labrys, études féministes/ estudos feministas
julho/ 2017- junho 2018 /juillet 2017-juin 2018


Interconnections: Narrating Nordic feminisms

Marta Cuesta and Mia Liinason 



This article examines different narratives of feminism in the Nordic region, drawing on a variegated material collected during ethnographic fieldwork with feminist actors. At first, we examine how women and lgbt feminists of color navigate and negotiate everyday space in a struggle against racism, transphobia, misogyny and islamophobia, and suggest that these enactments shape a narrative of feminism around a logic of interconnections. Then, we explore the logic of a current influential developmental narrative of Nordic feminism as a forerunner on a global arena. Here, we offer a set of autoethnographical vignettes to highlight and explore the key logics such a narrative relies upon. We propose that a feminist narrative of interconnections illuminate another narrative logic than the developmental logic currently influential in narrations of Nordic feminisms. Creating linkages to historical memory and to the present multiplicity of relations of power, we suggest that a feminist narrative of interconnections opens up new political questions and new feminist agendas in this context. We use these discussions to illuminate a shift in the relationship between civil society and the state in this context and suggest that a methodology of histories as connected fruitfully can capture these changes, due to its possibility to bridge, and attend to, the ambivalence inherent in history as multiple.

key words: Nordic Feminism, interconnections,historical memory, feminist narrative



Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with contemporary feminist grassroots groups in a Nordic context, this article examines how women and lgbt feminists of color navigate and negotiate everyday space in a struggle against racism, transphobia, misogyny and islamophobia. Juxtaposing their narrations of feminism with a current influential narrative of Nordic feminism as a forerunner on a global arena, we suggest that the enactments of women and lgbt feminists of color opens up new political questions and new feminist agendas by shaping a narrative of feminism around a logic of interconnections (Bhambra 2011; Tsing 2004). A feminist narrative of interconnections, we propose, illuminate another narrative logic than the developmental narrative currently influential in Nordic feminisms, and challenge present-day popular descriptions of feminism in the Nordic region as fragmented or weakened by divisions or internal conflicts (Ekis Ekman 2018; Lindeborg 2014). Our analysis is rooted in the idea of “not separate and comparable, but connected histories” and argues for a rethinking of the feminist struggle in the light of such an understanding of histories as connected (Subrahmanyam, 1997: 748).

A growing body of postcolonial feminist and critical race scholarship in this context has produced powerful interventions into the taken for granted moral superiority of the Nordic countries (Towns, 2002; Keskinen et al. 2009). This scholarship demonstrates that the present-day discourse on gender equality in the Nordic region works to shape social hierarchies by creating distinctions between “the nation” and “the immigrants” and by distributing rights and benefits according to certain racial, gendered and sexual regimes (Keskinen et al. 2009: 21; Martinsson et al. 2016; Mulinari and Neergaard, 2017; Liinason 2018). According to this body of research, the Nordic countries are marked by a denial of race and racisms, characterized by discourses of being post-race and “historically innocent” and simultaneously distinguished by historically rooted racisms and contemporary processes of racialization. In this context, scholars emphasize, national belonging is defined as white and colonial racist discourses of migrants as “’the Other’” are reinvoked (Mulinari and Neergaard, 2017: 91; Mählck 2012, Myong 2009; Leinonen and Toivanen 2014; Svendsen 2014). Inspired by this lineage of critical thought, we will examine how women and lgbt feminists of color navigate and negotiate these ambivalent discourses and illuminate how their struggle, as a result, reshapes the feminist agenda in this context by producing a narrative of interconnections that opens up new political questions. We hope that our analysis can contribute to the growing body of Nordic postcolonial feminist scholarship.


