Dusting for Fingerprints

Introducing Feminist Standpoint Appraisal


  • Michelle Caswell University of California, Los Angeles




This article argues that feminist standpoint epistemologies help us rethink both the process by which archival value is determined and the archivists’ role in that process, leading towards a new methodology, epistemology, and political strategy for appraisal, which I call “feminist standpoint appraisal.” Feminist standpoint appraisal inverts dominant appraisal hierarchies that value records created by those in power to justify and consolidate their power at the expense of records created by the oppressed to document and resist their oppression and imagine liberation. As such, feminist standpoint appraisal explicitly and unapologetically gives epistemological weight (thereby assigning value to) records created and preserved by, and potentially activated in service to, those individuals and communities oppressed by capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy. Furthermore, feminist standpoint appraisal shifts our thinking about the position of the archivist, from a purportedly objective “view from nowhere” (which in fact belies a dominant but unnamed white male position), towards a socially located, culturally situated agent who centers ways of being and knowing from the margins. In valuing the unique insights gleaned by people on the margins, feminist standpoint appraisal refuses the notion that archivists from oppressed communities must overcome their positionalities to meet institutional goals and professional demands for neutrality, but rather, values and leverages the insights gained from outsider status, viewing the attendant insights as assets, rather than as detriments, to the archival endeavor. Furthermore, feminist standpoint appraisal calls on archivists who inhabit dominant identities to acknowledge their oppressor standpoints and actively work to dismantle them.

Pre-print first published online 08/26/2019

Author Biography

Michelle Caswell, University of California, Los Angeles

Michelle Caswell is an Associate Professor of Information Studies at UCLA, where she directs UCLA's Community Archives Lab. Together with Samip Mallick, she is the co-founder of the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA).