Tag Archives: citation index

Part 3: The Semiotic Approach to Citation Indexing


This brings us onto the final approach to theorizing citation indexing. This approach was termed by Chubin and Moitra (1975) as ‘phenomenological’ in that it looks at citing in terms of being a symbolic exchange. Small (1980) puts forward the idea that citations become markers or symbols which are indicative of theories, concepts, ideas or methods. Blaise Cronin has developed this approach in a more interesting way by looking at citations as both sign and symbol in his essay ‘Symbolic Capitalism’. Cronin (2005, 143) goes on to assert that a citation is a signaling device or action indicating that one is familiar with and have drawn upon a particular author and work. However, here Cronin once again places equal emphasis on the author and the work, meaning his semiotic approach draws more from structuralism than post-structuralism. The concept of the author becomes a regulating force over all future iterations of that text, meaning that the text can never be re-conceptualized leading to greater innovations having finally been released from the original hegemonic authorial context and given life of its own. Cronin is not alone in positing a semiotic symbolic relationship between texts. Wouters (1993, 7) suggests that citations act as two different signs, one that points back to the original text and one that refers to its own context. Warner (1990, 28) rejects this approach arguing that “the ambiguity of citation in aggregate form can be seen as a special case of the indeterminacy other written signifiers, such as words, can acquire when torn from their discursive context”. However, while there is some validity to this argument, Warner is still reliant on a citation being held within an original authoritative context. Cronin’s approach (2005, 156) is successful with regard to his focus on sign systems, arguing that “references and citations need to be unraveled in respect of their respective sign systems.” He (Cronin 2005, 159) goes on to suggest that this sign system is triadic in nature: “The referent of the bibliographic reference is a specific work; the referent of a citation the absent text that it denotes; in the case of large-scale citation counts, the referents are the cited authors.”

The problem with Cronin’s approach is that he views language from a structuralist perspective as is clearly evident from his triangular structure of language in which signs fall back upon an original context. But reference to Roland Bathes theory above demonstrates that signs do not necessarily operate in such a coherent direction. Rather, signs are dispersive entities that ripple out into the past, present and future thereby creating multiple contexts. They do not necessarily fold back upon the original text, but rather re-conceptualize that text pushing it into the future as a ‘new’ work. Baudrillard (1981, 150) would refer to Cronin’s sign system as the “mirage of the referent”. This essay supports Baudrillard’s concept of the sign becoming a kind of false referent that signals back to the original text. So, citations as signs do not really contain a past, rather, they only push past texts into a newly imagined future. In many ways, post-structuralism depicts citations as signs in terms of what Brian McHale (1987, 166) defined as heteroglossia, that is, “a plurality of discourse […] which serves as the vehicle for the confrontation and dialogue among world-views”. What this recognition must do, is destory any sense of hierarchy within the citation process. It can not only tear citing from their authorial and hierarchal structure, but it can also seriously undermine the normative approach that all theories appear to fall back into, nó longer allowing citations to be retained under a hegemonic capitalist scheme.

In conclusion, this paper has attempted to explicate the three main approaches to understanding and theorizing citation indexing. It has done this through a brief review of the literature available in the academic field. The suggestion is that citation indexing has become blinded to the hierarchy that now controls it. In this sense, Sosteric’s (1999) argument that hegemonic control over scholarship through the proliferation and globalization of citation practices in the wake of the technological revolution has well and truly been realized. This can be argued as we see scholars become blinded to the underlying capitalism that controls scholarly thinking by embedding scholarship within a fragmented and contradictory paradigm. Many scholars argue then for a more expansive theory through the interpretative, phenomenological, and semiotic approaches, but these become retained within authoritative contexts and ultimately collapse back into a normative approach. By identifying the persistence of an underlying capitalised structure, this essay has attempted to take a more holistic and ontological approach to the subject. It has also attempted to utilise some post-structuralist theory in order to develop the semiotic approach of Cronin. In doing so, this paper argues for the freeing up of Croin’s sign system to incorporate a more dispersed heterogenous theory that could ultimately create a freer, more authonomous citation system.


