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Confronting History, the Archive and the 'Stranger' in Educational Research

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Kate Jones.

In this workshop, Sophie Rudolph and Jo Dillabough would like to engage the Faculty of Education, other departments and friends with preliminary ideas we are working on in relationship to the concept of the archive. Neither Sophie nor I have degrees in history yet in our respective projects we have both been faced with dilemmas surrounding the use of the archive as a methodological tool for engaging in critical sociological research. Sophie’s current work rests upon wider questions about colonization through educational policy in Australia and concerns about what role should reading with, and against, the archive play in better understanding the history of Indigenous knowledge in the Australian educational context. One element of my current work is concerned with the representation of racialized young people who have engaged in protests and/or ‘riots’ in the UK and South Africa from the mid twentieth century until the present. In the latter project there is a focus on comparative international politics, security and policing particularly in relation to racialized youth living on the fringe of global cities.

Our plan at the outset is to show a short clip from the French Canadian film entitled Leolo in which there are references to different ideas about the archive, the imagination and selfhood. It also reflects on how these three concepts come together to reveal utopian and dystopian dimensions of urban life. We do this so as to ignite interest in questions about what it means to confront the archival record in our work. We will then each give a brief 15-20 minute presentation of our work and ask participants to help us bridge the various challenges the archive presents for all of us but also to discuss its critical uses, limitations and possibilities. We hope that participants will engage with us in relation to their own work and associated dilemmas and use this session as an opportunity to think together about the various challenges and possibilities for doing work in these areas. Abstracts of our work for discussion are presented below.

Critical Reflections on the Archive as a Site for Interrupting Colonial Logics embedded in Contemporary Australian Education Policy, Sophie Rudolph

The settler-colonial history of Australia rests on the concept of terra nullius – land of no-one – which was used to justify British invasion and settlement in 1788. This colonial device represents the concurrent acts of erasure and declarations of superiority that were to characterise Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships into the following centuries. Historian Henry Reynolds argues that these ideas became embedded in institutions: ‘the idea that Australia was waste land had become a central doctrine of the colonial courts by the middle of the 19th century’ (1989:67). In this paper I examine the possibilities and challenges of archival research related to the construction of a genealogy of the notion of ‘gap’ attributed to Australian Indigenous students through a current national policy called ‘Closing the Gap in Indigenous Disadvantage’. I explore some of the ethical dimensions of archival work in this context, the tensions and contradictions bound up in the institution of ‘the archive’, and the potential for a history of the present to understand, interrupt and challenge the power of continued forms of colonial logic in contemporary education policy.

Rethinking History, the Archive and the Representation of Young People’s Surplus Affect and Stylistic revolts on the Urban Scene, Jo-Anne Dillabough

“Is rioting the correct way to express your discontent?”

“Yes,” said the young man. “You wouldn’t be talking to me now if we didn’t riot, would you?” [..] “Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you.”

David: There is a lot of Asian here because this school is by []. ..They call us chinks and stuff like that. JD: Who’s the they? […] When you say they call us Chinks? David: Native people. Yeah, they are like get off our land and stuff. And it’s like, for them, there are too many of you. Then we call them a racist word for Native, Jugs, when people get pissed off and when people get mad or when a group beat on one guy. For being racist. JD: Who beat up who? David: Well then it gets complicated and it’s mixed…because some Natives hate racism too! (David, Chinese Canadian, aged 14, Vancouver BC)

Department of Public Welfare: In the event that Displaced Persons or other immigrants coming to the attention of this Department as public charges, such cases are to be immediately reported to the Welfare Services in order that immigration authorities may be given immediate opportunity to arrange for deportation []. (City of Toronto Archives, LLP -46: 55.1 copy, 46.21, 39., March 3rd, 1950).

The above words, some derived from a research interview, some from a media account of the London Riots (2011) and some from archive sources convey in different ways the power of narrative and the narrative imagination (see Ricoeur, 2010) as a temporally located strategy for making sense of the world. In this respect, the exploration of narrative expressions constitutes a central element of the ethnographer’s trade. It also, however, presents a number of methodological and interpretive dilemmas which I will discuss in this presentation. For example, such dilemmas may emerge when a young person may be interviewed about, or asked to visualize their past experience in a neighbourhood, the wider city (e.g., participating in a protest) or the history of one’s own biography in the city as a ‘history from below’ (see Raphael, 2006). For experienced ethnographers, we learn that young people may often imagine they have little history to tell and/or may believe they carry little substantial knowledge about the history of the city in which they live. It may also be that some young people understand their urban history in the city as residing outside the borders of both the official and unofficial ‘archive’ or legitimate citizenship or that their subcultural communities represent a revolt into style: forms that serve to rewrite archival accounts about representations of youth in past time.

In this presentation, I argue that narratives expressed by young people, their stylistic revolts and associated representations in the public record always carry residual meanings which operate in the present in re-appropriated forms and which shape their projected futures. At the same time these narratives also speak back – as forms of repetition and collective and counter memories – to both the official and unofficial archive. It is the ethnographic interpretation of these narratives, styles and representations and their dramaturgical functions (see Goffman) that may provide one avenue for better understanding how particular identity categories – such as a young person imagining he or she is Eminem or as ‘riotous rapper’ – might be seen as part of a larger narrative imagination and a theatre of memory (see Ricoeur, 2010; Raphael, 2006); that is, as a form of social and cultural meaning which carries residual effects and surplus affect into the present which change the course of history.

This talk is part of the Centre for Commonwealth Education (CCE) series.

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