Theoretical departures

In this article, we suggest that the narrative of feminism in terms of interconnections, expressed by women and lgbt feminists of color, brings into relief variegated relations of power (Bacchetta, 2017). Our analysis revolves around concepts that theorize power relations linked to questions of subjectivity. To begin with, the conditions of neoliberalism, global capitalism, (post)colonialism, coloniality and nationalism that characterize our present times are in this paper understood as resulting from “a multiplicity of relations of power” (Bacchetta, 2017:155). We propose that this multiplicity of relations of power alerts us to the need to widen our scope of analysis and look aside of the state, which previously has occupied a very central position in analyses of feminisms in the Nordic region (Hobson, 2003; Bergman, 2004).  By so doing, we hope to capture some of the ways in which these formations of power reshape familiar relations of power, in this case, between civil society and the state (Mohanty, 2013; El-Tayeb 2011; Räthzel et al., 2015). Second, with Jasbir Puar (2008), we suggest that identity categories such as gender, race and sexuality should not simply be understood as attributes of subjects but rather perceived as events, actions and encounters between bodies. Yet, we do not say that this imply complete fluidity or instability. Rather, we suggest that it highlights a temporal duality: a “retroactive fitting” as well as a “propelling forward” (Puar, 2008: para 18), resulting from the “successful articulation or ‘chaining’ of the subject into the flow of discourse” (Hall, 2000: 19). Third, with inspiration from critical scholars who have theorized border experiences of different kind, our analysis understands borders as both material practices of border control and cultural discourses of bordering as ordering and othering (van Houtum and Naerssen, 2001; Anzaldúa 1987). When navigating contexts marked as hetero-, cis-, or sexist, subjects coded as anormative (Bacchetta, 2017; Haritaworn, 2015; Stryker 2004) may encounter diverse forms of border control and bordering discourses. We understand such experiences of borders and bordering as a source of knowledge and as a basis for political mobilization (Mohanty, 2003) and draw on this understanding to conceptualize bodies carrying such experiences as complex sites of agency, struggle and pleasure (Cuesta and Mulinari forthcoming 2018; El-Tayeb, 2012).


Methodology and material

We follow in this article the initiative of post- and decolonial feminist scholars to understand histories as connected (Subrahmanyam 1997: 745; Spivak 1988). Enabling us to grasp the multi-layered and ambivalent interconnections inherent in the organizing and struggle against transphobia, racism and misogyny, such a methodology of connected histories has been a fruitful point of departure (Bhambra, 2011). Rather than proposing a “politics of certainty”, the idea of connected histories invites us to “[attend] to ambivalence”, as we examine shifts and complexities in contemporary relations of power through an analysis of different narratives of feminism in the Nordic region (Hemmings, 2018: 5). The material analyzed in this article was collected through ethnographic fieldwork with feminist grassroots activists in Sweden (2012-2014). We were both involved in gathering the material with women and lgbt feminists of color. The autoethnographic vignettes, exploring the logic of the developmental narrative of Nordic feminism as a forerunner on a global arena, reflect encounters that one of us (XX) had with the gender equality minister and with representatives of institutionalized women’s and lgbt-organizations. During fieldwork, we were guided by the wider aim to study the visions, practices and strategies in contemporary feminist activism. We conducted ethnographic fieldwork over a 24-month period, including participant observation at meetings, events, workshops, festivals and other sites; we also conducted focus group interviews and in-depth interviews with members of the organizations included in the study. Research participants were mainly young women between the age of 20 and 30 of varied sexual orientations (lesbian, hetero, bi-, or a-sexual). They were of diverse ethnic or national backgrounds. At the time of research, all were living their everyday life in a Swedish context. There was a mixture of white women and women of color and a smaller number of research participants identified as trans. All research participants were based in one of the three largest Swedish cities –  Malmö, Gothenburg or Stockholm. During the time of research, many research participants, although far from all, were or had previously studied at the university. Following the activities and listening to the reflections of these feminist activists was a strong experience for both of us. After fieldwork, we often felt both pride and exhaustion stemming from a mixture of deep respect for their struggle and a sense of responsibility for the experiences and reflections they shared with us during interviews and observation. As ethnographers and authors to this article, we occupy different social locations: one of us is a white woman, born in Sweden, and one of us is a Latina-Swedish woman born in Argentina. Yet, we also share some locations and positionalities, both of us are for example academics and feminists. These overlapping and differing locations had an impact on our presence in the field and urged us to pay close attention to the ongoing establishment of trust in our relationships with the groups. In addition, our level of participation in the groups during fieldwork differed: sometimes we took part as regular members or were actively involved as organizers of panels at events, other times we were more distant attendees or even passive observers. Elsewhere, we write about the complexities related to the knowledge production, positionings and power relations during fieldwork ((Liinason and Cuesta 2014). Here, we want to emphasize that our positioning in the field and in this paper follows Kamala Visweswaran’s (1994) notion of the feminist ethnographer as trickster, rooted in the ambiguity and tension of insider/outsider positions. This varied mix of locations and insider/outsider positions have inspired us to challenge attempts to theorize belongings or identities as fixed and encouraged us to explore the construction, destabilization or transgression of such categories (Mulinari and Räthze,l 2007).

