Relics, Data and Social Research: Using Archives Qualitative Methods in Social Research 2011
Relics and archives Ar-chive n. A place or collection containing records, documents or other materials of historical interest. A repository for stored memories or information: the archive of the mind. [From French archives, from Latin arch va, from Greek arkheia, pl. of arkheion, town hall, from arkh, government, from arkhein, to rule] Rel-ic n. Something that has survived the passage of time, especially an object or custom whose original culture has disappeared: ‘Corporal punishment was a relic of barbarism’. Something cherished for its age or historic interest. An object kept for its association with the past; a memento. An object of religious veneration, especially a piece of the body or a personal item of a saint. Or relics A corpse; remains
History and sociology • Historical materials not ‘pure’ data awaiting sociological interpretation • Analyses of social processes not always historical • Narratives and history: a story is not a theory. • Evidence and explanation – the role of archives • Stinchcombe 1978:1 ‘one does not apply theory to history; rather one uses history to develop theory’ SO importance of grounding theories of social change in historical analyses and evidence.
What is an archive? • Relics are our only source of knowledge about the past. In short: no relics, no history. • Contingency and accident – the selected and chosen + the mad fragments • Purposes and interests – somebody has to decide that something needs preserving for some reason. • Protection and funding – archives also a product of growth of state power: they require space, money and degree of political stability. Examples: Rwanda, East Germany.
Archives are traces of the past “…a name for the many places in which the past (which does not now exist, but which once did actually happen; which cannot be retrieved, but which may be represented) has deposited some traces and fragments, usually in written form. In these archives someone (usually from about 1870 onwards) catalogued and indexed these traces.” (Steedman 2001: 69) Thus beware of what gets left behind.
Archives, documents and sociology Foucault and the ‘question of the archive’ - the archive is ‘the system that establishes statements as events and things’. This is both strength and limitation: we have traces of the past but we have to speculate about conditions of determination under which these traces become available.