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Stevens, Anne H. and Jay Williams. "The Footnote, in Theory."

Stevens, Anne H. and Jay Williams. "The Footnote, in Theory." Critical Inquiry 32.2 (Winter 2006): 208-225. [link]

Having just recommended this article to Jenny, I thought I'd throw up a quick description and some notes, and make it more widely visible.


"we sought to investigate how theory is transmitted through notes, what sorts of conversations are held below the main text, and to thus discover in a different sort of way the identity of our journal" (208)

The essay presents the results of the authors' tabulation of footnoted citations from 30+ years of the journal. They begin with a list of 147 names, compiled by the staff, and counted the number of times that each was cited (counting only the first citation of any given text, but counting each of separate texts by the same author). (212)

Table 1: Citations of Theorists, divided into 5 year periods
Table 2: Most frequently cited theorists (top 10 lists) per 5-year period
Table 3: The 95 most frequently cited overall (Derrida, Freud, Foucault, Benjamin, Barthes...)

Followed by discussion of trends in footnoting within the journal, some review of related projects.

222: "theoretical canon" that's emerged alongside literary canon
223-224: microtrends (e.g. cultural anthropology citations, emerging figures and areas)


This is a nice, solid example of the kind of work that we're working to enable over at CCC Online, and the kind of claims about disciplinarity that work in citational networks can make possible. Stevens and Williams draw on very basic information, and limit the scope of their inquiry in advance, but are able to note several trends about the journal and its identity based upon their tabulations.

One of the things worth expanding in this piece, if I had my druthers, is the extremely limited sense of information design here. Although there are a couple of charts laid out in the article, there are lots of opportunities for potentially more informative information designs that ultimately go neglected. That's not a criticism, although I suppose it sounds like one. And such design would be limited in b/w certainly, but still. With the data they gathered, there are all sorts of possibilities.

For example, imagine a Flash graph that allowed you to compare, by checkboxing their names, any of the theorists on their list, immediately highlighting a plotted year-by-year path along a chronological x-axis and a citational y-axis. That'd be slick. And no, not possible in the pages of Critical Inquiry. But given that kind of tool, it would be possible to contrast 3-5 thinkers simultaneously on a b/w graph. Or to do the same with some of the interdisciplines they cite.

So think of this less as critique and more as exciting possibility, I suppose. There's an argument to be made, and I'll move towards it eventually, that visualization is as important a part of this as anything. I'll probably touch on this as I get to Randall Collins and Franco Moretti.

For the moment, though, this is a nice example of the kind of potentially rich data that even a simple yes/no tabulation of citations can generate.