We analyze the material as narratives. A narrative is a coherent and collective story, emanating from the diversity of stories that exist at a micro level (Bal 1990). Narratives, according to Michel Foucault (1984), organizes the flow of different discourses by establishing a certain place in history from which shared understandings and narrations of a certain issue – in this case the feminist struggle – are  confirmed, displaced or resisted. According to feminist historiographers, different narrative logics affect the history that is being told. A teleological narrative of feminism, for example, presents feminism as an object of a single history, framing different feminist projects as if they are competing with each other (Gillis and Munford, 2004). Rather than understanding feminism through such a linear frame, Gillis and Munford (2004) suggest that feminism could be understood as participating in and producing multiple histories. Yet, the absence of a single historical truth does not mean that history is “simply a matter of individual opinion” (Hemmings, 2005: 118). Instead, according to Clare Hemmings, what is visualized when certain stories and alliances are allowed to expand and not others, is the “location of the historian or teller of tales” (2005: 118). These insights have significant bearing on our overarching argument in this article, as well as in the separate sections of analysis. In alignment with these understandings, we want to emphasize the relationship between “power, history and authorship” which ultimately points attention to the accountability of the storyteller (Hemmings, 2005: 119). We are wary of the varieties that characterize the myriad of stories that are told about feminism and it is not our intention to reduce the nuances of the complexity that characterize that conversation. Nevertheless, and following the expressions of feminist actors in our fieldwork data, we do want to recognize the effects of a dominant feminist narrative, secured through certain key logics and repeated by different actors in a variety of fora. We want to challenge the insularity such a narrative assumes by illuminating the presence, and political effects, of other narratives and suggest that these variegated narratives are located in a frictional relation to each other (Tsing, 2004).

We begin by analyzing an art performance and a speech of women and lgbt feminists of color. We illuminate how these feminist enactments establish linkages to historical memory and to the current multiplicity of relations of power. We suggest that these enactments develop a narrative of feminist struggle in terms of interconnections. Then, we juxtapose this narrative with a developmental narrative of Nordic feminism as a forerunner on a global arena, a currently influential narrative within and beyond this context. We offer a set of autoethnographical vignettes to explore how the key logics of this narrative is reflected in everyday feminist encounters. As a “messy” method, autoethnography both studies and enacts the world (Denzin, 2006). Autoethnography offers a way to grasp specificity and detail in otherwise intangible matters and can shed light on wider social or global processes through an analysis of the narrative of one individual (Mulinari and Räthzel 2007; Visweswaran 1994). We draw on these discussions to illuminate a shift in the relationship between civil society and the state, and to suggest that a methodology of histories as connected fruitfully can capture the ambivalence of multiple histories circulating in the Nordic region of today.


The March 8 Performance

The March 8 Performance was enacted in Malmö at the International Women’s Day by a group of women and lgbt feminists of color. It illuminates different experiences of racism, transphobia and misogyny and visualizes separatist resistance against transphobia, racism and neo-Nazism.[1] When developing the idea for the performance, the actors had collected a number of quotes about women and lgbt people of color. They read these quotes out loud and tape-recorded them. When conducting the performance, the actors were sitting on a line at the stage, silent, while the recording played in the loudspeakers.

