Towards An Ethics of Care in Citation & Openness

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 27 seconds

I will never forget this moment. I was in kindergarten or infant 1. My best friend at the time, who sat beside me in class, looked over my shoulder and copied the picture I was drawing. It was like a girl or a princess, I remember I drew her and colored her dress brown with pink flowers on it. I remember it like it was yesterday. She copied it exactly the same. And the teacher, she was walking around the class, and she picked up my best friend’s notebook and showed it off to the class as an “exemplar” of good work for the day. I honestly don’t remember at that moment if I choked or I spoke up to say, “but that idea is mine, that design is mine, she copied it!”. I don’t remember, honestly. But I suspect the fact that I’m still harboring that resentment implies unresolved issues, don’t you think?

Fast-forward 2021, and I shared with you all my daughter’s “image to cupcake story”, where her best friend used some of my daughter’s graphic designs in the design of her birthday cupcake, and my daughter said “I made those cupcakes”. She felt hurt that her friend would use her designs without permission and without acknowledgment that they were her designs. When presenting this story in a session on open education and ethics of it, someone in the audience (I’m sorry I don’t remember who at the moment) mentioned the emotional impact of lack of citation and recognition and permission.

I feel awful that I don’t remember who said that point, because this post is about a care ethics of citation. This is a different thing from my work on the ethics of inclusive citation, where I talk about how to go about reading and citing more work by marginalized groups and women, particularly work that actually goes against the grain of dominant discourses and comes in different forms than traditional peer review.

This post is about a relational care ethics of citation. Perhaps building on Noddings’ work, I’ll rephrase one of her statements into “cite others as THEY would like to be cited” (this goes also for research – if we are going to quote someone, can they choose to be quoted by name rather than anonymously in our research sometimes? Can they choose not to be quoted verbatim in other cases?).

I once wrote a blogpost describing the evolution of the care/ethics matrix Mia Zamora & I built together. In that blogpost, I share some of the tweets that influenced the creation of the matrix, and Mia and I are in the process of getting a peer-reviewed article published that would detail that more formally. My aim in the blogpost was to highlight the process, but I noticed Stephen Downes wrote about how the post also shows how we’re recognizing the sources of our influence, even though they come from places not traditionally considered worth citing in academia. We still don’t have the feedback from our peer review, so we don’t know yet how that will go down, but am pretty sure we will insist on having them included as we used them.

In two recent incidences, I was really careful to cite the source of my knowledge, informal as it was. For example, when I wrote a blogpost on “compassionate design”, I cited Sakinah Alhaddad’s tweet that used those terms to describe something else I’d written. In another instance, I was in a keynote and someone asked a question, to which I responded “Mia Zamora left me a voice note yesterday saying…” and then when someone quoted me about this on Twitter, I insisted to tag Mia and say “I got this quote from Mia” (because it was oral in my presentation and not written in my slides, it was easier to misquote/misattribute – this is why I use slides a lot! Makes it easier for ppl to screenshot accurately).

I really respect something Leigh-Anne Perryman did with me recently (I appreciate her for many things, but especially this). She invited me to join an Open University course team designing a microcredential on Equity in Online Teaching – she said because they were already using so much of my material already, so I might as well get recognized for it. They could have totally still designed the course and cited me, but I would have been less visible without being on the course design team. When I saw how Leigh-Anne was using my work throughout the course, I was soooo touched and I lost my impostor syndrome for a minute, because Leigh-Anne made me feel “seen”. She cited work of mine from 2014 up until a week or two before I met her to discuss! It was incredible.

Another care ethics of citation practice I feel has a huge emotional impact is this. When I cite a woman, I cite her by name, and by first name, too. Not everyone’s name is clearly female, but it matters to me. So I won’t cite Noddings, usually, without once calling her Nel Noddings. I try. Sometimes editors don’t like this. More importantly, when citing using links in blogposts, you can make a decision to link without naming, and you can make a decision to name the person you’re citing. When it is someone I know, especially if I know them well, or they are a minority, I name them as well as linking to them. This way, even if the reader does not follow the link, they actually know the name of the person and become familiar with it.

More than all of that, I want to encourage people when they include someone else’s ideas in their posts or presentations, to clarify WHICH ideas and WHERE they got them. For example, I was recently given a shout-out at the beginning of someone’s presentation, as someone they learn from constantly… but then there were particular slides that were almost verbatim taken from my work, and not cited. That is just odd and does not fit the “shout out” culture. In another instance, I shared an unpublished piece of writing of mine with someone, and someone used an idea similar to what is in my article in something that got published earlier than mine. It’s not exact, but I think it’s clearly inspired to some extent. The issue is, now that someone else’s work got published first, mine will look like it’s inspired by THEIRS not the other way round.

I’ve seen several people tag me on Twitter as having inspired a piece of their writing, only to search their piece of writing and not find my name mentioned once. I’ve also seen people “amplify” my name on Twitter but they never actually cite me in their work. This is performative. They want to show they listen to me because I’m from the global South and such… but they don’t actually engage with my work.

So my idea of a care ethics of citation and openness is to not assume that anything said or written in the open or shared openly is “up for grabs”, but to try to remember who said it, when you can, who inspired you, and to cite them specifically, not generally. Not a general shout out. Not a tag on Twitter, but a citation for the specific ideas in the article.

Now, on occasion, it is REALLY difficult to cite people properly. I get it. Sometimes I cite the “continuity with care” Twitter DM because it would be impossible to cite a particular person for a particular idea. Almost impossible. Occasionally, I know in the moment that an idea is a nugget and I ask permission to cite it verbatim and I screenshot or copy/paste it for safekeeping. Do that. Keep these things somewhere so you can reuse them and cite people appropriately.

I get it, sometimes you truly forget where you got an idea, who inspired you, it is an innocent mistake. It happens to me too. Sometimes I also forget where I first heard an idea, where I first read it, sometimes you discover by coincidence that someone else said it first. And when you do, this is an opportunity for after-care (like post-op care in medicine). Go back and do something about it. Make it right. Post an acknowledgement in the article, post a citation in the body of the text if the idea is specific.

Sometimes, to be extra careful, I try to cite the person who pointed out to me an idea. This may not make it to the blogpost or peer-reviewed article, but I may tag a person on Twitter to show that an article they shared with me inspired a blogpost or something.

Can you think of other ways you feel you’ve been misattributed, unattributed, or similar? Or cases where you yourself have not attributed/cited others with “care”?

Header image: Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

5 thoughts on “Towards An Ethics of Care in Citation & Openness

  1. This specific form of care is a bedrock of what we are aspiring to w/ “socially just academia”. We do not speak about the impact and importance of attribution culture enough!! Thx for this❤️ cc: @socialjustacad #unboundeq

  2. Really important points. At end of a career in which I chose not to build a research profile but focussed on teaching & collab projects, I still feel unseen/ grumpy when people use my work w/o named credit. Citation even more crucial for young or marginalised people

  3. Not always awful – I’m reminded of our earlier discussion about the random way seeds of ideas plant themselves in unexpected places and develop their own life. I really like that in theory but then sometimes I’m like yr daughter, wanting to shout “mine, mine!

  4. I often feel that although I may link to ideas via a hyperlink, it wrongly assumes that someone may actually click to follow the thread. I like the way some people use footnotes or plugins which provide more detail about links. For example, Martin Hawksey’s site. In a different approach, I have started using Chris Aldrich’s browser bookmarklet for giving credit.

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