Diversity in citations

Kimberley Crofts
3 min readAug 2, 2021

EDIT: I have just come across this useful tool to assess gender balance in bibliographies. It is from Jane Lawrence Sumner, Assistant Professor, Dept. of Political Science, University of Minnesota. It came to my attention via the very excellent book Pollution is Colonialism by Max Liboiron.

Yesterday, having completed a first draft of my literature review I decided to analyse my citations for diversity. At first I looked for a tool online where I could just copy/paste my bibliography. But then I realised that I needed to put in the work and to analyse manually. Through taking the time to search for people’s full names and backgrounds, and the way that they identified, I learned a bit more about them. One of my colleagues said that the design scholar Terry Irwin uses people’s full names to bring back some humanity to citing. I like this.

Pie chart shows 48% white men, 46% white women and 6% of POC/Indigenous people in citations
Lack of diversity in citations. Pie chart.

The results, as you can see, are less than diverse. Of the 393 individuals cited (duplicates removed), 194 are white males and 164 are white females from the global north. Then the numbers drop significantly. I have cited 12 females and six males of colour from the global north. From the global south there are six men and three women. I’ve cited three white, non-binary academics from the global north. And only three male and two female Indigenous scholars. What is also terrible is that when I made this pie chart in Google Sheets, females from the global south and Indigenous people didn’t even get their own axis label. I had to put those in manually. Racism in graphical form, as it did give a label to white non-binary people from the global north (see below).

Pie chart without axis labels for Indigenous or global south people
Pie chart with missing labels for Indigenous people and females from the global south

Although I am pleasantly surprised that the gender balance between men and women is high in my citations, there is a woeful representations of non-white, global south, and Indigenous academics. But perhaps this is not surprising. As a colleague said to me when I told them I was doing this as an exercise, “Kimberley, you have to remember that the academy is not exactly welcoming to diverse peoples”. Yep.

I also have to remember that my research is looking at regional Australia. Somewhere that is not exactly diverse. Having said this, the main thrust of my research is to increase participation in decision making, so there should be more diversity in the people who are telling these stories.

In exquisite timing, last night a tweet from NY Times journalist Jodi Kantor was posted into my timeline. It shows a set of questions on the wall of her daughter’s classroom that reads:

Always ask yourself,

Who writes the stories?

Who benefits from the stories?

Who is missing from the stories?

Tweet from @jodikantor

Who writes the stories about participation and design? Who benefits and who is missing? What are we missing in scholarship when we only hear the stories about participation from those who already hold the power? How is our practice influenced because we are only hearing stories about participation from people who already hold power?

‘Qwhite’ obviously, my citing needs some decolonising. I haven’t looked deeply enough from stories from non-white academics, and that will be my next task. If you know of any non-white academics, practitioners, or lay public who are writing about participation and design, particularly if they have an interest in sustainable transitions, please let me know.



Kimberley Crofts

Strategic designer and researcher on a quest for sustainable futures through a PhD in participatory methods.