Tune playing: Bossy, by Kelis:”You don’t have to love me, you don’t even have to like me. But you will respect me.”

Voices reading:

”I remember once as a teenager on my way home. A number of Nazi’s entered the bus, they were talking loudly and expressed their discontent with travelling with so many n***s. When yet some more people boarded the bus, one of the Nazi’s said: ‘what the hell, it starts to look like a zoo in here.’ Another one of them said: ‘One should exterminate the whole group.’ Yet another said: ‘Yes, but at first one should rape the girls’. I hoped a group of so called migrant boys would enter the bus, then I would have felt more safe.“

”Wow, you talk such good Swedish!”

”Can I touch your hair?”

“What a nice name, from where have you got it?”


”Are you born as a woman or as a man?”


“I saw a white woman spit after two young girls with headscarves and I ask her, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ ‘I spit wherever I want to, monkey!’ she responds. The woman moves away and points fuck you to me behind her back.”

”Oh wow you’re wearing hijab. How do you shower?”


”The colonial past has taught us that we are a minority but we are the majority. Workers, racialized, women, trans – UNITE!”


”You’re muslim, and lesbian, and you’re not wearing hijab. That’s soo coool!”

”People in your culture use their bodies in such an artistic way.”

“Who is woman and who is man in your relationship?”

“Sweden is not racist but … then there are ethnic Swedes in their mid-lives. And then there are ethnic n***s. In the middle of nowhere.”


“Sweden is not racist. But the police get a commission on detaining n***s. REVA!”

”Around us in closed rooms, closed contexts… separatism is a condition that surrounds us daily in the whole society. But as soon as we organize separatist it is seen as problematic. As long as there are borders that separate us, that create us, and makes us different, where we are given different rights to education, job, houses, safety, love, to our fundamental rights. As long as these borders exist, the need for separatism will be relevant.  It is in the separatist conversations and contexts where we strengthen our selves and each other. And after that we build strategies. Because we don’t want to stay in the safe cradle of separatism. Because when we are ready, when we have become stronger, sharpened our strategies, built collaborations with other organizations, again and again. When we have advanced our positions and showed our threat, because we are a threat, no doubt. We threaten the norm that enjoys its privileges. When we have strengthened ourselves so that we can realize the threats, then, then we will also blow all borders.”

In the enactment of the performance, the presence of the silent black bodies and the simultaneous statements about racism, transphobia, sexism, colonialism and violence created a doubling effect. These women and lgbt persons were simultaneously ‘here’ (in the room) and ‘there’ (in the tape recording); simultaneously silent and speaking; simultaneously subjects (in the reading) and objects (in the quotes). The performance visualized fear, sorrow, anger and frustration but also resistance against racism, transphobia and sexism. The quotes were narrated by different voices and in different languages and expressed a diversity of experiences. They highlighted confrontations with exotified otherness, visualized everyday encounters with racist hatred and drew connections between racism and colonialism. In their performance, the actors were playing with the risks of ‘making visible’ by challenging the “optics and visuality […] of racial difference” (Gilroy, quoted in Bell 1999, 28). Putting the silent black body at the stage, literally, at the same time as their bodies were surrounded by their own voices, effectively functioned to incorporate the black body as an agent within “the historical complex” (Bell 1999, 8). The enactments of the performance visualized the fear, the anger and the sadness by which women and lgbt feminists of color currently navigate everyday space. In the performance, different examples of ways through which women and lgbt feminists of color negotiate such racist, transphobic and misogynist spaces were also expressed, as the actors pointed at the function of borders and bordering to create an inside and an outside, and a limit, distinguishing, discriminating, excluding (van Houtum and Naerssen 2001). By references to shared experiences and histories of such forms of exclusion, expressing feelings of loss, anger and fear, the performance created a community of affect, situated at the borderlands, making separatism a mode where they could seek shelter, gather strength, and develop strategies of resistance, inviting the audience to join them too (Moorti 2003; Author a; Anzaldúa 1987). The performance visualized how taken-for-granted notions of democracy and rights in a Swedish context are contingent on a denial of the multiplicity of relations of power, at the same time as the performance illuminated that such multiplicity could be grasped through a narrative of frictional interconnection (Bhambra 2011; Tsing 2004); in this case between history (colonialism/modernity), geography (Sweden/everyday space) and experiences of embodied subjectivity (as women and lgbt people of color).


