Session 14: Methods and Approaches to Study Archives

Moderator: Morgan Daniels (Vanderbilt University)
The Relationship Between People and Recorded Knowledge: Insights from Ethnomethodology / Ciaran Trace (University of Texas Austin)

First developed by sociologist Harold Garfinkel in the mid-twentieth century, ethnomethodology is a form of social theory that studies how social order is possible. In particular, ethnomethodology studies how people’s social world (a world comprised of everyday objects, action, and interaction) is constructed, accomplished, and maintained. The fundamental premise of the paper is that ethnomethodology is an appropriate worldview from which archivists, and other information scientists, can study the nature of documents and document work. The paper will provide an overview of the intellectual roots of ethnomethodology, situating this perspective in relation to the disciplines of sociology and phenomenology. The core concepts of ethnomethodology will then be introduced as a means of articulating what this perspective brings to our understanding of the way that society is accomplished. Finally, a selection of key studies will be examined in order to highlight important ethnomethodological findings about the particular relationship of documents to human actions and interactions.

Crossing the Three-Wire Bridge: Mediating Methodologies Between Communities / Belinda Battley (Monash University)

This paper will explore the challenges inherent in the process of developing a research methodology that will meet academic requirements as well as the needs of the several different communities participating in my PhD project. My research re-examines archival description in the archival multiverse, using a mediated community partnership research methodology from a critical theory standpoint, and asks how a community outside traditional institutional structures can take control of their records of collective memory. I take a Records Continuum perspective, which sees multiple potential perspectives, needs and outcomes inherent in records. A critical theory approach aims for transformation and empowerment for the communities involved, so their needs must be central, and therefore my methodology must take an inclusive approach. As the researcher, I am an insider and mediator between the participating communities.

Three main communities are involved in this research: The Auckland University Tramping Club (AUTC), the archival academic community, and the archival practice community. The AUTC community is an integral part of the research, and therefore the methodology used must meet their needs. Similarly, both the archival community and the academic community are integral, so again their methodological needs must be met if the research is to be acceptable to them. The complexity of negotiation of methodologies is increased by the wide range of group and individual viewpoints contained within each of the communities. Re-negotiating my position within the communities as I become a researcher also has strong potential effects, both on my research itself and on my ongoing relationships within the communities, and these also need to be taken into account.

Working with communities to which I belong brings its own challenges, including questions of avoiding coercion and bias while not discounting valuable potential sources of information. These challenges must all be successfully met for the project to succeed. This paper will describe the challenges I have found and the ways I am meeting them so far, including the use of interpretive methods, open communication, inter-community translation, humour, negotiation, checking back, and analytical autobiography.

“We Care! Do You?”: ACT UP Records, Feminist Ethics, and Radical Care / Marika Cifor (UCLA)

Just visible over the top of a drag queen’s blond bouffant is a sign reading “We Care! Do You?” in black marker. I feel as though this question is directed to me as a scholar, archivist and user, and as if I am actually standing there in the middle of the crush of hundreds of AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power/Los Angeles (ACT UP/LA) protestors. This black and white image of a March 1989 “zap” of Cedars-Sinai Hospital for their refusal to build a desperately needed AIDS ward is part of the ACT UP/LA Records at the ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives. The named “we” of the sign’s message is created, enacted, and performed by this queer gesture of resistance. The image documents and acts as a gesture of care demanding a reciprocal gesture to alleviate suffering. Echoing in the archives it calls for a response that is attuned to affect. This paper applies a “feminist ethics of care” framework as introduced by Caswell and Cifor to delineate the role of ACT UP records, the archives they live in, and archivists who care for them. An ethics of care emphasizes the multiplicity of ways people are linked to one another and to larger communities through webs of responsibilities. This approach to ethics emphasizes “particularlity, connection, and context,” rather than abstract moral principles and favors empathy to situational demands. Through this case study I advocate that we all pay greater attention to care—what it is, who does it, who needs it, how it is distributed and circulated, placing care at the center of archival work. Focusing on four key relationships in one collection—archivist and record creator, archivist and record subject, archivist and record user, and archivist and community exposes how archival relationships are essentially affective in nature and that archivists have ethical responsibilities based on these affective relations.

Care is an apt framework for addressing ACT UP. Care is both the feeling of concern and attachment, and acts of providing what is necessary for the health, maintenance, and protection of someone. ACT UP cared literally and figuratively for those impacted by HIV/AIDS in radical ways. Their records demonstrate that queer gestures and geographies of care can transcend commonly recognized structures of care as gentle and soft by creating and performing gestures care that are tough, militant, and radical. Radical care is captured in content of the records—anger and caretaking in demonstrations to sex as communal care—and in the function of the ACT UP archives. Caring demands a new archival ethics.