When Does the Genius do the Chores? Knowledge, Auto/Biography and Gender

A life in science – marriage as an epistemic relationship and the joint scientific persona of Astri and John Runnström





biography, marriage, gender, joint scientific persona


This article analyses an unpublished (auto)biographical account by Astri Runnström, wife of the internationally renowned Swedish zoologist John Runnström (1888-1971). Runnström pioneered his research area in Sweden, experimental zoology and cellular physiology. His research was based on long, recurring stays at marine biological stations in Sweden and abroad. Astri Runnström (1897-1978) accompanied her husband on these stays and worked as an assistant in his laboratory, without compensation and without ever gaining recognition in the creation of his successful career. I argue that Astri Runnström’s biography on John can be read as an autobiographical narrative, with the aim of negotiating Astri a place in her husband’s scientific legacy. Astri Runnström’s textual strategy was to create a joint scientific persona for the two of them and present marriage as an epistemic relationship, without which John Runnström’s scientific achievements would not have been possible to carry out.

Author Biography

Kirsti Niskanen, Stockholm University

Kirsti Niskanen is Professor Emeritus of History in the Department of History at Stockholm University, Sweden, and principal investigator of the Scientific Personae in Cultural Encounters project. Her current research interests fall in the broad area of history of science and university history, in a feminist perspective. She is editor of the volume Gender, Embodiment, and the History of the Scholarly Persona. Incarnations and Contestations (Palgrave-McMillan 2021).





When Does the Genius do the Chores? Knowledge, Auto/Biography and Gender