Critical Feminism in the Archives

Marika Cifor, Stacy Wood


Through the use of feminist historiography this article examines some of the myriad ways in which feminist praxis has pushed against, challenged, enriched, dismantled, assimilated or otherwise affected archival theory and practice. We contend that archival theory and practice have yet to fully engage with a feminist praxis that is aimed at more than attaining better representation of women in archives. We begin this piece by tracing the ways in which archives became embedded in feminist social movements and can be understood as critical tools and modes of self-representation and self-historicization. In the second section, we consider the explicit presence of feminist theory in archival studies literature and contemporary practice, the key focal points and arguments that have challenged traditional understandings of archival work around gender. We then address, in the third section, the expansive figure of the archives in humanities and social science literature. This piece contributes significantly to thinking on the ways in which these conversations in the archival turn can, at their best, expose blind spots within the archival literature and provide us with theoretical tools to tackle what we take for granted. Finally, we offer ways in which we see critical and intersectional feminist theory can contribute to existing archival discourse and practice, critiquing concepts that have remained unquestioned such as community and organization. This piece exposes the transformational potential of feminism for archives and of archives for dismantling the heteronormative, capitalist and racist patriarchy.


archives; feminism; critical theory

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