Baudrillard, J. (1981), For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign, London: Telos Press

Chubin, D.E. & Moitra, S.D. (1975), Content analysis of references: adjunct or alternative to citation counting? Social Studies of Science, 5, 423-441

Cronin, B. (2005), ‘Symbolic capitalism’, The Hand of Science: Academic writing and its rewards. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow.

McHale, Brian (1987), Postmodernist Fiction, New York and London: Methuen

Small, H.G. (1980), Co-citation context analysis and the structure of paradigms, Journal of Documentation, 36(3), 183-196

Sosteric, M. (1999). Endowing mediocrity: Neoliberalism, information technology, and the decline of radical pedagogy. Radical Pedagogy. http://www.radicalpedagogy.org/radicalpedagogy.org/Endowing_Mediocrity__Neoliberalism,_Information_Technology,_and_the_Decline_of_Radical_Pedagogy.html

Warner, J. (1990), Semiotics, information science, documents and computers, Journal of Documentation, 46(1), 16-32

Wouters, P. (1993), Writing histories of scientometrics or what precisely is scientometrics?

Part 2: The Interpretative Approach to Citation Indexing


The second, and again, fragmented approach to citation indexing is best described as the interpretative approach which relies on the idea of citation as a communicative act that forms a relationship between texts. Firstly, May (1967: 890) suggests that citations are ‘deviants’ and are partly informed by the ‘scientific, political and personal motivations’ of the user. This has lead to citation indexing being viewed as a social science with the emphasis on communication between texts and also between authors. Mitroff (1972) questioned the normative approach in this way by suggesting that referencing relies on subjective behavior in the methods scientists use to cite. What this means, according to Gilbert and Mulkay (1982) is that citation behavior is context dependent. The problem with this approach was best summarized by Blackwell and Kochtanek (1981) who point out that while citation indexing is a communicable relationship involving two texts, it does not make it explicitly clear what the nature of the relationship actually is. This leads to the inclusion of psychological analysis in the debate. Harter, Nisonger and Weng (1993) suggest that there is psychological validity to citation usage in that they don’t always retain a clear topical relevance. However, little consensus was reached regarding what the texts are actually saying to each other given the rather slippery application of terms like ‘subjective’ and ‘context-based’.

Once again, as long as a fragmented, rather than holistic approach, is taken to the subject the real value of citation indexing, if any at all, will not be realized. For example, Stanely Fish (1989, 164) argues from a reader-response perspective that “the convention is a way of acknowledging that we are involved in a community activity in which the value of one’s work is directly related to the work that has been done by others; that is, in this profession you earn the right to say something because it has not been said by anyone else, or because while it has been said, its implications have not been spelled out.” However, Fish’s explanation only assesses the citation process through an insular relationship between two texts rather assessing qualitatively ‘why’ a specific cited text is valuable. His approach still falls victim to the idea expressed by Voos and Dagaev (1976) that citations function on the assumption that they have and equivalent value. In this sense, citations fail to distinguish between degrees of importance between differently weighted texts. This has lead to Czarniawska-Joerges’ (1998, 63) supposition that citations act as a “trace of conversations between texts”. In this sense, Merton’s (1977, 84) early argument that citations are too cognitively complex to be accurate and comprehensive in their citation behavior still holds true. However, this does not prevent Brodkey (1987, 4) and Bordieu (1991, 20) from falling back on the idea that there are normative procedures that regulate citation practices.

The key problem with the interpretative approach is that it takes the scientific tenet that the process of citing and the relationship between texts needs to be clearly defined. Post-structuralist theory can be useful in this sense in that it demonstrates that one cannot really assert clear definitions based around authorial intention onto context-based reading processes. Roland Barthes’s (1967) essay ‘The Death of the Author’ argues that understanding the intention of an author is neither useful or desirable when understanding textual referents. This is because language operates not as a circular reciprocal structure, but as a more dispersed set of signs. A citation marker then, cannot refer backwards to highlight the importance of an older text, but rather, a citation marker can only refer forward into the future of that ‘old’ text. This is because language does not work as a static system; in post-structuralism, language is a highly dispersive and heterogenous marker that pushes ‘past’ texts into the future while having the impact of re-contextualizing them in the process. The interpretative approach views language as something ordered and permanent. The fact that they cannot figure out what these ‘ordered’ citation markers are actually saying should act as a solid indicator that they do not engage in a conversation between the original cited work and the work that is citing, and that each time a work is cited it is transformed into a new context taking on new signification. In this sense, the author as an authority becomes irrelevant and dispersed in that he/she cannot possibly retain control of the original information. It is here where the academics theorizing citation indexing come unstuck. If they fall back upon a normative approach, then they must realize how ideologically corrupt that approach is due to the overarching commodification of education and research, not to mention the fact that the normative theory is an attempt to assert to control and authority in asserting predictable practices. However, if they embrace contemporary linguistic and culturally theory, then they must accept that they will loss control of the hierarchy altogether.


