Tag Archives: panopticism

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?

Digital Curation & Preservation: At what cost?

brainIt continues to astound me on this MLIS course how many ideas, theories and practices blindly press ahead with the supposed ‘advancement’ of the industry without ever addressing important fundamental questions about the underlying nature, impact and value of the work being undertaken. It also amazes me at how information studies academics continue to theorise while passively ignoring the poststructuralist theory that has been informing many other disciplines uninterrupted for the last 50 years. Reading Helen Shenton’s work has left me no less bemused.

Digital curation and preservation takes as its starting point the mantra ‘we must preserve’ without ever asking whether or not it is right, or indeed valuable to preserve. Poststructuralism has worked hard to ensure that history and culture are not controlled as homogenous entities, but digital curation is now threatening to undo much of that good work. Poststructuralism is a theory of language that denies words as static culture building objects, and instead views language as a highly dispersive subjective heterogenous experience. It is the theory that underlies so much of our achievements in the last 50 years. It lead to the feminist movement, to the reconceptualisation of history as a discipline, and to the destruction of periodisation in literature. With real world artifacts we still have the potential to make new discoveries about the past. However, with born-digital objects which only have a lifespan of up to 25 years, we will not have the capacity to re-write the past through new discoveries. As a result, the digital curators of today are essentially the historians of tomorrow. The files that they choose to save will create a static history that cannot be questioned in the future. Howard Zinn, a postmodern historian argued that history has traditionally been written by those who win wars. Digital Curation, which is funded by governments or private organizations, is in danger of destroying the culture it is aiming to preserve in what could be become a Big Brother like scenario.


Helen Shenton’s work in ‘Virtual reunification, virtual preservation and enhanced conservation’ focuses on the digitisation of dispersed works. It is in many ways a hugely interesting project, but it needs to be taken to question about its real underlying value. It is disturbing that Shenton’s work has as its goal ‘reunification’. This word summons forth a whole litany of other terms like ’empire’, ‘colonisation’, ‘power’, ‘race’, ‘slavery’ and ‘control’ to name but a few. This word inherently references imperialism at a time when the breaking apart of the United kingdom has become a real possibility in the near future. The fact that some important texts exist in a dispersed format is in itself culturally significant because it is indicative of the breaking apart of empire itself. Bringing these texts together has the potential to create a false narrative and a homogenous cultural discourse, and in this sense Shenton, like many of her contemporary information professionals, uses an outmoded form of structuralism to inform her ideas. She argues, in relation to the Sinaiticus Project, that it requires ‘the production of an historical account of the document’ that needs to be objective. The very idea that a homogenous ‘objective’ narrative is being added to these documents is a regulating process that ignores the lessons learned in the arts through poststructuralism. Structuralism is also implicitly referenced in the layer of information in the form of digital links over the manuscripts, which again inherently asserts control and authority over the material. Shenton has not stopped to ask what is the cost of such a project. Nor has she asked why the British Library feel as though they have the right to oversee the reunification of material from different cultures around the world.

The British Library is not only collecting material, but they are seeking to play a role in culture building. I thought the function of a library was to provide non-judgemental access to information. Shenton talks about ‘enhancing’ culture through diplomacy insofar as cultural diplomacy can play a role in international relations. It shows that there is an implicit and dangerous politics behind these preservation projects. Questions need to be posed regarding for whom is the British Library attempting to play a role in international relations and to what end? This project seems to be going beyond simply collecting material, but is ‘using’ material to re-tell an old story of empire. It feeds into an attempt by governments to create and control fake grand narratives. Howard Zinn’s principle of postmodern history was a way of challenging power by telling history through dispersed narratives. Shenton’s digitisation project runs the risk of more easily cutting off avenues to the past for us here in the present, but more dangerously, for people in the future. It poses the danger of manipulating information in ways that reassert a new kind of imperialism, a new homogeny of information, and an oppressive future in which subjectivity is no longer valued.


IT = Innovative Management System or Panoptic Hegemonic Control


Fatat Bouraad, in ‘The Emerging Operations Manager’, puts forward the thesis that the increasing reliance on IT services and IT skills based staff needs a framework in order to develop new methods of management. This is because as IT becomes more prevalent, new methods of observing, evaluating and managing staff also emerges, allowing for shifts in management styles. However, I think it is important to ask whether we are managing staff through IT, or whether IT is becoming a mechanism for a more totalitarian style of management in which the machine allows for an even more strict top down management style?

I recently read an article by Mike Sosteric called ‘Endowing Mediocrity’ in which the author posits that IT in all forms comes from an increasingly prevalent surveillance culture within business, education and social media forms of expression. This surveillance is of course facilitated more easily through the use of IT, but rather than creating a more flat structure, it tends more towards a deceitful panopticism. Sosteric (1999) argues that “Panoptic systems thus function as systems of behavioural and ideational (hegemonic) manipulation and control.” So Bouraad may argue that IT allows for greater efficiency and a tendency towards a flat system, but he also argues for a framework through which this flat system should operate which is somewhat contradictory. There needs to be an understanding that as we move more into the realms of IT based systems, that all of our actions are constantly under surveillance by the hierarchy that we work within.

Snapshot 2009-08-07 15-32-18

Furthermore, modern communication systems were actually designed to create greater control over human targets. I use this language deliberately. Norbert Weiner is the father of modern IT based communication systems. He developed these as a way of controlling military missiles during flight so that they could become more accurate. The endgame was always to gain greater control over the end user/ target. The same system is now used in modern computing. In the ‘know how to be’ stage of regulating new operations management theory, Bouraad argues that employees must remain up to date in order to developed a continued propensity towards innovation. However, innovation rarely comes about within an environment of surveillance. Most companies are either trying to control employees or they are attempting to control the consumer habits of targeted customers. Information industries have been contributing to this manipulation of end user increasingly through the spread of Big Data and internet monitoring. These issues do have serious implications for libraries also as they move more towards digital and online forms of dissemination. We should of course embrace the many benefits that IT give us, but we should never lose sight of where this IT has come from and the negative impact it can have on the personal liberty of our information professionals and the public they serve.