Antifascist feminism: The speech

The speech below was written by the collective Antiracist Feminists. It was given in Malmö at a manifestation against fascism, one week after an attack on the Reclaim the night march by neo-Nazi’s on the International Women’s Day in the same city. In the attack, four people of the march were injured and brought to the hospital. One of them was severely injured and remained in coma for one week. After the attack, feminist activists in Malmö were deeply affected and angry, as illuminated in the speech which begins by situating the attack in a wider context of racism, neo-Nazism, misogyny and islamophobia:

The attempted murder of one of our friends at the International Women’s Day was not an isolated action, it didn’t come from nowhere. It is tiresome to repeat the obvious. Racism has existed and still exists in Sweden as long as in all other countries. In the context of this attack, we have yet again received a confirmation of the fact that our society remains in denial. Nazism and racism does not disappear because we don’t call them by their right name. The struggle against nazism and racism is conducted through resistance, solidarity and wide organization. 

This struggle is not new for us racialized, migrants, n***s, call it what the fuck you want. We who not can choose if the Nazi’s sees us as a threat or not. The biggest enemies in Breivik’s manifesto[2] are feminists and Muslims. Remember this. And remember why. Feminists are in the eyes of fascists the biggest traitors because we want an inclusive society and challenge the male norm. How thin is not the line between democracy and an authoritarian regime when Säpo [the secret police] surveys Muslims and leftist activists, while Nazi’s are not regarded as a threat to democracy. When Säpo and the police protect racist politicians from protesting high school students.

We find ourselves in a political situation where the state governed by law oppress the people instead of protecting us. Silence won’t help us.  Denial won’t help us. Passivity won’t help us. We need to speak with our neighbors. We need to break consensus in the coffee room. We need to organize. Although it is powerful that many of us have gathered here today, we need a continuous struggle. Today, it is by being antifascist activists that we show most solidarity.

The speech directs a critique against the denial of the existence of racism and Nazism in the Swedish society, it emphasizes similarities between Sweden and other countries and points out how these countries share histories of racisms – as well as the denial of such histories (El-Tayeb, 2008). Drawing linkages between histories of racialization and processes of national inclusion/exclusion, the speech visualizes how people of color and migrants navigate an everyday space in which they are defined as a threat by neo-Nazi’s and nationalists ((Cuesta and Mulinari forthcoming 2018). The speech points to the deeply problematic security regimes in a country where the police force, supported by legislation, protect racist politicians from protesting youth, while Muslims and leftist activists are put under surveillance, illuminating how rights and benefits of the state are distributed according to certain racial regimes (Mulinari and Neergaard 2017). The speech also demonstrates how women and lgbt feminists of color negotiate such security- and racial regimes. The speech aligns with a narrative of interconnection, demonstrating how the material and discursive violence created by such security-and racial regimes rely on the denial of the existence of racism, misogyny and neo-Nazism in the society. It points at the need to organize and struggle against such (disguised) interconnections, highlighting the importance of a politics of solidarity and of coalition (Carty and Mohanty, 2015).


