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Acceptable Appropriation: Citation as Negotiation of Power
Paul Amore

      In the politics of intellectual property, there is always one acceptable form of appropriation--citation. We use this scholarly convention to eliminate the possibility of plagiarism in our work; yet in the process, we often overlook the negotiations of power that contribute to the making of meaning. Tom Reedy's position statement alludes to the power and ethos struggle that citation is a part of. In this struggle, citation may become a matter of building consensus where there is dissensus. An author may cite a source that supports her argument, but she may misinterpret that source, either wilfully or unintentionally. The cited author then loses control of the meaning of her text, and the ethos that the readers attributed to her before will now change.

      Consider this scenario: "John" is preparing to write an article on Thomas Hardy's realism. John happens to read an article by "Jane" which discusses Hardy's views on the rights of women. Jane spends part of her article discussing Hardy's realism, a necessary consequence for her discussion of Hardy's presentation of female characters. John decides that Jane's comments on Hardy's realism fit the context of the argument he wants to make. John cites Jane. Six months later Jane reads the most recent PMLA and finds the essay John has written about Hardy. She sees herself cited as a scholar who has also spent time pursuing the context of John's argument about Hardy's realism. She frowns, and says to herself, "That's not really what I was arguing in my article, though!"

      John has wrested the power from Jane to decide the meaning of her own text. Now Jane finds herself suddenly identified with a position that she may or may not wish to endorse. The point is that John has used Jane's article to build a consensus for his argument. By including a reference to Jane's scholarship in his own, John makes a rhetorical move that identifies Jane's position with his own, regardless of whether Jane has consented to this position or not. In effect, John has told his readers, "I'm not the only one interested in this line of argument." John increases not only his ethos, but builds support for his argument, since a point shared by more than one person is likely to be seen as more worthy of consideration than the opinion of a solitary scholar.

      But what about Jane? How does she feel about this appropriation? It is an act of appropriation, for not only has Jane not consented to John's including her "intellectual property" in the essay, but she has not had the opportunity to study John's argument to see if it is something she would want to endorse. What about the view other scholars now have of Jane? Just as John may have changed the tenor of Jane's argument, hasn't he also modified the ethos that Jane has sought so hard to establish in her field?

      Yet, did John willfully mean to appropriate Jane's argument and her ethos? Yes and no. John did mean to build support for his argument, and saw Jane's argument as providing that support. Most of us would probably say that he believed he understood Jane's argument to be in support of his, and did not willfully misinterpret it. We would probably also say that John did not wish to modify Jane's ethos in any way, but sought to build a stronger ethos for himself. Still, John's appropriation may have changed Jane and her argument, for both herself and others.

      I've used a hypothetical example to avoid singling out any particular scholars, but I'm sure the reader can think of similiar real-life situtations. What this hypothetical example points to is the way in which the power to make meaning and build ethos is continually negotiated between scholars in the form of citation. Surely we must not be paralyzed from citing another scholar's work for fear that we are misunderstanding it or somehow changing the ethos of the scholar. If we did this, then no article would ever include any other scholarship, and we would not be able to continually add to a growing base of common knowledge. The purpose of any argument is to arrive at what we believe to be the most reasonable truth in a given situation. As such, we must take risks. But when we cite another scholar's work, we must be aware of the complex interplay of meaning- and ethos-making power that goes along with it, and we must somehow find a way to make this known to our readers, as well.

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