Organisation och personal

Helena Wahlström Henriksson

professor vid Centrum för genusvetenskap

018-471 7298
Kv Botan, Villav 6
75236 Uppsala
Box 527
751 20 Uppsala

Kort presentation

Helena Wahlström Henriksson is Professor in Gender Studies and Docent in American literature. She teaches and is the Director of Studies for the advanced level and the PhD level. Her research interests are cultural studies, feminist theory, masculinity studies, family/kinship studies, childhood studies, women's literature, American literature, and postcolonial studies.

Mina kurser


Fil Kand English and Comparative Literature 1991

Fil Dr American Literature 1997

Docent American Literature 2010

Professor Gender Studies 2016


My research combines literary and cultural studies methodologies with the critical perspectives of feminist theory and masculinity studies. My previous projects lie within the frameworks of American literary studies and gender studies, but ongoing projects focus on Swedish culture.

My doctoral thesis, Husbands, Lovers, and Dreamlovers: Masculinity and Female Desire in Women’s Novels of the 1970s (Uppsala: Acta 1997), is a feminist study of women’s liberation novels in the US. Masculinity and female heterosexual desire are contextualized historically and discursively, and hence fiction is read alongside non-fictional texts on sexuality, sexual liberation, and women’s liberation that were published in the 1960s and 70s.

Primarily, my research after the PhD has come to focus on understandings of family and kinship, especially fatherhood and gendered parenthood, as well as childhood and orphanhood. New Fathers?: Contemporary American Stories of Masculinity, Domesticity, and Kinship (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010) analyses fatherhood and fathering in non-nuclear families in US fiction and fictional film. Making Home: Orphanhood, Kinship, and Cultural Memory in Contemporary American Novels (Manchester UP, 2014) investigates the orphan figure in contemporary American novels, and the ways that this figure is linked to both literary and social histories of various groups of orphan children in the US. The book was collaboratively written with Prof. Maria Holmgren Troy (Karlstad University) and Dr. Liz Kella (Södertörn University), and financed by the Swedish Research Council 2009-2011.

A collaborative project, financed by the Swedish Research Council, is Mother Anyway (Anna Williams PI); this Project runs 2017-2020, and more information can be found here:

Another collaborative project is titled Close Relations: Representations of Family and Kinship in Swedish Twenty-First Century Culture (with Jenny Björklund).

I am also part of the steering committee of The Swedish Network for Family and Kinship Studies, the first meeting of which was held in Uppsala in 2014, and which is funded by FORTE 2016-18.

current project:

Close Relations: Representations of Family and Kinship in Swedish Twenty-First Century Culture  (2014-, with Jenny Björklund)

Cultural representations are central to producing understandings of lived experience and identities. This also applies to understandings of family and kinship, which also vary across cultures. Yet, to date, there is no comprehensive study on representations of family in contemporary Swedish culture. Therefore, this project investigates how “family” is envisaged in cultural texts in our time. The project examines representations of family relations and kinship formations in a broad and diverse selection of literature (fiction and nonfiction), film, and newspaper articles, but also analyzes the meanings of such representations for writers, publishers, reviewers and readers. It investigates family and kinship as culturally sited, politically and ideologically shaped phenomena. The project uses mixed methods, combining textual analysis, discourse analysis and interviews.


completed projects:

Making Home: Orphanhood, Kinship, and Cultural Memory in Contemporary American Novels. (2014; with Maria Holmgren Troy and Liz Kella.)

Making Home focuses on contemporary orphan narratives in the US. The project is grounded in cultural and gender studies; it is driven by the hypothesis that orphans in contemporary literature -- complex figures of vulnerability, survival, and radical difference -- are a means for examining the conditions and limits for incorporating difference into the American family and, by extension, into the American nation. We read literary orphans as responses to contemporary social challenges to American identity, and propose that contemporary novels use the orphan figure to interrogate established definitions of family and nation, and to sketch their possible re-formulations. The orphan, then, becomes an agent in making new kinds of home. The project examines novels by Native-American (Louise Erdrich, Linda Hogan), Anglo-American (Michael Cunningham, Kaye Gibbons, John Irving, Barbara Kingsolver, Annie Proulx, Marilynne Robinson) and African-American (Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison) writers, whose orphan protagonists in various ways negotiate their initial loss and ideas of kinship and belonging against the American family and national ideal. The novels raise questions about the historical past, and the project contextualizes orphan children in terms of the specific racialized histories of orphans in the US. But it also contextualizes orphan children in terms of their place in American literary history, which we investigate in terms of collective and cultural memory. Orphans in contemporary novels, that is, also speak to earlier (canonical) representations of orphans in American literature, often to revise them, but at times also a means to claim space in the national literary history. The chapters in this study discuss orphan narratives within the framework of particular novelistic genres, such as the captivity narrative, the bildungsroman, science fiction, and the historical slave narrative.

New Fathers?: Contemporary Stories of Masculinity, Domesticity, and Kinship (2010)

New Fathers? explores how fatherhood in non-nuclear families is envisioned in fictional texts from the 1990s and the early 21st century. It investigates how contemporary fatherhood is constructed relationally with motherhood, but also with the figure of the “old” or patriarchal father. Further, the project  addresses the relationship of these representations of men as parents to the nuclear, heterosexual American family ideal. Family and domesticity, while lauded in official American political rhetoric, have typically been rendered suspect in canonical literature and literary criticism, and above all have been seen as detrimental to masculinity and individualism. However, basic assumptions in this project are that family and fatherhood are crucial sites for the construction of masculinity, and that fatherhood is a central, if ambivalent, concern in contemporary texts by both men and women. Theoretically, the project draws upon masculinity studies, feminist, and gender studies of parenthood. Fictional texts (Michael Cunningham, A Home at the End of the World; Ad Hudler, Househusband; Jayne Anne Phillips, MotherKind; Annie Proulx, The Shipping News; and the films Smoke, directed by Paul Auster/Wayne Wang and Mrs. Doubtfire, directed by Chris Columbus) are read in the context of the ongoing debate about the “crisis” of the American family, typically in turn linked to a “crisis” of American masculinity. As signalled by the title, the idea of the “new father” that gains prevalence in the 1990s is scrutinized in the project, which also demonstrates that in fictional representations of fatherhood, fathering denotes both identity and practice, both socially and biologically defined parenthood, and both individual and communal kinship projects. Hence, the very notion of “family” is also problematized in these fictions.


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