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.,_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

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