Thursday, April 3, 2008

Participatory Archiving in Shilton and Srinivasan

Can the local and particular “little narratives”/knowledges that Shilton and Srinivasan uphold really pose a threat to overreaching master narratives in the Archive? There is the danger of amalgamation and leveling—it may seem as though certain subjugated knowledges are de-subjugated once they are acknowledged and archived, when in actuality they loose their “teeth” and consequently turn into empty threats to the master narratives of Western epistemology, now sitting side-by-side with them innocuously. I say this because the locus of the Archive is in the hands of Western scholars-- marginalized or subjugated knowledges will always need to be transported to them, and no matter how thick these knowledges are, they will lose their original quality like an “Inuit artifact” (Shilton & Srinivasan 2) that has been imported, exhibited, and interpreted in a Western museum. I am skeptical of the utility of archival “tools aiding in the presevation of empowered, contextualized narrative and thick description” (Shilton & Srinivasan 3), and I am even more skeptical of participatory archiving processes as capable of affecting change. Touting community participation seems like a way of ensuring a false “transparency” of a process whose end is to appropriate all knowledges under one dominant umbrella system.

Even if we take as fact that marginalized knowledges can still retain their original voice or oppositional character to Western master narratives within a framework of Western Archive, what kind of new power relationships will emerge from their inclusion, and what will determine the trajectory of how these relationships change? In the same vein, will participatory, community oriented archiving produce more “truthful” narratives and knowledge structures (that are not Orientalized)? How will these new knowledges forge truthful representations in light of the difficulty of “offering comprehensive evidence of societal actions and conditions” (Shilton & Srinivasan 2)?
 These are pertinent questions. In any case, there should be no assumptions made about the presumed ontologically higher status of knowledges de-subjugated by participatory archiving.

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