The complicated problem of referencing other people’s thinking

The following sentence templates will help you to be able to clearly state one scholars position versus that of another scholar. It will also help you to distinguish their views from your own.

Whereas X argues [ provide summary ], Y states [ provide summary]. The significance of this difference lies in [ your opinion ].

Proponents of X are right to argue that [ x ], but they are wrong when they claim [ y ].

Here is an elegant example of how to refer to other people’s ideas. It is taken from an article in The Nation. The basic outline of what they do here is:

1. They identify two thinkers (Rosanvallon and Judt) and they begin by summarizing their position.

2. They describe who those people are: one is an Anglo-American historian, and the other is a French sociologist.

3. They then provide citations from those two thinkers (identifying the subtlety of their different points). (In green, below, is the sentence I find most accomplished). But you can also find, in the subsequent paragraph, another elegant way that the authors summarize Rosanvallon and Judt.

4. Lastly, note the way the authors transition to another idea. I’ve only included the first two sentences of the next paragraph, but it’s clear from these that a new idea is coming. 


The nostalgic camp is occupied by figures as various as Pierre Rosanvallon and the late Tony Judt. In the wake of the neoliberal revolutions of the 1980s and the Soviet collapse, Judt, an Anglo-American historian, and Rosanvallon, a French sociologist, argue that the pursuit of material self-interest became central to the way we live now. Inequality rapidly rose, and living standards for average citizens rapidly fell. “Wealth creators,” from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg, became cultural heroes. Worst of all, in good part because Marxism lost what remained of its residual prestige by the 1980s, we became “unable to conceive of alternatives,” in Judt’s phrase, or to imagine a “society of equals,” in Rosanvallon’s. With no alternative vision to aspire to, we have come to think of even the most obviously unjust aspects of our contemporary economic order as inevitable.

The response that Judt and Rosanvallon call for is simple: reject the idea that there are no alternatives. Once we have done so, we will have the courage to reassert the primacy of politics over economics by creating a more equal society. Some of our old institutional arrangements may need to be adjusted to contain the noxious effects of globalization, but the heyday of the egalitarian past provides a clear enough guide for a more egalitarian future. For Judt, winning the good fight is a matter of reviving, with slight modifications, the social-democratic welfare state that came into bloom in Western Europe and the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For Rosanvallon, the fall from grace occurred earlier. He sees the historical sweet spot for democratic equality in the last decades of the nineteenth century, when Western European governments, in response to the “first globalization,” invented new forms of social redistribution and social insurance. For him, new ways need to be found to cushion citizens from another phase of global capitalist integration.

The vision of the nostalgic camp is undoubtedly attractive. But as much as we might like to live in the world that Judt and Rosanvallon evoke, it does not mean that we can.

You can find the whole article on The Nation’s website, here. It’s worth paying attention to the way published writers manage to discuss each other’s thought, especially when it is as superbly done as  it is here.


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