Self-determination and archival autonomy: Advocating activism

Joanne Evans, Susan McKemmish, Elizabeth Daniels, Gavan McCarthy

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    58 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper explores the role of archival activism in supporting social movements linked to human rights and social justice agendas. Taking a records continuum perspective, it presents an Australian case study relating to the Stolen Generations, Former Child Migrants, Forgotten Australians and Forced Adoption communities to illustrate imperatives for advocacy and activism in support of the “archival autonomy” of communities. Framed by critical theory, the study identifies and analyses systemic problems in meeting the recordkeeping and archival identity, memory, accountability, redress and recovery needs of these key communities. The devastating impact of both finding and not finding relevant information is highlighted, along with how systemic and structural difficulties in seeking access to vital evidence can be re-traumatising. Using reflexivity and the Movement Action Plan as an analytical tool, the case study reflects on the activist role archival research and development projects can potentially play, using the Who Am I? and Trust and Technology Projects as exemplars. The paper explores how an extended suite of rights in records, stretching beyond discovery and access to appraisal, description and disclosure, and linked to records continuum concepts of co-creation and multiple provenance, and the emergent concept of the participatory archive, might support community self-determination in the context of human rights and social justice agendas, with particular reference to the rights of the child. Additionally, the paper explores a new concept of archival autonomy and its relationship to community self-determination. Archival autonomy is tentatively defined as the ability for individuals and communities to participate in societal memory, with their own voice, and to become participatory agents in recordkeeping and archiving for identity, memory and accountability purposes. The achievement of archival autonomy is identified as a grand societal challenge, with the need for archival activism to become an integral part of social movements on a local and global scale. The paper concludes with a proposed National Summit on the Archive and the Rights of the Child, envisaged as a vehicle for archival advocacy and activism leading to transformative action to address social justice and human rights agendas in Australia.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)337 - 368
    Number of pages32
    JournalArchival Science
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


    • Archival activism
    • Archival autonomy
    • Participatory archives
    • Human rights

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