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The Literary Production of Power: Citation Practices among Authors and Students
Rebecca Moore Howard

       In her 1991 Crimes of Writing, Susan Stewart explains ways in which institutional practices construct a hierarchy of authorship. A single textual act can meet with widely varying institutional reception, such that the author of that textual act may be lionized or demonized. How that textual act is received depends upon familiar, seemingly innocuous, rhetorical factors such as audience and context. Those rhetorical "factors" are far less innocuous though, when they are joined by the rhetorical "factor" of the author's extrinsic ethos--his or her preexisting status within the institution.

       Representations of graffiti demonstrate the power of reception. The graffiti writer may be represented by the dominant culture as either criminal or artist (Stewart 25). While both criminal and artist are initially possessed of agency, the act of attaching the label "criminal" or "artist" determines the graffiti writer's future as agent. Hierarchical status has been established; the same act, graffiti-painting, is differentially received, depending in part upon the writer's extrinsic ethos.

       All of us are aware that plagiaristic writing meets with similar receptions. Student are punished for it, but articles in PMLA  (McCracken) and New Literary History (Randall) celebrate the plagiarisms of professional writers like Ricardo Piglia and Anatole France. Even more dramatically than in the case of graffiti writers, whether a plagiarist is punished or celebrated depends in large part upon the writer's extrinsic ethos, and the punishment or celebration affirms the pre-existing hierarchical status of the writer.

       In a strange inversion, plagiarism's cure, citation, also has hierarchically ordered differential reception. Student writers are enjoined to engage in full citation. Anthony Weston, author of A Rulebook for Arguments, offers the standard explanation: "Citation has two purposes. One is to help establish the reliability of the premise. . . . . The other purpose of a citation is . . . to allow the reader or hearer to find the information on his or her own" (29).

       Great! My own academic writing process involves my using an enormous on-line commonplace book that organizes all the professional reading and writing that I have done for the past decade. So for me, citation is a snap; I can cite the source of practically everything I assert. Why, then, would the reviewers of College English  ask me to revise an essay so that it wasn't so heavily cited? Why would colleagues reading my manuscripts urge me to foreground my "own voice"--as if I had one?

       The answer, I believe, is that, in addition to establishing the reliability of the premise and providing a research trail for readers, citation accomplishes a third purpose: thorough citation establishes the writer as derivative, a non-author--a student. Professional writers such as me are expected not to cite much; otherwise, we are denying our own authorship. Thus the pedagogical obsession with citation becomes a pedagogical obsession with denying students the possibility of authorship. And thus not only the act of plagiarism but also the act of citation affirms the student's lowly authorial status and accomplishes the student's exclusion from academic subjecthood. Linda Hutcheon locates the act of plagiarism in the reader, not the writer. The act of citation is similarly unstable, shifting with--and confirming--the status of the writer.

       This position statement, by the way, cites five sources.

Works Cited

Hutcheon, Linda. "Literary Borrowing . . . and Stealing: Plagiarism, Sources, Influences, and Intertexts." English Studies in Canada 12 (1986): 229-39.

McCracken, Ellen. "Metaplagiarism and the Critic's Role as Detective: Ricardo Piglia's Reinvention of Roberto Arlt." PMLA 106.5 (October 1991): 1071-82.

Randall, Marilyn. "Appropriate(d) Discourse: Plagiarism and Decolonization." New Literary History 22 (1991): 525-41.

Stewart, Susan. Crimes of Writing: Problems in the Containment of Representation. New York: Oxford UP, 1991.

Weston, Anthony. A Rulebook for Arguments. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992.

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