Other storytelling techniques

While feminism in the Nordic countries has an international reputation of being at the forefront globally (Lister 2009; Siim and Borchorst 2010; Fink and Lundqvist 2010), the enactments described above indicates that such a reputation is based on a rather narrow definition of feminism, presenting feminism as an object of a single history (Gillis and Munford, 2004). Recently, gender researchers have highlighted the questionable norms that such a narrative relies upon, describing it as a “mythical” and “highly problematic” national and international “mantra” (Martinsson et al., 2016: 1; Giritli Nygren et al. 2016). Postcolonial Nordic feminists have explained how this mythical success emanates from a “monolithic narrative of gender”, based in a “denial of [the centrality of] gendered racisms” in the Nordic countries, leading to distorted analyses of the varied meanings of gender (Keskinen et al., 2009: 21; Giritli Nygren et al. 2016). Yet, despite widespread criticism, this narrative remains popular and influential in and beyond the Nordic countries. During the time of our fieldwork, we encountered this narrative regularly, in numerous variations. In what follows, we want to challenge the taken-for-grantedness of this narrative by illuminating some of its key logics. We do this by examining three autoethnographic vignettes. These vignettes are not intended to illuminate the narrative itself. Instead, they should be read as exemplary cases, being instructive of the logics sustaining the narrative and of the dynamics of power inherent in the narrative. Rooted in an understanding of storytelling as a matter of power, history and authorship, we then draw on this discussion to suggest that the narratives analyzed point attention to the location of the narrator, that is, of the teller of the story (Hemmings 2005). In line with the feminist historiographic accounts we have discussed, our ambition is to illustrate the existence of multiple histories and we seek to attend to the ambivalence inherent in such multiplicities. We return to this discussion towards the end of the article.

The newly installed gender equality minister Maria Arnholm was coming to visit my department. We staff members were invited to the meeting with the minister, who had called for this meeting because she wanted to learn more about feminism and gender from the “real experts”. Beyond myself, around 4-5 of my colleagues were able to attend the meeting, at which we were asked to give brief presentations of our ongoing research for the minister. When the turn came to me, I presented the two research projects I was working on at the time: one project studying large, institutionalized women’s organizations in the Scandinavian countries and another project examining feminist grassroots activists in Sweden. Maria Arnholm expressed interest in the project about feminist grassroots activists, saying: “That sounds fascinating. I had no idea that such activists existed. How many are they, these feminist activists?” I was taken aback by her question. I responded that it wasn’t so easy to estimate the number of the activists but underlined that there was a very lively and impressive activity going on outside of, or at the borders of, the institutionalized structures of the state.

Notably, the gender equality minister was acquainted with the institutionalized women’s organizations mentioned in the short presentation. In our view, the fact that the gender equality minister not knew about the existence of feminist grassroots activists, while she was informed about the institutionalized women’s organizations, is indicative of a wider ignorance existent in the governmental office. Critical race scholars have shown that ignorance, rather than being an “accidental” oversight, often is “actively produced for the purposes of domination and exploitation.” (Sullivan and Tuana 2007: 1) Maybe the civil servants at the governmental office did not know about these groups, or maybe they did not find it relevant to inform the minister about them. Either way, this example indicates that the gender equality ministry finds knowledge about feminist groups outside of the institutionalized structures of the state less relevant. Since the main part of antiracist feminist groups in this context are located outside of the institutionalized state structures, such forms of ignorance could have very material effects on the impact of the work of the groups.

I was conducting an interview with a member of a mainstream lgbt-organization. In the interview, we were talking about collaborations between different organizations in civil society and different kinds of advocacy work. The interviewee had several times during the interview expressed that they were not “an opinon-making organization” but a “lobby organization”. At first, I had difficulties grasping what the interviewee meant but as we continued our conversation, I learned that the members of this organization found themselves to be in agreement with the government about “what the problem is”. Consequently, they saw their own involvement with the government as an offer to help the government developing tools to “solve” the problem which they were agreeing upon. Listening to this interviewee, I recalled a previous conversation with board and staff members of an umbrella women’s organization, who had expressed a similar understanding, saying that they “most often” agree with the government, that they see as their role to put a pressure on the government to “realize” the political suggestions.

In this vignette, the notions of the feminist struggle, or of lgbti-rights, as universally embraced by civil society actors as well as by the state produces a sense of a widely shared consensus. Although these specific actors indeed did agree with the government, there exist other actors – such as antiracist feminist activists – who do not agree. Notably, these actors represented nation-wide, or umbrella organizations. Scholars have emphasized that the character of umbrella organizations may risk to reduce the plurality of feminist claims-making (de los Reyes 2016). In this vignette, such risks are very palpable, as the references to technical solutions with the potential to “realize” political suggestions functioned to disguise the existence of political conflicts. In this example, the ‘problem’ was defined as a lack of tools rather than a problem which was political in its core. Here, references to feminism or lgbti-rights as universally embraced obscures the ways in which narratives of universal agreement disguise contestation, and support certain groups attempting to realize their political agenda.

