Theoretical interests in archives being addressed through our Luce grant, "Tracing Authoritarianism: Linking Southeast Asia and Southeast Asian America Through Archives, Language, and Pedagogy."
Our theme of comparative authoritarianism and our project of bridging SE Asian Studies and SE Asian American studies intersect in the research archive, which we propose to critically examine across a register of functions, interpretations, and cultural meanings -- both within SE Asia and its diaspora. Influenced by social justice movements, Critical Archival Studies seek to question power differentials assumed in frameworks of archival collecting and access, and center curatorial responsibilities in communities who may re-interpret, re-define and use materials for community-based public memory projects. We aim to catalyze innovative archive-based research, art and community-driven histories, with a focus on ethical methodologies addressing both the silences and multiplicity of voices in collections.
Cross-disciplinary research methods and approaches to documentary sources can be fruitfully investigated where the aftermath of colonialisms and revolutionary wars have left communities dislocated and often removed from the historical processes in which they become invisible. Trends in community archiving and collaborations between research libraries and communities seek to address these historical schisms, but theoretical work in these areas is limited [… E.g.] critiques of ethnographic documentation practices and colonial forensic methods do not easily reconcile with new empiricisms at play in the documenting of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. We will work collaboratively with colleagues in Cambodia and Myanmar to investigate how historical film, photographic and ethnographic sources can be integrated into public memory projects addressing peace and reconciliation, and in the Philippines to examine the ethical role of forensic documentation in public truth-seeking discourses.
The field of Critical Archival Studies provides two points of connection to our themes: 1. Its ability to engage the SE Asian American audiences we wish to attract, as they seek sources for understanding their own histories; 2. The political emptiness of populism as an ideological category is hostile to the documented truths upon which liberal democracy depends. Archives and libraries are problematic, but critical sources for truth-telling and remembering. Our focus on critical archival studies brings together our themes of authoritarianism and new SE Asian American audiences by examining the role of the research archive in delimiting subjectivities, particularly those affected by authoritarian violence. The international linkages we propose across Cambodia, Myanmar, and the Philippines bring together UW and international scholars to consider the contested role of documentation regimes in the maintenance of authoritarian violence, and resistance to it.
A new community of SE Asian American students has questions about heritage and identity which SE Asian studies, with its emphasis on language, history, politics, and culture, but also engagement with museum and library collections, can provide. Our linkages between archives and SE Asian and SE Asian American communities thus leverage the resources of our public R-1 University toward the production of community-driven area studies by making the University and its programs and holdings responsible to communities of origin and ownership.
The UW SEAC proposes activities that address our goals of 1) exploring contemporary configurations of authoritarianism and 2) developing new pedagogies to engage SE Asian American audiences and bridge Asian and Ethnic studies. Within our understanding of authoritarianism we include the emerging concept of “care” for its relevance to our work with public archival projects and with under-represented SE Asian American communities in exploring individual and community acts of restitution and rehabilitation as forms of empowerment against state-sponsored violence. As a relational set of discourses and practices between people and environments, care provides a connective tissue between an inner self and an outer world; between selves, communities, and social worlds. The reciprocity and attentiveness to the inequitable dynamics of a social landscape represent the kind of care that we will explore through our work with archives, where acts of restitution represent both an opening up of privileged information access to popular discourse, and a reframing of archival authority and the power of its traces.
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