Sunday, December 6, 2009

Animating Archives Conference - In Response to Aaron's post

In response to Aaron’s blog post concerning the Animating Archives conference, and in particular the presentation of Ramesh Srinivasan, I would like to contend with the statement that the Cambridge’s classification system was “simply inadequately capturing the full extent of the Zuni culture,” as Aaron blogged. It wasn’t so much that the archive’s the classification systems were not adequate in terms of its inability to capture the full cultural extent of the Zunis, but rather, as a more fundamental level, this system, and to a great extent, many archive systems rely on a certain logic based on ontologically-rigid structures.

In the case of the Zuni archive, it is not that the archive per se could really ever adequately define or represent the culture, but rather that the archive as a stable institution could be challenged by multiple and sometimes reverse discourses. As Srinivasan argued, this incommensurability between these two modes of knowledge production (the Zuni people and outside organizations), can facilitate a rethinking of the ontological base that the digital archive is based on.

What I found provocative in Srinivasan presentation was the relationship between the particular and the universal within the digital archive, more specifically the search engine. As Srinivasan argued, the algorithm of the search does not privilege the local, but rather depends on a metadata that disempowers those who are able to speak and give knowledge and how one can present that knowledge.

And although making this type of archive standard to every archive does not seem plausible or even necessary, the problematization of the top-down versus a possible bottom-up system that Srinivasan posits is productive in bringing up important questions concerning the ownership of knowledge and cultural production of indigenous or marginalized people groups whose cultural artifacts are placed and classified within an archive.

One point that Srinivasan made in his presentation and an area that I hope will get blog responses is the role of the narrative in the local. To Srinivasan, the local production of knowledge into the archive was based on the production of the narrative, an area that Srinivasan hoped would be applicable to other archives with similar goals. The narrative is privileged in the ethnographic look into the local and it would be interesting to put pressure on this apparent necessity.

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