Confirmed Keynotes: Ann Cvetkovich (An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures), Angela Grauerholz (At Work and Play: A Web Experimentation), Ben Highmore (The Everyday Life Reader; Everyday Life and Cultural Theory), Michael O’Driscoll (The Event of the Archive)
This conference will bring together academics, advocates, artists, and other cultural workers to examine the intersecting fields of archive and everyday life theory. From Simmel through Mass Observation to contemporary Cultural Studies theorists, the objective of everyday life theory has been, as Ben Highmore writes, to “rescue the everyday from conventional habits of the mind…to attempt to register the everyday in all its complexities and contradictions.” Archive theory provides a means to explore these structures by “making the unfamiliar familiar,” hence opening the possibility of generating “new forms of critical practice.” The question of a politics of the archive is critical to the burgeoning field of archive theory. How do we begin to theorize the archive as a political apparatus? Can its effective democratization be measured by the participation of those who engage with both its constitution and its interpretation?
“Archive” is understood to cover a range of objects, from a museum’s collection to a personal photograph album, from a repository of a writer’s papers in a library to an artist’s installation of found objects. Regardless of its content, the archive works to contain, organize, represent, render intelligible, and produce narratives. The archive has often worked to legitimate the rule of those in power and to produce a historical narrative that presents class structure and power relations as both common-sense and inevitable. This function of the archive as a machine that produces History—telling us what is significant, valued, and worth preserving, and what isn’t—is enabled through an understanding of the archive as neutral and objective (and too banal and boring to be political!). The archive has long occupied a privileged space in affirmative culture, and as a result, the archive has been revered from afar and aestheticized, but not understood as a potential object of critical practice.
Can a dialogue between archive theory and everyday life theory work to “take revenge” on the archive (Cvetkovich)? If the archive works to produce historical narratives, can we seize the archive and its attendant collective consciousness as a tool for resistance in countering dominant History with resistant narratives? While the archive has worked to preserve a transcendental, “affirmative” form of culture, bringing everyday life theory into conversation with archive theory opens up the possibility of directing critical attention to both the wonders and drudgeries of the everyday. Archiving the everyday—revealing class structures and oppression on the basis of race and gender, rendering working and living conditions under global capitalism visible, audible, and intelligible—redirects us from our busyness and distractedness, and focuses our attention on that which has not been understood to be deserving of archiving. The archive provides the time and space to think through a collection of objects organized around particular set of interests. If the archive could grant us a space in which to examine everyday life, rather than sweeping it under the carpet as a trivial banality, we could begin to understand our conditions and develop the desire to change them.
How can we envision the archive as a site of ethics and/or politics? Does the archive simply represent a place to amass memory, or can it, following Benjamin, represent a site to make visible a history of the present, thus amassing fragments of the everyday, which can in turn be used to uproot the authority of the past to question the present? In short, what happens when we move beyond the archive as merely a collection and begin to theorize it as a site of constant renewal and struggle within which the past and present can come together? Furthermore, how then does the archive as an everyday practice allow us to understand or change our perception of temporality, memory, and this historical moment?
Areas of inquiry for submissions may include, but are not limited to, the following topics and questions:
• The archive both includes and excludes; it works to preserve while simultaneously doing violence. Are the acts of selection, collection, ordering, systematizing, and cataloguing inherently violent?
• The question of digitization: the internet as digital archive and the digitization of the physical archive. Digitizing the archive renders collections invisible and distant, yet increasingly searchable and quantifiable. Does the digitization of the archive reveal new ways of seeing persistent power structures? Or does it hide them?
• National and colonial archiving: questions of power and national identity.
• The utopian, radical potential of the archive as well as its dystopian possibilities.
• Indigenous modes of archiving.
• Visibility and pedagogy: while the archive often works to hide, conceal, and store away, it can also reveal and display that which otherwise remains invisible. Do barriers to access restrict this emancipatory function of the archive?
• Questions of collective memory and nostalgia (for Benjamin, a retreat to a place of comfort through nostalgia is not a political act).
• The archive as revisionist history.
• The archive as a form of surveillance.
• The role of reflexivity with respect to the manner in which the archive is constructed/produced/curated.
• Function of the narrative form for the archive: how does the way in which the archive reveals its own constructedness unravel the concept of the archive as “historical truth”?
• The future of the archive: preservation and collection look forwards as well as into the past. How should we understand the hermeneutic function of the archive and the struggle over its interpretation?
• The relationship between the archive and the archivist/archon.
• Mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion in the archive: who speaks and who is spoken for?
• The affective relationship between the archive and the body.
Following the conference, we intend to publish an edited collection of essays based on the papers presented at the conference to facilitate the circulation of ideas in this exciting field of inquiry.
“The Archive and Everyday Life” Conference will take place 7-8 May, 2010, sponsored by the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario (John Douglas Taylor Fund). The conference format will be diverse, including paper presentations, panels, round-table exchanges, artistic performances, and exhibitions. We encourage individual and collaborative paper and panel proposals from across the disciplines and from artists and community members.
Paper Submissions should include (1) contact information; (2) a 300-500 word abstract; and (3) a one page curriculum vitae or a brief bio.
Panel Proposals should include (1) a cover sheet with contact information for chair and each panelist; (2) a one-page rationale explaining the relevance of the panel to the theme of the conference; (3) a 300 word abstract for each proposed paper; and (4) a one page curriculum vitae for each presenter.
Please submit individual paper proposals or full panel proposals via e-mail attachment by October 15, 2009 to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Archive.” Attachments should be in .doc or .rtf formats. Submissions should be one document (i.e. include all required information in one attached document).
Conference organizing committee:
Mary O’Connor, Jennifer Pybus, and Sarah Blacker