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

Isto Huvila (Department of ALM, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden & School of Business and Economics, Åbo Akademi University, Turku, Finland)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 9 March 2015




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.


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.


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.


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.



Huvila, I. (2015), "The unbearable lightness of participating? Revisiting the discourses of “participation” in archival literature", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 71 No. 2, pp. 358-386.



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