I was reporting the conclusions from a finalized research project to the director and staff members of one umbrella women’s organization. I explained that one of my findings was that the work of the organization could risk to sustain hierarchies between women because they justified their political program with reference to existing dominant norms about womanhood, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality etc. I recommended them to listen more carefully to the women who were critical of their program. Of course, the members of the organization did not agree with me. They suggested that I had a “liberal feminist” understanding, while they saw themselves as “radical feminists”. I declined any influence from liberal feminism but said that some significant theoretical departures in my project were postcolonial theory, upon which one member explained: “We want to fight patriarchy instead of creating divisions between women.” The speaker was referring to my previous mentioning of hierarchies between groups of women, but in her interpretation, such divisions were an effect of patriarchy. In her view, to let oneself be occupied by such hierarchies would be to run patriarchy’s errands and “create” divisions between women. 

This group of women was mainly white, middle-class, well educated. While they agreed on the fact that women constitute a diverse group, they saw as their role to unify the women’s movement. However, in their project to unify the movement, critical input appeared to make them more determined of the strength of their own political program (to fight patriarchy). While feminism indeed is a diverse movement and different feminists have different notions of the feminist struggle, enactments like this are contingent on a denial of race and class as relevant factors in struggles for justice (Yuval-Davis 1997; Keskinen et al. 2009). 

Feminism is a variegated movement, which produces diverse stories of feminist struggle. Yet, it is precisely because feminism is so varied that it is relevant to explore how a dominant narrative is sustained and upheld. In our view, the examples above visualize that such a narrative is sustained by the following key logics: (i) by a selective ignorance of feminism’s diversity (Sullivan and Tuana 2007); (ii) by disguising political conflicts under reference to universal agreement and technical solutions (de los Reyes 2016; Author a); and (iii) by a desire to ‘unify’ the women’s movement, through the denial of race and class as relevant factors in the struggle (Yuval-Davis 1997; Keskinen et al 2009). The examples also manifest certain linkages between power, history and authorship. The actors conveying this narrative were variously located in civil society and the state. Thus, the circulation of the narrative among these variegated spaces illuminate a certain degree of fluidity of the borders between civil society and the state, suggesting that familiar relations of power are being reconfigured in a neoliberal era (Räthzel et al. 2015; Liinason 2018).


Connected histories

While much theorizations of the feminist struggle in the Nordic countries have been occupied with studying the relationship between feminists and the state (Hobson 2003; Bergman 2004) our analysis suggests the need to expand the scope of study, to look beyond, or aside of the state. Such a critical engagement, we suggest, can shed light on the ways in which new formations of power challenge previous dichotomous understandings of the relation between the state and civil society, and reveal the emergent borders, hierarchies or coalitions that characterizes the present-day feminist struggle in this context (Räthzel et al. 2015; Ifekwunigwe 2016).

In the examples analyzed, variegated narratives of the feminist struggle emerged. In the enactments of women and lgbt feminists of color, a narrative of interconnection was produced, as the actors visualized the consequences of a denial of racism, neo-Nazism and islamophobia in this context. The art performance illuminated the effects of a denial of the multiplicity of relations of power in the taken-for-granted notions of democracy and rights in a Nordic context. The speech, in turn, emphasized the entwinement of security- and racial regimes in a Nordic context, and revealed how the state provides protection to racist actors, while neo-Nazi’s construct people of color, migrants or Muslims as a threat, demonstrating how layers were added to layers in the multiplicity of relations of power. At both events, feminist enactments produced a narrative of the feminist struggle in terms of interconnections. By so doing, they challenged currently popular descriptions of feminism in this context as fragmented or weakened by divisions or internal conflicts, and opened up very urgent political questions. We understood this narrative as located in a frictional relationship to the developmental narrative of a feminist success circulating among representatives of the state (the gender equality ministry) and civil society (umbrella women’s/lgbt organizations) (Tsing 2004). In line with the feminist historiographers discussed in this article (Gillis and Munfor, 2004; Hemmings, 2005), we suggest that all narratives centralize the location of the storyteller, and visualize the close links between storytelling and power. Consequently, instead of proposing an exchange of one dominant narrative with another, we suggest that the variegated narratives of feminisms in the Nordic region visualize the possibility of multiple histories, mirrored by a narrative of interconnections.  Yet, we also suggest that these dynamics calls for the need of a rethinking of the feminist struggle in the light of an understanding of such multiple histories as connected (Subrahmanyam 1997; Bhambra 2011). The idea of connected histories is useful because it points at the linkages and connections between different scales and sites, enabling us to grasp the construction of multiple spatialities and multi-layered forms of belonging Liinason forthcoming 2018).