Barthes, Roland (1967), The Death of the Author, Aspen, No. 5-6

Blackwell, P.K. & Kochtanek, T.R. (1981), An iterative technique for document retrieval using descriptors and relations, Proceedings of the 44th American Society for Information Science Annual Meeting, Washington: ASIS, 215-217

Bordieu, P. (1991), Language and Symbolic Power, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Brodkey, L (1987), Academic Writing as Social Practice, Philidelphia: Temple University Press

Czarniawska-Joerges B. (1998), Narrative Approach to Organization Studies, London: Sage

Fish, S. (1989), Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies, Durham NC, Duke University Press

Gibert, G.N. & Mulkay, M. (1980), Contexts of scientific discourse: social accounting in experimental papers, in Knorr, K.D. et al (eds.), The social process of scientific investigation, Dordrecht: Reidel, 269-294

Harter S.P., Nisonger T.E. and Weng A. (1993), Semantic relationships between cited and citing articles in library and information science journals, Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 44(9), 543-552

May, K.O. (1967), Abuses of citation indexing, Science, 156, 890-892

Merton, R.K. (1977), The sociology of science: an episodic memoir, The Sociology of Science in Europe, Carbondale: South Illinois University Press, 3-141

Mitroff, .I.I. (1972), The myth of subjectivity or why science needs a new psychology of science, Management Science, 18, 613-618

Voos, H. & Dagaev, K.S. (1976), Are all citations equal? Or did we op.cit. your idem? Journal of Academic Librarianship, 1(6), 19-21

Part 1: The Normative Approach to Citation Indexing


This is the first part of three short critiques of citation indexing….

The first theoretical approach to citation indexing is the normative approach. However, much of the discussion around this approach remains fragmented as protagonists of the approach maintain an outlook that assesses normative measures by analysing codes and processes ‘within’ the practice of citing. Cronin (1984, 2) explains that “Implicit in this is the assumption that authors’ citing habits display conformity and consistency.” This view was originally developed by Garfield (1963) who argues for the use of citation indexes as quantitative and valuable if they adhere to scientific principles. The fact that this argument requires codified modes of behaviour demonstrates that the approach looks only at the processes of citing rather than asking questions about the value of citing itself and the motivations that encourage or dictate authors to cite in the first place. Once Kaplan (1965) argued for a citation approach that was sociological in that citations relate to other kinds of social data, Merton (1973) developed the normative approach to include four categories upon which this code can be identified and understood. These include: Universalism; Organised Skepticism; Communism; and Disinterestedness. These four categories were then expanded by Mitroff (1974) to eleven categories.

