Redefining Collaboration through Citation
I have recently been reflecting on Kathleen Fitzpatrick's article "The Digital Future of Authorship: Rethinking Originality" in Culture Machine. I am really interested in Fitzpatrick's claims about how we can rethink multiple publications of a work or an article as more than merely an act of copy and paste. In the article, Fitzpatrick talks about how we can use multiple publications and multiple venues as moments of revisitation and transformation in the work. Viewed in that context, the role of the author is one of continual process and the material itself generates rediscovery.
If we re-imagine authorship in terms of ongoing process, it seems to me we need to rethink our practices of citation, something that digital modes of publication have not yet re-conceived in a systematic way. The word collaboration is almost inextricably linked to digital humanities. In my own work, I have found it hard to navigate the urge to collaborate and still take ownership of my work. While laying ground rules to use Twitter to document the Re:Humanities conference, Professor Katherine Rowe suggested that we cite speakers in every tweet. I was a bit surprised. I wondered if calling attention to specific individuals was against the spirit of collaboration. During the event, students at the conference agreed to cite one another and developed a sheet so that we easily reference everyone's handles.
Through the citational practice at Re:Humanities, my notion of collaboration transformed from a very general assumption that we must share our outcomes wholly into a more nuanced way of considering the infrastructures of intellectual labor. By making the commitment to attribute quotes to one another, the level of investment in my own contribution shifted (and --as it seemed to me -- so did the investment of others). Citation became new type of currency in the larger exchange of our dialogue. There was sense of respect both for individual contribution as well as its capacity to generate insights from the larger group.
Since that conversation about Twitter at Re:Humanities, I have been hypersensitized to citation. Every time I have taken notes in class, I have attributed comments. My own citational additions in my notes have led me to cite students and professor in papers frequently and have led to a higher level of engagement with the subject material and the class itself. I recall thinking once when a student had cited my idea a few years ago in a class that she was so generous to recall my point and credit me with it. It is generosity, but also seems a basic tenet of how we produce scholarship.
I have had people I work with on projects say to me: Oh, you don't need to be cited, you're a digital humanist. You want information to be free. But freedom without thoughtful restraint isn't liberation (as we have learned time and again from Milton to Orwell). The narrative of loss registers social anxieties of erasure. Citation brings to the forefront one of the most exciting aspects of about digital tools: the capacity for naming-- naming ourselves, our work and keeping us intellectually present to each other.
Collaboration is not identity-less but rather identity-rich. Citation seems to be a case where our desire for a practice runs ahead with our tools lagging behind. However, once we commit to citing more freely and tools are developed with a greater citation functionality, we will exchange ideas even more freely and radically.
We have not yet formulated how to cite digital-born texts. I invite you to reflect on and post your own methods of digital citation. I have found myself endlessly counting "digital paragraphs" to attempt to cite a phrase or taking screenshots to insert a tweet or piece of a digital format. What other methods are out there or what citational innovations can we generate?