With the ability to attend to ambivalence, rather than certainty (Hemmings, 2018), the idea of connected histories offers a way to capture varied histories previously understood as disconnected, or separate. As shown in our analysis, that could include such disparate accounts as: historically rooted racisms; contemporary processes of racialization; present-day denials of the existence of racism and neo-Nazism; neoliberal reconfigurations of the welfare state; and a discourse of a universal embrace of feminism and lgbti-rights. In this context, a narrative of the feminist struggle in terms of interconnections, based on a methodology of histories as connected, captures those complex dynamics and has the potential to formulate very urgent political questions for a new feminist agenda.


Marta Cuesta is Professor in Sociology at the University of Halmstad. Central to her analysis is to understand how people’s actions contest power regimes. Recent publications include “The bodies of others in Swedish feminism” Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, forthcoming 2018 with Diana Mulinari. Hoppets politik: Feministisk aktivism i Sverige idag, Makadam Förlag, 2016, with Mia Liinason. ”Solidaridad transnacional: Narrativa feminista”, Interpretextos, 2016, nr 15, s. 49-66. Currently, Marta is engaged in a Social Fond's project aiming to expand transformative knowledge from a norm critical perspective. 

Mia Liinason is Associate Professor in Gender Studies at the University of Gothenburg. Mia is interested in analyzing the relationship between resistance and power in feminism as a transformative project. Recent publications include "Borders and belongings in Nordic feminisms and beyond", Gender, Place and Culture. A Journal of Feminist Geography forthcoming 2018; Equality Struggles. Feminist Movements, Neoliberal Markets and State Political Agendas in Scandinavia, Routledge 2018; and ”Challenging constructions of nationhood and nostalgia: exploring the role of gender, race and age in struggles for women's rights in Scandinavia”, Women’s History Review 2017 with Clara Marlijn Meijer. Currently, Mia is engaged in a research project aiming to expand our understandings of the potentials of transnational encounters in struggles for women’s and lgbti-people’s rights in Scandinavia, Russia and Turkey.



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[1] The anti-Nazi, anti-far right, and anti-racist journal Expo estimates that currently in the Nordic countries, around 300 individuals are active in the neo-Nazi organization Nordiska Motståndsrörelsen (Nordic Resistance Movement). According to Expo, the Swedish branch of the organization was founded in 1997, and developed out of Nationell Ungdom (National Youth) which united individuals who previously had been members of Vitt Ariskt Motstånd (White Aryan Resistance) which in turn had a background in the Nationalsocialistiska Fronten (National Socialist Front) ( February 20, 2018). In Sweden, the racist party Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna) with neo-Nazi roots, received in recent polls more than 14,7% of the electorate, making it the third largest party in Sweden (, February 20, 2018).  

[2] July 22, 2011, the far-right terrorist and white nationalist Anders Behring Breivik committed the so called 2011 Norway attacks, killing 77 people, of which 69 youth. Before the attacks, Breivik had published the document 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, which, among other things, expressed deep anti-Muslim views, a hatred of Islam and of the feminist movement.

labrys, études féministes/ estudos feministas
julho/ 2017- junho 2018 /juillet 2017-juin 2018