Most students and scholars learn the disciplinary conventions regarding citation and never think about them again. But citation practices vary widely both between and within disciplines, and once you’re past the dissertation, you have far more flexibility in choosing your own citation style than you think. To be sure, academic journals have their own house styles for articles. The 2009 style guide for all journals of the American Anthropological Association states: “All references must be cited in author-date form; all author-date citations must be referenced,” and the guide provides detailed instructions for how to use the author-date format for e-mails, websites, brochures, and other eclectic materials.
But where did these conventions originate and how did they come to anthropology? The standard of in-text author-date citation derives from something called the “Harvard style,” which originated in the field of zoology. In 1881, the zoologist Edward Laurens Mark published an important paper on the garden slug wherein he included the first parenthetical author-date citation. This system spread out from zoology to other natural sciences where the author’s name and the date of the publication are the two most important pieces of information. Prior to Mark’s invention of the author-date referencing system, footnotes were sprinkled randomly throughout the text and signaled by asterisks and other printer’s marks. The author-date system streamlined citations and favored brevity and clarity.
As those working in the social and behavioral fields increasingly aspired to be considered “scientists,” they adopted the author-date system. Footnotes and endnotes were too humanistic for hard-boiled anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, economists and psychologists, and so it became necessary to scatter parenthetical citations throughout social scientific publications, ensuring that the work appeared more like biology than like history or literature.
Although journal style guidelines and dissertation norms dictate author-date citations, ethnographers should consider using endnotes whenever possible. Alfred Kroeber once said that, “Anthropology is the most humanistic of the sciences and the most scientific of the humanities,” and the kind of qualitative research methods that inform the writing of ethnography places the genre even further on the humanities side of the humanities-natural sciences spectrum. Endnotes are less distracting to a reader than author-date citation, which have the effect of constantly reminding that the article or book is a scholarly treatise. In text citations interrupt the narrative flow of a text with information that most readers find superfluous. If someone is truly keen to know your sources, they will check your endnotes.
Author-date citations are ill suited to the citation of works that have multiple editions (e.g. Marx  1974), or to prolific authors who publish multiple articles or books in the same year (e.g. Slavoj Zizek 2009a, 2009b, 2009c, 2009d). Furthermore, author-date citations prove unwieldy when citing non-academic references such as legal documents, websites, newspaper articles, blog posts, tweets, brochures, pamphlets, or other difficult to attribute sources.
Although I follow journal requirements for articles, I always use endnotes in my books. I wrote my dissertation with the requisite author-date citations, and it was in dialogue with my first editor at Duke University Press (the phenomenal Ken Wissoker) that I made the decision to switch to endnotes as I was revised the thesis into a book. Making the change from author-date to endnotes was a tedious process in those days before citation management software, but today I could press a button. Endnotes allow readers to concentrate on your words, and render books more welcoming to non-specialists and undergraduate students.
To investigate the relative distribution of author-date versus endnote citations., I pulled down a few armloads of books from my shelves. David Vallentine’s Imagining Transgender, Katherine Verdery’s The Vanishing Hectare, Amy Borovoy’s The Too-Good Wife, Carla Freeman’s High Tech and High Heels and Tom Boellstorff’s Coming of Age in Second Life all used in text author-date citations. On the other hand, Ruth Behar’s Translated Woman uses endnotes. Paul Stoller’s Embodying Colonial Memories: Spirit Possession, Power, and the Hauka in West Africa uses endnotes, as do Michael Herzfeld’s Evicted From Eternity: The Restructuring of Modern Rome and The Body Impolitic: Artisans and Artifice in the Global Hierarchy of Value. In Body and Soul, sociologist Loci Wacquant uses footnotes, as do Anne Allison and Ester Newton in Nightwork and Mother Camp respectively. A variety of different presses published these books, and even books published by the same press had different citation formats.
My brief survey shows that, at least for books, the citation format is a decision author’s make. If you find yourself in a position to make a choice, do not blindly follow disciplinary conventions because you think it will make your work appear more “scientific.” Many university press editors prefer endnotes, and will be more than willing to accommodate your choice. Citations exist so you can acknowledge the influences on your work and the work of the scholars that came before you. It shouldn’t matter what style you use as long as the necessary information is there.