In commenting on a paper, I raised a question about the mobilization of the literature in relation to a particular point an author was making. The point made by the author was, she said, an illustration of a phenomenon mentioned in the literature by four different authors. She cited all four at the end of the sentence. I added a note to the paper on the specific question of whether their were any tensions between these four works that she might have helped to resolve; or whether there were tensions between her work and theirs as a whole. In other words, I realized that the phrasing indicated complete and unambiguous complementarity between her work and theirs. And it struck me that this was a general issue in many papers I read. Authors frequently structure their citations to the literature as if there were complete and unambiguous complementarity, even when there is not. I think that, as an academic community, we would do well to be more nuanced in the way that we mobilize the literature in support of what we say. Perhaps we need to articulate the tensions in order to emphasize the precise aspects of complementarity between our work and previous research.
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