My Word! Plagiarism and College Culture, by Susan D. Blum. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 2009. Located at: First Floor, New Book Display: PN 167 .B48 2009; also available online for SHU users via eBrary.
University undergraduate students and faculty live in two different cultural communities and their understandings of plagiarism and originality differ profoundly. Blum presents plagiarism as (for faculty) rooted in Enlightenment discussions of ideas, words, expression, individual originality, and sources –summed up in the concept of “authenticity.” But students live performative lives –surrounded by texts via chat, texting (text is now a verb), and view performative quotation and allusion very differently from adult norms of attribution.
Plagiarism involves, according to Blum, and spectrum of behaviors from outright intentional deception (purchasing a paper to be submitted as one’s own) to casual or uninformed quotation and appropriation of text. Academic disciplines vary in their approach to quotation: when does a cliché (if the shoe fits …) become a literary allusion (the best of times, the worst of times) become unsourced appropriation and potential plagiarism? Students are actually very sophisticated in their use of quotation and other textual reference, but their norms differ from those enforcing originality in academe. The previous sentence is actually quoted from page 27 –academic norms require that I attribute it to Blum; but if I loosely paraphrased the same content without attribution, am I committing plagiarism?
An anthropologist, Blum bases her study on interviews carried out by four trained students; 234 people participated in 154 interviews (“a few involving more than one student” –so there’s quotation marks!) and 32 conversations resulting in more than 5,000 pages of transcripts. She studied “Saint U” –probably a more “competitive” university than Sacred Heart University although many of Blum’s findings seem directly relevant to this context. Her chapter “Growing Up in the College Bubble” should be required of all faculty and staff. This is thought-provoking material about a serious concern which evades simplistic policies and processes.