However, this method of assessing only an implicit code of reference within citation practices ultimately falls victim to hierarchy in which a few elite or powerful authors become dominant players in influencing new research. Whitely (1969, 219) argues that “The formal communication system also forms the basis for the allocation of rewards: instrumental and consummatory. Thus it is a means of exercising social control . . . Publication of an article in an archival journal signifies a degree of recognition for the author, while legitimizing the object of research and methodology.” Thus, the danger of any normative approach that relies on there being established rules or codes of practice that regulates citation practices, is that it is prone to become part of a system of control in which influential academics begin to benefit from a normative approach that acts as a kind of pyramid scheme. Cronin (1984, 12/3) seems to celebrate the concept that “Maverick ideas, or notions which are, scientifically speaking, revolutionary, are thus effectively debarred from the official record of science – the journal archive”. Storer (1966) highlights that citations will continue to be used out of a principle of self-interest in which scientists adhere to the norms because citations are necessary commodities in which colleagues share mutual interest. This monetization of citations is confirmed by Hagstrom (1971) who goes on to argue that citations coincide with the value of grants, funding and university rewards. However, the fact that academics are engaging in a discourse that commonly accepts the commodification of ideas within an education setting is ethically reprehensible. It also demonstrates a lack of real interest in exploring the core value of citation indexes because the academics in question are benefiting from being cited. It can clearly be seen from looking at the literature that there is an acceptance of the monetization of citations as part of normative practice. However, the normative argument is highly fragmentary in that it fails to acknowledge that the citing norms are only compliant to an underlying monetized hierarchy. All the norms do is reinforce a homogenous and hierarchal academic system. The approach cannot claim to be truly normative because the norms are actually imposed.

Mike Sosteric in his essay ‘Endowing Mediocrity’ takes a more holistic approach to the subject as he attempts to expose the narrative that underlies and informs the normative codes in citation analysis. In doing so he gives greater context to some of the above mentioned problems with the normative approach to citation indexes. Sosteric (1999) examines the influence of capitalism and cybernetics on bibliometrics, asserting that citation indexing creates a homogenous narrative that reasserts hierarchy within eduction. Sosteric expands upon Teeple’s (1995, 1) suggestions that the 1980s “signified the beginning of what has been called the triumph of capitalism”. Sosteric (1999) continues to argue that “as a result of the neoliberal push, universities are being colonized, both physically and intellectually, by capital, its representatives, and its ideologies.” What can be seen here is that the normative trends that regulate citation indexing are monopolized by capitalist processes. Senior or established academics at the top of the hierarchy directly benefit from the setting up of normative modes of practice because the more their work is cited, the greater the monetary and symbolic gain. Those less established academics cannot become more visible unless they pay tribute through normative citation practices to the established scholars and universities who exert significant authority over the career trajectories of younger and emerging academics and researchers. In this sense, normative practices within citation indexing is regulated under hegemonic control. And as Boor (1982) points out, it is highly susceptible to manipulation, especially now that it has come under the complete control of cybernetic processes insofar as citation counts can be ‘engineered’ through unfair means in order to create inflated citation scores. Therefore, Nelson (1997, 39) may refer to citation indexing as “academia’s version of applause”, and Grafton (1997, 5) may insist that it is codified by “ideology and technical practices”, but their assessment remains fragmentary. Once we assess the processes of citation from a more holistic approach, we must question the very ideology that is creating such practices and more deeply consider the true value that they have.


Cronin, Blaise (1984), The Citation Process: The Role and Significance of Citations in Scientific Communication, Taylor Graham

Garfield, E. (1963), Citation indexes in sociological research, American Documentation, 14(4), 289-291

Grafton, A. (1997), The Footnote: A Curious History, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

Hagstrom, W.O. (1971), Inputs, outputs and the prestige of university science departments, Sociology of Education, 44(4), 375-397

Kaplan, N. (1965), The norms of citation behaviour: prolegomena to the footnote, American Documentation, 16(3), 179 – 184

Merton, R.K. (1973), The sociology of science: theoretical and empirical investigations, Chicago University Press

Mitroff, .I.I. (1974), The subjective side of science: a philosophical inquiry into the psychology of the Apollo moon scientists, Amsterdam: Elsevier

Nelson, P. (1997), Superstars, Academe, 87(1), 38-54

Sosteric, M. (1999). Endowing mediocrity: Neoliberalism, information technology, and the decline of radical pedagogy. Radical Pedagogy. http://www.radicalpedagogy.org/radicalpedagogy.org/Endowing_Mediocrity__Neoliberalism,_Information_Technology,_and_the_Decline_of_Radical_Pedagogy.html

Teeple, Gary (1995). Globalization and the Decline of Social Reform. Toronto: Garamond Press.

Storer, N.W. (1966) The social system of science, New York: Holt Rinehart & Winston

Whitley, R.D. (1969), Communication nets in science: status and citation patterns in animal