Jenny Björklund

Professor at Centre for Gender Research

+4618-471 5796
Visiting address:
Villavägen 6
752 36 UPPSALA
Postal address:
Box 527
751 20 Uppsala

Short presentation

Jenny Björklund is Professor of Gender Studies and director of the MA program.

Research interests: 20th and 21st century literature, family studies, queer theory, AI/machine learning, cultural studies, and body/embodiment theory.

Current research projects: “Maternal Abandonment and Queer Resistance in Twenty-First-Century Swedish Literature” and “Detecting and Analyzing Gender and Other Bias in Machine Learning and NLP”.

Keywords: body theory machine learning queer theory cultural studies motherhood family and kinship studies artifical intelligence twentieth-century literature twenty-first-century literature

I am director of the MA program at the Centre for Gender Research, teach gender studies at all levels, and supervise Ph.D. candidates. I am also a member of the Mentor Network at Uppsala University.

I received my Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Uppsala University in 2004. I have done research and taught courses in Gender Studies, Comparative Literature, and Scandinavian Studies at various universities in Sweden and the United States, including Uppsala University, Stockholm University, Linneaus University, and UCLA.

Between 2012 and 2020 I was senior editor (with Ulrika Dahl) of the Nordic LGBTQ studies journal lambda nordica.

I have two current research projects: “Maternal Abandonment and Queer Resistance in Twenty-First-Century Swedish Literature” and “Detecting and Analyzing Gender and Other Bias in Machine Learning and NLP”:

Maternal Abandonment and Queer Resistance in Twenty-First-Century Swedish Literature

What does it mean that so many mothers in twenty-first-century Swedish literature leave their families? This question forms the point of departure for this research project, where I analyze literary representations of maternal abandonment in relation to sociopolitical discourses on motherhood, family, and gender equality in contemporary Sweden. While previous scholarship on motherhood in literature uses feminist theory and theories on motherhood, I draw on a queer-theoretical tradition, which explores failure and negativity as resistance. The queer-theoretical framework makes it possible to discover new themes—norm-critical dimensions, failure, and ambivalence—in literature about motherhood. By acknowledging the norm-critical aspects of the novels, I show how literary representations of primarily heterosexual mothers who leave their families can be seen as resistance against norms in the Swedish society, such as involved parenthood, the nuclear family, and pronatalism.

Read more about this project here

Detecting and Analyzing Gender and Other Bias in Machine Learning and NLP

In this interdisciplinary project—a collaboration with Hannah Devinney and Henrik Björklund from the Department of Computing Science at Umeå University—we use methods from gender studies, comparative literature, and computer science to study how bias is represented in text, how it enters into machine learning algorithms, and how to measure and avoid bias in these algorithms. Since machine learning algorithms, as part of artificial intelligence systems, are increasingly used by businesses and authorities to make significant decisions in our lives, the questions of how these decisions are made and how fair they are grow more pressing. Machine learning models are trained on data produced by humans, and their tendency to perpetuate bias and stereotypes in human language is a serious societal problem. The overall goal of this project is therefore to contribute to the creation of fair ML models for natural language processing (NLP) tasks.

My research interests also include queer studies, bodies, materiality and spaces, and women and modernism:

Queer studies

One of my primary research interests is queer studies with a focus on Swedish literature. In my book Lesbianism in Swedish Literature: An Ambiguous Affair (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) I trace the literary discourse on lesbianism in Sweden from 1930 to 2005 by analyzing lesbian-themed literature and investigating the ways that it confirms and/or challenges sociopolitical discourses on lesbianism during this time period. I find that Swedish literary discourses on lesbianism provocatively contrast with a widely accepted view that attitudes toward homosexuality have gradually become more tolerant in the Western world. Instead of reflecting a progression, Swedish texts are surprisingly consistent over time; medicalizing discourses persist alongside emerging discourses that idealize lesbianism. The lasting power of negative discourses in literature leads us to question the image of Sweden as primarily progressive and gay-friendly; Sweden’s progressive laws surely reflect certain progressive attitudes toward homosexuality, but medicalizing discourses and homophobia still prevail.

My research in queer studies also includes queer perspectives on film (Lukas Moodysson’s Show Me Love) and Nordic literature (Vigdís Grímsdóttir’s Z—A Love Story and Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler) as well as more theoretically driven research, particularly about queer readings.

Bodies, materiality, and space

My research in this field shows how it can be fruitful to analyze text and film material through the lens of theories on bodies and spaces. I also use cultural representations in order to develop concepts from feminist and/or queer theory. In one of these publications I bring together concepts and theories from feminist phenomenology with queer theory in order to understand the coming-out process in Swedish young adult novels. In another publication I use feminist phenomenology to take María Lugones’s concept world-travelling further in a reading of Lukas Moodysson’s film Mammoth.

Women and modernism

My Ph.D. thesis deals with three women poets—Ella Hillbäck, Rut Hillarp, and Ann Margret Dahlquist-Ljungberg—and their relationship to the Swedish modernist movement of the 1940s. I have also published research on Stella Kleve, Edith Södergran, and Eva Neander.

Editorial work

Between 2012 and 2020 I was senior editor (with Ulrika Dahl) of the Nordic LGBTQ studies journal lambda nordica. I have also edited several volumes, including New Dimensions of Diversity in Nordic Culture and Society (with Ursula Lindqvist, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016).

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Jenny Björklund