Gender and History as an Analytical Lens for Management and Entrepreneurship Research and Practice: Some thoughts from a PDW at the 2018 BAM conference
On the 4th September representatives from the Feminist Library (FL) in London, Gail Chester and Magda Oldziejewska, alongside Feminist Archive North’s (FAN) Jalna Hanmer, and academics from St Andrews, Aston, Birmingham and Stirling Universities, participated in a refreshingly non-strictly-academic workshop as part of the BAM 2018 conference at Bristol’s University of the West of England. The Library, along with FAN, introduced feminist libraries and archives (FLA) in the UK and talked about some of the unique practices of these organisations.
The FL, having been around since 1975, the height of the Women’s Liberation Movement, has since accumulated over 7,000 books, 1,500 periodical titles and countless items of archival material and ephemera, among them innumerable titles on women in education, feminist educational practices, women in management and business. FAN archive contains a wealth of contemporary material in local, regional, national and international collections donated by individuals and organisations, including conference papers, pamphlets, journals, newsletters, dissertations, oral history interviews, audio tapes, films, posters, badges, t-shirts and banners. However, far from these being like regular libraries and archives, the importance of understanding the FLA resources in the context of where they come from was highlighted, i.e. the feminist theories and practices key to the management and survival of these resources: collective working, intersectionality, diversity, and a focus on accessibility.
Alongside this compelling account of the construction and maintenance of the Feminist Library, including the contemporary challenges of archiving social media and of course the eternal funding challenges of this kind of work, workshop participants also addressed questions of how and why we conduct historical research with women and feminism at its centre. Organizer Hannah Dean (St Andrews) framed the workshop with an explanation of her British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship. Dr. Dean collected and archived women’s life history accounts of business ownership, creating an invaluable resource for her own research and for future scholars. Dr. Linda Perriton (Stirling) made clear why business historians need to ‘pick up the gauntlet’ that feminist historians have thrown down, and engage fully with the messy, marginal practices that are so fundamental to mainstream/malestream accounts of most business history.
Professor Stephanie Decker (Aston) followed this with a clear-sighted explanation of how archives can be approached as a site for fieldwork, as well as a source repository. Participants were encouraged again to take account of the nexus of power/knowledge that all history/History is embedded within. Finally, Dr. Scott Taylor (Birmingham) talked around the possibility of feminist methodologies for history, and what they mean for how we bear witness to the lives and activities of women in business history.
The stimulating resulting discussion focused on the importance of preserving/uncovering the lesser known/hidden voices of women, and at least one attendee was inspired to conduct her own research into this under-explored area, focusing on women’s work in Turkey in the middle ages.
All in all, it was heartening to be part of such an inspiring event that brought together historians, feminists, feminist allies, social scientists, archivists, and activists. Contemporary feminist activism and archivist practices have much to say to business and management research; historical analysis of women’s experiences and feminism even more so!