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Citation justice: A critical look at citation practices

This guide provides and introduction to the politics of citation.

What is critical citation?

Critical citation or "Citation Justice is the act of citing authors based on identity to uplift marginalized voices with the knowledge that citation is used as a form of power in a patriarchal society based on white supremacy." (Rachel Gammons, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Research, University of Maryland Libraries)


  • Historically academia and publishing were only open to the elite, which in the Western world meant white men.  They continue to be published and cited more often than women and other marginalized groups.
  • Women were excluded from academia and even when they do participate in academia "theft, plagiarism, denial of credit, male pseudonyms and style guides have all denied women their rightful credit" (Fowler, 2019, p. 1).
  • Black, Indigenous, and People of Color were also excluded from academia, and are still being cited less than their white male colleagues.
  • The more something gets cited the more it will continue to be cited.  In order to have conversations where diverse perspective are present, we need to critically examine our citations to ensure marginalized voices are present.


Why does it matter?

Publication and citation counts are commonly used metrics that everyone from students through to researchers and faculty use to show their research impact.  High citation counts enable them to move up in academia, as it affects everything from career longevity/trajectory, to tenure/promotion, salary, and stature. Inequitable citation practices associated with gender, racial, or regional discrimination adversely impacts marginalized groups. Intersectionality within one or more of these identities can compound the level of inequality.

Critical citation frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Shouldn't you cite good research and not base citations on race or gender?

While you should always cite good science, art, literature, etc, consider the need to dig deeply into the literature to diversify your citations. Don't just engage with the most highly cited articles; show how deeply you are engaging with the literature by exploring more published research. This can help you address your own explicit and implicit biases, but also helps correct a system that has systematically disregarded non-white and non-male voices for centuries.

Sure, inequities exist in citations, but won't we cause an imbalance against white male scholars if we just cite women and BIPOC scholars?

Because there are so few women and people of colour in certain fields, it will take many generations for the balance to shift in the other direction. We have a lot of catching up to do to create an equitable academic environment.

Isn't it problematic to infer the gender or race of people?

Race and gender can be difficult to infer and should be approached with caution. Occasionally, determinations on gender can be made based on probability that a person with one name identifies with a specific gender. However, try to go the extra mile to determine how they identify themselves. Check out a researcher's scholarly profile in Google Scholar, Research Gate, or on social media. 

I live outside of Canada. Should I still practice citation justice?

Yes! It's likely that many countries suffer from different types of injustice, including racial discrimination. It's also likely that racial discrimination is broadly distributed due to historical colonialism and modern day imperialism and globalization. Discuss these broader social issues with fellow researchers and determine what your own practice should look like.

Isn't the broader problem that citation counts themselves are not a good way of assessing the quality of research? Shouldn't we address that and this won't matter?

While citation counts themselves are indeed poor indicators of the quality of research (and, by extension, the researcher), these types of citation metrics are being used in evaluations right now. Encouraging broader citation practice ensures a more equitable process now, as we simultaneously work to find better assessment tools.

FAQ's re-used (with minor wording adjustments) with permission from Rachel Gammons, University of Maryland Libraries' Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Research LibGuide.

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This work by The University of Victoria Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License unless otherwise indicated when material has been used from other sources.