Skip to content
Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by transcript Verlag June 15, 2021

Pioneers and Feminisms

The Swedish Suffrage Movement as Archival Boundary Object

Rachel Pierce
From the journal Digital Culture & Society


Feminist historiography is rife with debates about the nature and boundaries of women’s movements. Arguments over who to call an activist or a feminist sit at the heart of these definitional debates, which provide the groundwork for how scholars understand contemporary feminisms. Given the heated nature of ongoing disputes over the complicated identity politics of feminism and its archives, it is surprising that scholars have afforded so little attention to the technical infrastructure that defines and provides access to digitized primary source material, which is increasingly the foundation for contemporary historical research. Metadata plays an outsized role in these definitions, especially for photographic material that cannot be made word-searchable but is favored by digitizers because of its popularity. This article uses qualitative content analysis to examine how two digital archives define the Swedish suffrage movement - a historically contested concept, here understood through the theory of Susan Leigh Star as a “boundary object” subject to “interpretive flexibility”. The study uses keywords attached to photographic material from the the National Resource Library for Gender Studies (KvinnSam) and metadata within the related Swedish Women’s Biographical Lexicon platform for women’s biographies. The findings indicate that the hierarchies of archival organization do not disappear with individual document digitization and description. Instead, the silences built into physical archives are redefined in digital collections, obscuring the tensions between individual and movement feminisms, as well as the contested nature of movement boundaries.

Published Online: 2021-06-15
Published in Print: 2020-12-01

© 2021 by transcript Verlag