The Archive and Everyday Life

The Archive and Everyday Life Conference (7-8 May 2010)

I will be presenting a paper at the Archive and Everyday Life Conference at McMaster University in Canada in May. This conference will bring together academics, advocates, artists, and other cultural workers to examine the intersecting fields of archive and everyday life theory. “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, organise, 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 aestheticised, but not understood as a potential object of critical practice.

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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 organised 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.

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)

http://www.humanities.mcmaster.ca/~english/taylor_10/index.html

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