One of the world’s most eminent sociologists has included large amounts of self-plagiarised material in a dozen of his most recent books, an academic paper claims.
Last year, Times Higher Education reported allegations that Zygmunt Bauman, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Leeds and often hailed as the world’s greatest living sociologist, had included several unacknowledged passages in his 2013 book Does the Richness of the Few Benefit Us All? that were near-exact quotations from Wikipedia and other web resources. The book also allegedly included numerous passages from previous works written by Professor Bauman “without appropriate attribution”.
His accuser was Peter Walsh, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Cambridge. Now Mr Walsh and David Lehmann, emeritus reader in social science at Cambridge, have examined another 28 of Professor Bauman’s books, most of them among the 47 he has written since formally retiring in 1990.
In a paper posted on Academia.edu, “Problematic elements in the scholarship of Zygmunt Bauman”, they report that 12 of the books contain “substantial quantities of material that appear to have been copied near-verbatim and without acknowledgement from at least one of the other books sampled. Several books contain very substantial quantities of text – running into several thousands of words, and in the worst case almost twenty thousand – that have been reused from earlier Bauman books without acknowledgement”.
When journal articles are factored in, the total amount of what they deem to be self-plagiarised material amounts to about 90,000 words, mostly in works published since 2000, they say.
The authors also take issue with Professor Bauman’s response to the original allegations, in which he said that he had “never once failed to acknowledge the authorship of the ideas or concepts that I deployed, or that inspired the ones I coined”, but that he had always failed to spot “the influence of the obedience to technical procedural rules of quotations on the quality…of scholarship”.
They acknowledge that some academics do not regard self-plagiarism as a serious issue. But “by failing to indicate that substantial parts of his newly authored works are not in fact new, in any conventional sense of the term, but are instead copied from his earlier works, Bauman deceives his readers”, they say.
Both Professor Bauman and Polity, the publisher of many of his most recent books, declined to comment.
Irene Hames, an editorial and publishing consultant and a former journal editor and council member of the Committee on Publication Ethics, said that self-plagiarism – she preferred to call it “recycling” – was “a topic of considerable current discussion, confusion and varying viewpoints”.
“What is totally clear, though, is that there should always be total transparency about any previous publication (in the broadest sense) of a person’s intellectual or creative output, whatever it is,” she said.
Repeatedly reusing material without appropriate citation misleads editors, publishers and readers, she added, and also gave an author credit for more work than they have really done. It could also give the author’s findings or opinions “unwarranted weighting”, especially when the publications containing recycled material contain additional authors, whose names can lend additional weight to their positions.
“Appropriate citation is a central pillar of all scholarly work,” Dr Hames said.