This paper examines the proximity of authors to those they cite using degrees of separation in a co-author network, essentially using collaboration networks to expand on the notion of self-citations. While the proportion of direct self-citations (including co-authors of both citing and cited papers) is relatively constant in time and across specialties in the natural sciences (10% of references) and the social sciences (20%), the same cannot be said for citations to authors who are members of the co-author network. Differences between fields and trends over time lie not only in the degree of co-authorship which defines the large-scale topology of the collaboration network, but also in the referencing practices within a given discipline, computed by defining a propensity to cite at a given distance within the collaboration network. Overall, there is little tendency to cite those nearby in the collaboration network, excluding direct self-citations. These results are interpreted in terms of small-scale structure, field-specific citation practices, and the value of local co-author networks for the production of knowledge and for the accumulation of symbolic capital. Given the various levels of integration between co-authors, our findings shed light on the question of the availability of ‘arm’s length’ expert reviewers of grant applications and manuscripts.
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