Inequities of Race, Place, and Gender Among the Communication Citation Elite, 2000–2019

Deen Freelon, Meredith L Pruden, Kirsten A Eddy, Rachel Kuo

Journal of Communication


Communication Studies, Education, Gender, Methods, Race

Who are you citing? In communication studies, the most cited authors are skewed even more white and male than previously thought.

Principal researcher Deen Freelon, and coauthors Meredith Pruden, Kirsten Eddy, and Rachel Kuo published a study detailing the degree to which race, gender, and location affect who gets cited in the top journals in the communication field. “Inequities of race, place, and gender among the communication citation elite, 2000–2019,” published in Journal of Communication, identifies a group of 1,675 highly cited communication scholars. As people cited the most often in the top communication journals, these scholars are the discipline’s “power elite;” their work disproportionately shapes what theories and research questions are considered valuable significant to the discipline. Building on previous work documenting serious inequalities in the field, Freelon and his collaborators show that these disparities are even more pronounced among top citations.

These “Elite” are 91.5% white, 74.3 male, and 78.6% located in the United States. These percentages are even more skewed white and male than general citation statistics found in previous work. And it gets worse when you apply an intersectional lens: among the 23 elite communication scholars who are Hispanic or Latine, only five are women. Of the 14 Black scholars in this elite group, only one is a woman (and she is employed by a department outside of communication studies).

Every single citation can “reify or resist” these inequities. For scholars seeking to resist these trends, the authors offer a series of recommendations:

  1. Review the reference lists for your recent publications, presentations, course syllabi, and teaching pedagogy. Take note of how many citations claim to represent “universal” or “generalizable” theory and ask whether they apply only to Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) countries and people.
  2. Prioritize diversity in your reading lists. When searching for new scholarship, always begin with those written by scholars from underrepresented groups. Follow other work by these scholars, take note of whom they are citing, and read those publications too.
  3. Seek out responses to and critiques of longstanding or foundational work in the field, particularly those approaching this work through the lens of equity or diversity, and include these perspectives in your work.
  4. Diversify the locations you cite. What are the origins of the literature you most frequently cite? Are they mostly WEIRD? Consider the broader global applicability (or lack thereof) of your work. Cite examples of similar issues occurring in other countries beyond your geographic region, or reconsider how your work can be more globally applicable and engage with scholarship that supports that endeavor.
  5. Draw from existing resources aimed at equitable citation practices, such as AEJMC’s Inclusive Citation (iCite) Project, Women Also Know StuffPeople of Color Also Know Stuff#CiteASistaRockefeller Inclusive Science Initiative, Community of Online Research Assignments (Project CORA), Communication Scholars for Transformation, and The University of British Columbia’s Decolonization and Anti-Racism guide.
  6. If you are active on social media, diversify your academic following to be exposed to new arguments and research.
  7. Structural steps to increase citational justice include adding citation diversity statements to journal “About” pages; for journals to include the race and gender proportions of cited authors (aided by software that automatically detects these quantities [e.g., Alcantara Castillo et al., 2020]); diversifying journal editorial boards, associate editor teams, and referee invitations; and providing journal authors the option of submitting and publicizing their own demographic information in their articles.

As Stewart Coles added in sharing the study, “The striking thing about this study is not that whites, men, & USians are overrepresented among the communication citation elites—we been knew that. Rather, it's the startling degree to which this overrepresentation exists and persists. May this move the conversation forward.”