By Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò
Recent contributions by Meena Krishnamurthy and Jessica Wilson and an earlier post by Marcus Arvan have made helpful contributions to the ongoing conversation about citation practices in philosophy. Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa posted a response on PhilPercs to these views, a response with whose conclusion I am tempted to largely agree, though due to related but I suspect meaningfully distinct concerns. My comment got a bit lengthy so I figured I'd just make a separate post. The guiding question is: are present and historical disciplinary boundaries themselves a source of bias? If so, how should citation practices respond to this fact?
Krishnamurthy and Wilson do a number of things in their post that are particularly helpful: first, on the descriptive side of things, they identify specific kinds of citation failure and downstream harms from each. On the proscriptive side of things, they counsel that philosophers ought to cite that which is "objectively philosophically important to the topic at hand", and err on the side of inclusion. I'll call this the K-W norm.
There are two interpretive possibilities for this norm I'd like to consider, and in light of which I invite Krishnamurthy and Wilson to clarify their position. On the Professional Philosophy (PP) interpretation, there's an important implicit premise of the K-W norm: the domain over which clear relevance is to be evaluated is the domain of things that are communally deemed works of philosophy (or even more specifically, that which has been published in a "peer-reviewed journal" of philosophy, as it sometimes seems they have in mind). On the Full Stop Relevance (FSR) interpretation, there is no such implicit premise, and the K-W norm demands of us that we cite everything that is philosophically relevant, no matter how it is so or where we find it. In a nutshell, the problem is this: FSR seems like the right interpretation given the spirit of their normative arguments, but PP seems like required to make compliance feasible or even possible.
All that said, I confess both to being something of a misfit with respect to this particular issue. I'm drawn to the FSR interpretation, as I would not expect what is "philosophically important to the topic at hand" to always positively select for things produced in philosophy journals in my case, much less to do so to the exclusion of everything else. Especially given that I have some research questions of the standalone sort, i.e ones that don't gain their philosophical character as a move in an existing philosophical debate. Related to this confusion is another one about why "implicit bias" dominates the debate about the exclusion in philosophy - structural matters, here disciplinary boundaries, have always struck me as graver difficulties in attempts to improve the discipline, given the not-very-implicit biases that decided who was historically allowed to be in the philosophy departments deemed relevant at all over the last few centuries (much less while having their work cited and taken seriously). A psychological story about the biases of current actors might well add to the explanatory picture, but a fairly uninvolved reflection on the gerrymandered intellectual history that the historically recent de jure and de facto exclusions of relevant populations from higher education, and the ongoing demographics with respect to historically marginalized groups would do just fine in explaining the lack of availability of whatever epistemic material we'd be likelier to have in the discipline were it not for these facts. And that way we don't have to have debates about who's really a nice or progressive enough person, which I also think is pretty cool.
FSR is quite attractive, then, if we think relevance ought to be the highest criterion for deciding whether or not to read and cite something, and if we also think that the aforementioned historical facts block the inference from "philosophy journals haven't talked about x" to "discussion of x is not philosophical". A "full literature survey" in the spirit of FSR would then include reading and citing these outside sources, at least on topics that doesn't centrally deal with a concern that only people in philosophy departments have historically spoken about (which philosophers from historically marginalized groups might be likelier than their colleagues to find interest in). But this is difficult to square with Krishnamurthy and Wilson's responses to the possibility that the K-W norm is overly onerous. I'll respond to the first two, since their third seems to hinge on these, and attempt to show how the evaluation of these two relate to depend on a choice between FSR and PP:
1) "...in many cases involving an appropriately fine-grained topic-at-hand, there is no reason to think that doing a thorough literature survey will be overly onerous. In many other disciplines (e.g., linguistics, history, physics and the other sciences), practitioners are expected to carry out, and do carry out, full literature reviews and to cite any clearly relevant literature accordingly. Philosophers do not appear to face any special burdens so far as literature that must be surveyed."
On the FSR reading: following a heuristic that amounts to the FSR interpretation of the K-W norm, I often end up finding sources that aren't (yet?) categorized as "philosophy" equally or even more relevant to my purposes than what the cool kids are calling philosophy these days: novels, essays, works of journalism, treatises on economics, newspapers, autobiographies. Even citing work produced more recently (after the cosmetic integration of higher ed, perhaps), I still have a problem - works of a theoretical nature (or otherwise of derivative theoretical import) in history, anthropology, sociology, or not in academia at all are sometimes more directly philosophically relevant to what I have to say, given what I work on, than works that have been produced by folks housed in philosophy departments that are nominally on the same topic.
Indeed, we might well deny their last claim, thinking that the level of generality that many philosophical debates involve make a "literature review" on philosophical questions quite different from the sorts of reviews done in other disciplines.
