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The Urgency of Feminist Standpoint Appraisal

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Michelle Caswell presents a feminist approach to rethink the process by which archival value is determined and the archivists’ role in it.

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The digital transformation of our society has an enormous impact on the nature and form of information. Art, too, is increasingly taking on non-tangible forms. The preservation of art is a major challenge for art and heritage organizations today.

In a series of four webinars, spread over the fall of 2021 and the spring of 2022, four international new-lighters will talk about the archive of the future. After each lecture there will be plenty of time to ask questions and share experiences.

In her talk “The Urgency of Feminist Standpoint Appraisal” Michelle Caswell presents a feminist approach in order to rethink both the process by which archival value is determined and the archivists’ role in that process:

Offering a sweeping critique of the history of archival theory in the dominant western tradition, this talk will introduce “feminist standpoint appraisal,” a methodology, epistemology, and political strategy for determining value in records. Inverting dominant appraisal paradigms, feminist standpoint appraisal explicitly gives epistemological weight (thereby assigning value to) records created and preserved by—and activated in service to—oppressed communities. As an epistemology, feminist standpoint appraisal shifts our thinking about the position of the archivist, from a purportedly objective “view from nowhere” (which in fact belies a dominant but unnamed position), towards a socially located, culturally situated agent who centers ways of being and knowing from the margins. In valuing the unique insights gleaned by people on the margins, feminist standpoint appraisal refuses the notion that archivists from oppressed communities must overcome their positionalities to meet professional demands for neutrality, but rather, values and leverages the insights gained from outsider status, viewing such attendant insights as an asset, rather than a detriment, to the archival endeavor. Furthermore, feminist standpoint appraisal calls on archivists who inhabit dominant positions to acknowledge their oppressor standpoints and actively work to dismantle them.

Dr. Michelle Caswell is an Associate Professor of Archival Studies in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Caswell directs a team of students at UCLA’s Community Archives Lab (https://communityarchiveslab.ucla.edu/), which explores the ways that independent, identity-based memory organizations document, shape, and provide access to the histories of minoritized communities, with a particular emphasis on understanding their affective, political, and artistic impact. In 2008, together with Samip Mallick, Caswell co-founded the South Asian American Digital Archive (http://www.saada.org), an online repository that documents and provides access to the stories of South Asian Americans. She is the author of the books Urgent Archives: Enacting Liberatory Memory Work (Routledge Press, 2021) and Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory and the Photographic Record in Cambodia (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), as well as more than 40 peer-reviewed articles in critical archival studies.

To imagine otherwise: future archives is an initiative of CEMPER, Letterenhuis, M HKA/CKV, VAi in collaboration with FARO and meemoo.

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Organizer meemoo, Vlaams instituut voor het archief

Organizer of The Urgency of Feminist Standpoint Appraisal

In samenwerking met organisaties in cultuur, media en overheid zetten we onze schouders onder de zorg voor en het gebruik van hun (digitaal) archief. We brengen samen met onze partners het verleden tot leven en maken het klaar voor morgen. We stellen het digitaal veilig en maken het toegankelijk en bruikbaar.

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