Affecting relations: introducing affect theory to archival discourse

Abstract

An engagement with affect theory is a significant way in which dimensions of social justice for the archival field can be elucidated, fleshed out, and ultimately confronted. Affect theory provides tools for undertaking substantive analyses of power and its abuses in order to better perform, more critically understand, and challenge and reconceptualize archival functions and concerns in support of social justice principles and goals. In this paper, I provide an introduction for the archival field to affect theory, arguing that the contributions of Ann Cvetkovich, Sara Ahmed and Lauren Berlant can critically expose, complicate and further work toward social justice in three areas of archival concern. First, drawing on Cvetkovich’s work, I argue that affective value should be surfaced and explicitly applied as an appraisal criterion. Second, extending Ahmed’s work on pain and witnessing to the archival realm and building on arguments that archivists are witnesses (Punzalan in Community archives: the shaping of memory, Facet, London, 187–219, 2009; Caswell in Archiving the unspeakable: Silence, memory and the photographic record in Cambodia. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 2014a), I argue that archivists are deeply implicated in webs of affective relations. Such relations require the archival field to expand its ethical orientation to address considerations of emotional justice. Finally, I build out of Berlant’s work to call out, define and analyze a different kind of archival relation, an affective investment in and attachment to damaging neoliberalist ideologies that shape the conditions of contemporary archival work.

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Acknowledgments

The University of California, Los Angeles’s Graduate Summer Research Mentorship Program generously funded this research. The author would like to acknowledge Michelle Caswell and Anne J. Gilliland for their mentorship, and along with those of Jesse Deshayes and Mario H. Ramirez, for their critical and constructive suggestions. Comments from two anonymous reviewers were instrumental in strengthening this piece and developing its social justice focus. The author would also like to acknowledge all who have contributed to the “Archives and Emotion” bibliography begun by Kate Theimer.

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Correspondence to Marika Cifor.

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Justice is not simply a feeling. And feelings are not always just. But justice involves feelings, which move us across the surfaces of the world, creating ripples in the intimate contours of our lives. Where we go, with these feelings, remains an open question (Ahmed 2004, p. 202).

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Cifor, M. Affecting relations: introducing affect theory to archival discourse. Arch Sci 16, 7–31 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10502-015-9261-5

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Keywords

  • Affect
  • Affect theory
  • Appraisal
  • Community archives
  • Neoliberalism
  • Social justice
  • Witnessing