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09.40  Archival Systems: From "Weapons of Affect" to Tools of Compassion

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9:00, Sunday 5 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

At recent Australian Society of Archivists (ASA) and Archives and Records Association of New Zealand (ARANZ) conferences, powerful presentations on the emotional impacts of records and archives moved many participants. Archivists could not escape hearing of the brutality of their systems in imprisoning the subjects of records as “perpetual mementos of the official gaze” and denying any agency in records creation nor in subsequent decision-making on ongoing management, access, and use. They also heard of professional failure to engage adequately with today’s most pressing record-keeping and archival needs in the face of massive and growing forced displacement and transnational migration, building on literatures regarding affect and heritage in other fields, and the emerging critical engagement with these discourses in archival arenas. Empathetic responses were called for in order for archivists to live up to the lofty words in the 2011 Universal Declaration on Archives regarding protecting citizens’ rights and enhancing the quality of life.  

The reception to these calls was intriguing and heartening. While some defended the immutability of existing archival frameworks and systems, others felt emboldened and hopeful of rising conceptually and practically to the challenge of record-keeping and archives being in the heart and heat of social justice agendas and other grand societal challenges. It seemed to strike a chord for those passionate about records and archives as instruments of democracy, accountability, and human rights, and those keen to not be professionally cast as mere gatherers and organizers of “heritage dust” on the periphery.  

This paper aims to continue this dialogue and explore ways in which responding to the emotions and affects of records and record-keeping processes may translate into more compassionate archival systems in which multiple rights in records can be represented and respected. It will outline the ethical and social imperatives for participatory archives as negotiated places of shared stewardship for furthering human rights, reconciliation, and recovery, the consequent need to re-engineer record-keeping and archival ideas, practices, and vocabulary, and present ways in which shared and interoperable systems might be co-designed and developed. It will make the case for a critical archival paradigm to inform thinking and action in order to better represent and deal with what is increasing recognized as an archival multiverse.

Joanne Evans


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