” that push up against the disavowal of ongoing conquest by White settler colonial studies.[14] Yet King refuses to brush over allegations against Díaz. Instead, her close reading of Oscar Woo is reflexively inflected by this knowledge. She nuances how Díaz’s use of the term fukú — defined by King as the curse unleashed by settler colonial violence in the Americas in the fifteenth century, and as the condition of being “fucked and cursed” by this violence — “has acquired new meaning and significance” in light of these allegations.[15] Although King is emphatic that Díaz’s behaviour is not excusable, she refrains from vilifying Díaz. King accounts for Díaz’s abusive behaviours while reserving space for complex personhood by foregrounding his alleged acts of sexual predation and considering them alongside Díaz’s confession of his experiences of childhood sexual abuse, experiences he himself situates in the wake of conquest and slavery.[16] Drawing from what has emerged about Díaz’s behaviour and personal history, King reads the tropes of sexual violence in Oscar Woo and in Díaz’s life as an index of the structural and world-splitting violence of fukú, “as a legacy of conquest.”[17]

Foregrounding harm in our citational politics can also look like how Métis science and technology studies scholar Max Liboiron qualifies Heidegger’s work in a lengthy footnote in their book Pollution is Colonialism. Within their chapter on colonial land relations, Liboiron utilizes Heidegger’s work on technology to make an explicit point that “anti-Semitic, white supremacist, Nazi, canonized European thinkers not only are well aware of colonial land relations but also can see them with great clarity and nuance.”[18] They do this to push back against what they call “awareness theories of change” that predicate social change on people’s knowledge of an issue.[19] In this case, arranging Heidegger’s white supremacist politics alongside his work highlights the fact that Heidegger was not ignorant but actually acutely perceptive of how colonial land relations constructed land as resource and property. In so doing, Liboiron draws insights from Heidegger’s work without affirming his credibility and politics, unfaithfully repurposing his work against the ends of colonial land relations.

Collective Intellectual Praxis

This last tool joins other calls for a reorientation to how we think about attribution, credit, and the project of knowledge production. How might our protocols for citing against harm shift when we turn away from an individualistic understanding of authorship that frames knowledge as intellectual property to an understanding of knowledge production as an inherently collective endeavor?[20] Because ideas exist in overlapping and promiscuous ways, and are influenced, assembled, adapted, recontextualized, plagiarized, forgotten, remembered, and thought simultaneously by so many people, I’m unwilling to wholly cede concepts accredited to specific individuals solely to those specific individuals (just Google “scientists who didn’t get credit for their work” for so! many! examples!). Within her brilliant study on Black methodologies and citational politics, Katherine McKittrick describes this as “the crude capital economization of collated names standing in as ideas.”[21] How do practices of exclusive citation reproduce the logic of citation as economic value and knowledge as property? Alternately, what if Junot Díaz’s work didn’t just belong to Junot Díaz but also to all the people who’ve taught him, loved him, and creatively resignified his work?

McKittrick’s work in Dear Science and Other Stories pushes us to think beyond exclusion and exclusion’s “impossible foreclosures.”[22] She crucially asks: “Do we unlearn whom we do not cite?”[23] Although I stand by exclusion as a strategic tool for accountability, as a theory of change, exclusion hinges upon individualistic and liberal understandings of agency. Reorienting our focus to collective intellectual praxis challenges the illusion of individualized knowledge production and individual “choice” and shifts our energies to building the kinds of intellectual communities we want to be a part of. Thinking about Black collaborative ways of knowing, McKittrick argues that the “works cited” lists of Black studies, “when understood as in conversation with each other, demonstrate an interconnected story that resists oppression.”[24] She stresses:

“We do not have to agree with all the works in the works cited. We do not have to like all of the works in the works cited. We do have to trust that 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.”


Citing against harm toward collective intellectual praxis then, may not (just) be about excluding specific individuals. Citing against harm toward collective intellectual praxis redirects our attention to structural oppression, building good relations, collective modes of resistance and the necessity for political mobilizations beyond individual citational practices, and transformative change.[25] It gestures to a future capacious enough for not only the mitigation of harm but its transformation.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Dome Lombeida, Christina Crespo, and Max Liboiron for your generative feedback on this piece, and to the Citational Politics Working Group for our many conversations on the challenges of citing differently within the academy. Thank you to Eve Tuck for teaching me about complex personhood and citation as relationality.  

