The unbearable lightness of participating? Revisiting the discourses of 'participation' in archival literature

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Huvila, Isto


Journal of Documentation, Volume 71, Number 2, p.358–386 (2015)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to investigate how archivists, records managers and scholarly literature in the field(s) analyse how participation is discussed in the context of archives and records management, and to explore practical and theoretical implications of the disclosed discursive practices.

Design/methodology/approach: The analysis is based on a discourse analysis of a body of archival literature and a sample of posts collected from the archival and records management blogosphere.

Findings: The analysis shows that instead of discussing one notion of participation, the archival science literature is referring to nine different and partly conflicting types of participation from three broad perspectives: management, empowerment and technology. The discourses have also conflicting ideas of the role of engagement and enthusiasm, and of that what do the different stakeholder communities see as real options.

Research limitations/implications: The analysed material consists of a limited sample of mainly English language texts that may not capture all the nuances of how participation is discussed in the archival literature.

Practical implications: A better understanding of how different claims of the benefits and threats endorsing participation in archives helps to develop effective and less contradictory forms of collaboration between different stakeholders.

Originality/value: In spite of the popularity of the notion of participation, there little, especially critical, research on how participation is conceptualised by archives professionals and researchers.

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