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Jacques Derrida meets Nelson Mandela: archival ethics at the endgame

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Verne Harris offers a reflection on legacy and the archive through three intersecting enquiries, on: the South African tradition of ‘archives for justice’, deconstruction’s insistence that the work of archives is justice; and the legacies of Nelson Mandela and Jacques Derrida. He makes a case for an open-ended making and re-making of legacy and for a more radically transformative agenda in the work of archives in South Africa.

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  1. Convened by the School of Information and Labadie Collection (Special Collections Library), University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, May 2008. Parts of the text draw on other conference presentations made by me—in Pittsburgh (March 2006), Milwaukee (November 2007), Pretoria (September 2008) and East London (September 2008). I am grateful to the audience participants who offered comment, and to my colleagues who have read various iterations of the text. Parts of the text have been published in an article in The Bridge (October 2008) and in a contribution to Mandela: The Authorised Portrait (second edition, PQ Publishers and Wild Dog Press, 2009).

  2. South Africa’s freedom of information law, the Promotion of Access to Information Act, was passed by Parliament in 2000.

  3. The cases of the National Archives, the provincial archives services, Robben Island Museum and the Mayibuye Archive have been well-publicised.

  4. Speech delivered at a fundraising dinner, Hyde Park, London, 25 June 2008.

  5. One measure of this is the thousands of requests which pour into his office each month. In the first half of 2008 the Nelson Mandela Foundation logged an average of just under 4,000 such requests per month.

  6. Derrida made this argument in numerous texts. See, for example, Politics of Friendship (1997) and Of Hospitality (2000). In the last decade of his life, from the 1994 publication in French of Politics of Friendship, Derrida repeatedly engaged the theme of hospitality.


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Correspondence to Verne Harris.

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Harris, V. Jacques Derrida meets Nelson Mandela: archival ethics at the endgame. Arch Sci 11, 113–124 (2011).

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