Works Cited

The meticulous art of post-graduate source citing does not operate in India as it does in the other parts of the world. Many student theses in the School of Architecture and Planning do not contain a source page; Wikipedia is considered an acceptable footnote. I have gotten used to this and enjoy reaching the conclusion of these PhD’s. They are short and profound, much like the statements I find in my fortune cookies.

Moments ago however, I had the shocking experience of discovering blatant plagiarism, not within a student body of work, but by bona-fide researchers presenting at a conference.

For the 3rd IIMA Conference on Marketing Paradigms for Emerging Economies, scholars Shelja J. Kuruvilla and Nishank Joshi discuss patterns of consumption in malls and how it influences demographics. To quote:

For the Indian mass affluent, the call of the mall is proving irresistible.  The packed parking lots, busy food courts and restaurants, crowded anchor stores and noisy gaming arcades at the malls bear testimony to this alluring call. The secret of the lure of the mall lies in its mass appeal–it has something on offer for everyone in the family. The fact that a mall offers experience and not just goods is a major attraction….

I maintained a steady focus while reading their work, turning a blind eye to sentence structure and word choice. Persevering to the end of the essay, I was rewarded with a works cited, one of which is “The Best Malls in India,” by M. Mitra. To my great surprise, this exact paragraph was the opening of Mitra’s article!

Although Kuruvilla and Joshi do cite Mitra at the end of their paragraph, they don’t put quote marks around Mitra’s words, and thus insinuate a paraphrasing of Mitra’s ideas. Because “(Mitra, 2006)” comes at the end of Kuruvilla and Joshi’s (run on) paragraph, it is completely unclear which ideas are the source of Mitra and which are the source of Kuruvilla and Joshi.

Okay. I know plagiarism exists, just as I know there are mafias, corrupt politicians, and black markets. However, I’ve never found myself in the exact center of plagiarism’s tangled web.

Or have I?

If I was to produce a paper using this idea of the secrete lure of the mall would I reference Kuruvilla and Joshi, Mitra, or both?

Or would l reference neither? Please don’t quote me on this, but I’m pretty sure that the image of the mall as an alluring site of consumption is no secrete within the academic world.

So, if every idea has always already been thought about and written about, how the hell do we find the proper source of reference? Caveat: in the event of anyone reading this blog, please do not attribute this question to me. I would instead suggest Googling “Deconstruction” or visiting your nearest Linguistics, Philosophy, or English department for legitimate sources.

But let me return to India and my struggle to understand proper source citing. India established a Right to Information Act in 2005. This act “mandates timely response to citizen requests for government information.”

A visiting professor from Australia, but native Chennaite explained it to me like this: in America, we pay taxes  that the government uses toward data collection, such as the census. Because this data is publicly funded, it is information for public domain. In India, taxes may go toward data collection but the government is under no obligation to post this information on line or even disclose it to other governmental departments.

RTI was created to combat this avoiding of source disclosure. However, many feel it is a way for the government to acknowledge the right to information without actually making information any more readily available to citizens.

So, in this case, plagiarism isn’t an issue because the information is not available. The issue is then the fabrication of information. Many governmental departments continue to conduct their own mini censuses in order to produce specific information related to their own research. For the visiting academic, this is somewhat confusing. The national Indian census might record the population of Mamallapuram as 12, 345, but figures given to me by the  local New Town Development Authority office indicate a population of 12, 045. Should I be worried about a 300 person discrepancy?

Everything in India is written down, recorded, and filed away somewhere. When you walk into the library, you write your name, the date and time. When you go to inquire about a train schedule you write your name, sex, marital status, age, and address on a slip of paper which is collected and skewered onto a metal stick, but never thrown away.

Where does this information go and how is it used?

My conclusion about the juxtaposition between a) the obsessive desire to meticulously record banal information (such as train times), b) the RTI’s overall lack of success to bring information to the public domain, and c) the lax nature of source attribution when it comes to academic research is interesting but problematic for an anal graduate student like myself.

One Response to “Works Cited”
  1. Shankar says:

    Morgan, I find your blog articles quite interesting and thought provoking. It gives a new perspective to look at things that I have experienced so personally. I do agree that plagiarism is rampant in Indian academia. This is not a reflection of a fact that we Indians hardly come up with original ideas. The academia is structured in such a way that it is a miracle if a student comes up with a good idea. I can speak up from my own undergraduate experience.

    First off, consider the knowledge resources at a disposal of a student. The libraries are more like a text book bank with hardly any good collection of reference books or academic journals. In fact if I remember correct the number of titles in my University library is comparable to the size of Highland Park public library.

    Secondly, the quality of teaching is abysmal in most of the higher ed institutions (with the exception of elite IIT/IIM/IISCs). It is usually the de-motivated (aka unemployed) post-graduates that enter the system as teachers. In course of time, they earn their PhDs under the same dysfunctional system and eventually perpetuate the status quo.

    Thirdly, the thrust on academic research is completely absent in Indian academia. Universities lack the money to fund research, support graduate students or come up with ideas that could contribute to the pursuit of knowledge.

    Finally, the blame is also on the students themselves (that includes me). A sad reality in Indian higher-ed is that students still think that a ‘rote learning’ paradigm would work at college level as well. Most courses are graded by a single exam in the end of the semester. If you are smart enough, you could slog for a week and clear your papers with good grades.

    I could go on with my lamentation but I am going stop here. Keep up the good work!

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