“Quoted in:” is it plagiarism?

Reading this blog entry at the Little Professor put me in mind of all the times I have seen articles and papers (and not just by students) that offer a quotation from an author and then source it by saying “quoted in” X (where X is some other book).

Is this plagiarism?

Whether or not it is plagiarism it is indicative of intellectual laziness. If I say:

“disease is no longer a pathological species inserting itself into the body wherever possible; it is the body itself that has become ill” (Foucault 1973, quoted in Rose 2007: 43)

you will know I have not looked at the original. This gives license to the reader not to take what I write too seriously.

But what if I use the quote but don’t say “quoted in”? The LP argues, correctly I think, that if (say) Rose altered the quotation here for his own argument and then we quoted that altered quotation without citing it, this in fact does constitute plagiarism. An equally serious case is where we derive a quote from a source and just use original quote without consulting that original source: that is blatant plagiarism and bad scholarship.

I think LP’s last point is a good summary(it happens to mention Foucault but that’s not important):

More to the point: aren’t most of us trained to reserve “qtd. in” for emergent occasions, to deal with texts that we have no chance of seeing? Medieval manuscripts in Icelandic monasteries are one thing; Michel Foucault is quite another.

This issue has another angle: what if by reading Rose I discover a text by Foucault I wasn’t previously aware of. Am I obliged to cite Rose as well to avoid “citation plagiarism”? Consensus opinion would probably be “no.”

LP links to this blog entry at the Language Log which discusses how this got started, namely the dispute between Finkelstein and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, a rather unlovely man who allegedly interfered in Finkelstein’s tenure process.

LL sez:

References serve a number of purposes:

  • They provide authority for the statement cited.
  • They allow the reader to check the accuracy of the citation.
  • They allow the reader to obtain further information about the cited point.
  • They point the reader to a potential source of additional references.
  • They demonstrate that the author is aware of the source.
  • They give credit to the originator of the idea or words.

The author who obtains a reference via an intermediate source and does not alert the reader to this fact does not thereby fail in respect of any of the above. In all of these respects, the reader obtains precisely the same benefit from the reference. Furthermore, the source of the words or ideas receives the credit for them.

I would tend to agree. Additionally, we’re taught not to cite texts unless they have a direct bearing on the argument or are themselves quoted from. But quoting another text “through” an intermediate text without acknowledgment [added: and without consulting the original text] is clearly wrong, not because it is plagiarism (which it is) but because it is bad scholarship.

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5 Responses

  1. I find the tension between the logic of the two virtues you identify interesting. Firstly the logic of proper credit that would in some sense suggest that one should give credit to the intermediary, failing to do so becomes, you say, plagiarism. Then the logic of authority, whereby it is more scholarly to go back to the original, else, as you say, the reader is licensed to take what you write less seriously. These two logics remain in harmony if one doesn’t go back, as the writer acknowledges their debt and leaves explicit the provenance of the text.

    However… While the protocols of debt might make one inclined to leave in your source (albeit there are other ways as in your “LP links to this blog entry”). The protocols of authority would suggest that the better course is to go back to the original, read it, and cite from it thereby marking one’s own scholarly resource. Thinking of it in this way, it is the pressure of authority, which regards “qtd. in” as lackadaisical that creates the drive to plagiarise. It also reproduces authority in canonical ways that serve to consolidate particular names and avenues of research.

    Apropos of your comment to the post on Hacking, the ethics seem to turn on this question of the dutiful genius author, where a lack of citational propriety diminishes the value of the text through the function of the author. There are excellent disciplinary, political and alter-ethical reasons not to cite Marx and Heidegger and in even discussing the reasons for not naming them, one invokes and reproduces them.

    Perhaps “What is an Author?” provides an interesting direction for this. Particularly from pages 135-6 in the 1980 Cornell paperback edition of _language, counter-memory, practice_ (or is there an online version of this somewhere):
    “The barrier imposed by omission was not added from the outside; it arises from the discursive practice in question, which gives it its law… it is always a return to a text in itself, specifically, to a primary and unadorned text with particular attention to those things registered in the interstices of the text, its gaps and absences…[as a disciplinary distinction a] study of Galileo’s works could alter our knowledge of the history, but not the science, of mechanics; whereas a re-examination of the books of Freud or Marx can transform our understanding of psychoanalysis or Marxism.”

  2. I think that the first case of quotation it’s not an honest intellectual attitude, but in cases we need to use a extremelly rare and inaccesible text, quotation becomes inneludible (what about the archive documents the work of Focuault were based in for example?).

    Cheers for this excellent blog and sorry about my english. Salut

  3. Absolutely. I was wondering if someone would mention the normal practice of blogs acknowledging where they got info from (the “hat-tip” or h/t). Interesting that here is a “norm” that we’re ok with–not all norms are “bad.”

    The tension you cite arises when someone is clearly influenced by a body of work but does not cite it frequently or “sufficiently.” Foucault was of course accused of this with regard to Heidegger and especially Marx, and he protested about that accusation. One wonders if it was an attempt to defuse those avenues of authority whereby the same canonical authors are always invoked (as you say).

    That there are still yet other influences and texts lurking in the interstices of your writing, even if you are an assiduous acknowledger is well-known (not too difficult to guess the one in that previous clause, huh?).

  4. just a quick comment – you also have to keep in mind that access to many texts is not equal among scholars, and particularly student-scholars. while you may inclined to think a student is lazy or a poor scholar for citing ‘as cited in’, the assumption is that the scholar is in some way aware of the importance and/or nature of the other text/source being cited. the second assumption is that the scholar has access to all texts, which simply isn’t the case. so then the case becomes does a scholar omit a timely quote, thought or idea that would diminish his or her arguement simply for the sake of not appearing to be “serious” about what he or she is writing. i think that would be the first and primary case of bad scholarship in-principle to consider, prior to any consideration of a best-practices exercise around how to cite and quote other works most appropriately.

  5. Ted–

    So among student there could be a practice which indicates they tried and failed to get a primary or original source. eg., a note by quotes indicating “original not available” or some other indication. That way they don’t have to omit a relevant quote.

    At GSU students have the same access to journal articles and books as anyone else, including faculty. But I’m sure there are occasions when a book is checked out and not retrievable in the time available for finishing a paper (eg 2 weeks).

    But often we see students (or worse, book authors, who are usually more experienced and have more time) not going to available sources.

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