On the PP reading: I'm quite convinced that the reading load of most philosophical questions, either of the move in a big game or direct philosophical question variety, would be manageable.
But I'm not sure why I should do this if the underlying normaitve principle was supposed to be clear relevance to the philosophical subject matter - that is, the normative consideration that motivated the FSR reading. If I had the standalone kind of research question - let's take "how do dog whistles work" again - there's no reason to think that a review of philosophy journals' statements about a phenomenon exhausts the material that would be theoretically relevant to the phenomenon of interest. In this case, it's something I'd expect historians, and activists, and journalists, and politicians to have thought about, and don't see any particular reason why I ought not consider what they had to say simply because they didn't explain their views on it in response to philosopher's debates. As a result, I'd expect the result of limiting a literature review to philosophy journals, to trigger "downstream waste of time, trees, and cognitive resources associated with...reinvention of wheels" via resultant extradisciplinary citation/learning failures.
2) Second, in some cases doing a full literature survey may indeed involve a significant commitment of time. But this front-end commitment is small—less onerous, overall—when compared to the downstream waste of time, trees, and cognitive resources associated with problems (failure to register existing responses to objections, inaccurate presentation of dialectics, reinvention of wheels, etc.) commonly generated by failures to read and cite relevant literature.
FSR: I simply don't believe that a full literature survey on an FSR view would tend to be a manageable size - at least, again, on the kind of philosophical question that is not essentially a move in a larger philosophical debate. I'll again cop to having a looser sense of "clearly relevant" than most (how are we possibly going to know if our putatively general moral norms are bourgeois propaganda without appealing to a sociology of and economic mapping of informal labor sectors COME ON YALL), Krishnamurthy and Wilson have said that we should err on the side of inclusion, and I suspect that even middle grounds between prevailing norms of relevance and mine would also generate impossibly large reading lists.
Finally, and most importantly, the time commitment aspect of the K-W norm increases the cost disparity between asking the "move in a big game philosophers are already playing" kind of research question and the "independent import" kind of research question. If the latter question selects for philosophers of historically marginalized backgrounds then this consideration disproportionately burdens at least some of the philosophers it is intended to help.
PP: Again, it seems like one could sludge through a large reading list narrowed down to philosophy journals on with time left to apply for tenure. Maybe the resultant uptake of the unjustly undercited philosophers would change the contours of whatever philosophical debates are going on, but the extradisciplinary problem still would seem to loom pretty large.
Interestingly enough though, the door swings the right way with respect to the costs for different kinds of research questions - the less philosophers have said about something, the easier it is to fulfill the PP interpretation of the K-W norm, and so time commitment as prescribed by the K-W is a dimension which is reparative with respect to the cost disparity between big game questions and independent import research questions. But I'm not sure this is a net feature rather than a bug. Someone who has read Charles Mills, Naomi Zack, and Kwame Appiah might be well on their way to getting the lay of the land on the metaphysics of race as debated in philosophy departments - it's harder to say that an English speaking academic has the lay of the land with respect to the debate on the metaphysics of race full stop without some familiarity of the arguments of a grip of other folks (Barbara Fields, Karen Fields, Molefi Asante, W.E.B. DuBois, Saidiya Hartman, E. Franklin Frazier, Paul Gilroy, Herskovits, Omi and Winant...) and so we could always ask if one side is winning in the literature because it's better of if its winning because of who's here (lowkey...we could probably always ask this anyway tho). We'd have to be careful about how we interpret successful responses to all the "available" objections.
Conclusion: Be Like Kids in Candy Stores?
I prefer a solution in the FSR spirit, where the phenomena of interest do the ruling of sources in and out. Unfortunately I don't have any cool advice about how to decide what's relevant, and I don't share Krishnamurthy and Wilson's optimism about the ease of generating or of completing a reading list decided on this basis. But I think that reconstruction of our reading and citing practices ought to be, on a discipline-wide view at any rate, an epistemically reparative response to the conditions that have produced the scholarship we've inherited. To succeed in that, we'll need lots of people's help, and I doubt that all or even most of the people whose help we need were or are publishing in philosophy journals. There are already plenty of subgenres of philosophy where broad citation across some disciplinary boundaries is a norm: mind, language, and phil sci seem like places where this is often done pretty well as far as I can tell. I don't have much of anything to say about how the discipline level reparative goal should connect to norms about the practices of individual researchers yet.
But I would recommend, in the FSR spirit of things, a Kid in a Candy Store epistemic norm: talk to a colleague who works on your phenomenon, whether they're a philosopher or not. Read a book that looks like a maybe. And another one. And another one. And another one. And another one.