Works cited

[1] Daniel Souleles, “What To Do With the Predator in Your Bibliography?,” Allegra Lab, September, 2020,

[2] The “we” I invoke is deeply uneven, but here I invoke it to hail others working within and beyond the academy who are also invested in thinking through alternatives to academic citational norms.

[3] Sara Ahmed, “Making Feminist Points,” feministkilljoys, September 11, 2013,  

[4] Nikki Usher, “Should We Still Cite the Scholarship of Serial Harassers and Sexists?,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 7, 2018,

[5] At this point, this blog post originally pivoted to a discussion on how we can qualify the insights of transformative justice and abolitionist justice for citing against harm in the academy. However, heeding the warnings of anarcho-Black futurist and educator Estelle Ellison (@Abolish_Time), I’ve cut this discussion out for fear of perpetuating abuse apologism and the co-optation of discourses arising out of grassroots, insurgent social movements into the academy. See Estelle Ellison, “Pushing Back Against Mass Abuse Apologism,” Medium, August 11, 2022, See also, Estelle Ellison, “Is Transformative Justice a Sunken Ship?,” Medium, January 21, 2022,

[6] Sarah Hagi, “Cancel Culture Is Not Real—At Least Not in the Way People Think,” TIME, November 21, 2019,

[7] Meredith D. Clark, “DRAG THEM: A Brief Etymology of So-Called ‘Cancel Culture,’” Communication and the Public 5, no. 3-4 (2020):89.

[8] Ibid., 89.

[9] Ibid., 88.

[10] Transformative justice theorists highlight that transformative justice practices were developed out of necessity in specific contexts by marginalized communities who could not rely on the state to provide safety or mitigate harm. That is, transformative justice strategies may not be tenable within or scaleable to highly institutionalized contexts like academia that a) systematically tolerate harmful conduct through a rigid, hierarchical, and profit-driven power structure, b) are deeply entangled with the state, prisons, and the military, and c) are characterized by under-accountability for the most powerful scholars rather than excessive punishment. See Ejeris Dixon,“Building Community Safety: Practical Steps Toward Liberatory Transformation,” in Beyond Survival, ed. Ejeris Dixon and Leah Lashmi Piepzna-Samarasinha (Chico, CA: AK Press), 16.

[11] Thank you to Max Liboiron for the insight that solutionism is not necessary for desiring something else.

[12] Brian Leiter, “Academic Ethics: Should Scholars Avoid Citing the Work of Awful People?,”The Chronicle of Higher Review, October 25, 2018,

[13] Souleles, “Predator.”

[14] Tiffany Lethabo King, The Black Shoals (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019), 46.

[15] Ibid., 47.

[16] Ibid., 47.

[17] Ibid., 48.

[18] Max Liboiron, Pollution is Colonialism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2021), 63.

[19] Ibid. See also Max Liboiron’s Twitter thread on Dr. Tuck’s 2019 keynote “Research on Our Own Terms” and Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s article “Refusing Research” for more on awareness theories of change. Max Liboiron (@MaxLiboiron), “awareness theories of change assumes that change hasn’t happened b/c of a lack of knowledge. Ask ourselves: what if settlers knowing didn’t change anything?,” Twitter, May 1, 2019, 9:15 p.m.,; Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang, “R-Words: Refusing Research,” in Humanizing Research: Decolonizing Qualitative Inquiry with Youth and Communities, ed. Django Paris and Maisha T. Winn (Thousand Oakes, CA: SAGE Publications), 223-47.

[20] Jane Anderson and Kimberly Christen, “Decolonizing Attribution: Traditions of Exclusion,” Journal of Radical Librarianship 5 (2019): 113-52.

[21] Katherine McKittrick, Dear Science and Other Stories (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020), 25.

[22] Ibid., 22.

[23] Ibid., 22.

[24] Ibid., 28.

[25] Within our conversation on citational politics, Eve Tuck suggests that citations are not about perfection but about relations – that citations can be used to build relations with the kinds of people and work you want to see proliferate in the world. Eve Tuck, conversation, March 2, 2021.

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
Rui Liu, Citing toward Community, Citing against Harm