RGS The Place of the Archive: A Geographical Enquiry into Archiving as Knowledge Politics

Session: The Place of the Archive: A Geographical Enquiry into Archiving as Knowledge Politics

at Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference 2023

  • Srilata Sircar (Kings College London), Raktim Ray (UCL)

Critical geography has intermittently grappled with the question of how the discipline relates to the idea of ‘archives’ and archival modes of knowledge production (e.g. Dwyer & Davies 2010, Mills 2013, Ferretti 2020, etc). Some scholars have outlined how hegemonic power relations are manifested in institutional archives (Mbembe, 2002; Bandyopadhyay, 2011b), while others have highlighted the strategic potential of archives in disrupting dominant discourse and claiming agency for marginalised groups (Pell 2015, McKemmish et al. 2010). Historical geographers have interrogated various forms of the archive (e.g. Ashmore et al. 2012), while cultural, urban, and political geographers have engaged with the limits, silences, and fragments of archival knowledge (e.g. Jazeel & Legg 2019, Roy 2011). Building on these strands of scholarship, this panel seeks to explore how archiving practices can advance the disciplinary frontier for geography. We understand the archive as not only a repository but also a socio-political process of epistemic becoming through which communities narrate identity and assert subjectivity. Focusing on practices of ‘archiving from below’ or ‘autonomous archives’ as discursive spaces and collectivised forms of knowledge for subaltern subjects (Bandyopadhyay, 2011a; Pell, 2015), we invite both academic papers and other creative submissions (for instance, in the form of audio-visual content, artwork, or performance pieces) addressing the following themes:

· Archives of social and/or protest movements

· Archives and indigenous knowledge systems

· Anti-racist archiving

· Archives as sites for contestation

· Archives of loss and memories

· Fragmented archives

· Digital archives and challenges of digitalisation


State Violence and Counter Archiving : 13. Archiving the space of violence: a relational figure of the perpetrator during the Chilean military regime (1973 – 1990)

  • Daniela Larraín-Salas1
  • Birkbeck, University of London, England


This paper analyses how records produced by human rights organisations during the Chilean regime created a polysemic figure of the perpetrator that, rather than referring only to subjects, implied multiple relations regarding political violence according to the evidence compiled. Based on this, my claim is that these archives illuminate a figure of the perpetrator that, because it remained intertwined with the space of repression and the archiving practices, demands to examine it considering both the relational geography of violence (Massey, 2005) and the productive power of the archive (De Certeau, 1975).

Throughout the Chilean dictatorship, human rights organisations created records to register political repression through multiple angles and, thus, file legal complaints to challenge the narrative of both the regime and the judiciary that concealed the crimes (Bernasconi, 2019; Bernasconi, Lira & Ruiz, 2019). In this context, mapping the sites where political prisoners were detained and their movement from one place to another was a cornerstone of the documentation work. By doing this, the staff could manage information not only regarding the whereabouts of victims, but also about how the space of violence was characterised by particular places of confinement, methods of torture, infrastructure, organisations and state agents that created a complex figure of the perpetrator.

Drawing on Doreen Massey’s relational approach to space, I suggest that by tracing the whereabouts of political prisoners and the dynamics that characterised the sites of violence, those records show a perpetrator based on multiple spatial relations, expanding the traditional understanding of the perpetrator as a subject and the place of violence as a surface where violence occurs. To elaborate on this, I examine the archive regarding the disappearance of the communist party member Marta Ugarte who was illegally arrested in 1976 and whose dead body appeared two months later.


Lebanese Yawmiyat (diaries): Archiving unfinished stories of spatial violence

  • Hanadi Samhan1Dina Mneimneh2 Hoda Mekkaoui3Camillo Boano1
  • University College of London, EnglandCardiff University, WalesUrban Practitioner


The paper tries to capture some aspects of urban violence in Lebanon and constructs their spatialities through living archives. Specifically, it examines spatial violence in the aftermath of Beirut’s port explosion in 2020 and the ongoing political and socio-economic interconnected crises. Individual stories and spatial trajectories of everyday life violence have been traced aiming to foreground an alternative representation of living archives, where an assemblage of stories, memories, perceptions, everyday practices, and their relations continuously shape the urban space. Violence, when embedded in spatial patterns recreates itself within the temporal dimensions in which the future “can be imagined only as a time of further violent conflict,” blurs the distinction between destruction and construction and leads to peculiar arrangements of the territory (Bou Akar, 2018:7). Stories of ten people who survived violent events in different temporalities and spatialities were unfolded along with their personal records which document selective moments of violence and contestation (pictures, messages, emails, and social media posts). Stories of violence were consolidated in an aesthetical representation of the living archive of ‘Yawmiyat’ (diaries)(https://yawmiyetarchives.com/home.php) through which four narratives emerged. The first dwells on the meaning of a life lost in trauma, survival and dispossession of basic rights. It then expands to discern spatial patterns and trajectories across Beirut and beyond. The third elaborates on coping strategies and emerging solidarities through which people navigate their spaces and lives. It delves into specific patterns of invented detachment and/or intimacy. The essay concludes by opening up the debate on how the urban in Lebanon can be “an exhausted territory, predated by the absence of the public, brutalized by the fragility of the common and vandalized by the preclusion of a thinkable and imaginable future”, but still archiving hope and future imaginations (Boano, 2021:41).


Re-inscribing the archive through artistic research and activism

  • Manu Luksch 1Mukul Patel 1
  • Ambient Information Systems


In this paper we present novel approaches to generating, interrogating and interpreting archives through a body of work produced by the London-based critical arts studio Ambient Information Systems over a period of 20+ years. From deploying networking technologies to bridge communication divides, to activating legal processes around mass surveillance; from mining media repositories and re-articulating them for their contemporary resonance, to the use of 3D and computational imaging; from poetic mapping to constructing media platforms and processes that balance openness, security and salience – the works encompass a range of modes, methods and attitudes towards the digital.

Two ongoing works of particular relevance to the themes of the RGS 2023 conference are the Artefacts of Resistance project in conjunction with geographers at UCL/Bartlett and KCL, which is built on an open-access rich media database that allows for collective editing and distributed storage, and Atlas of the Liminal, a series of photogrammetric portraits of sites associated with the tech industry, including highly contaminated neighbourhoods of Silicon Valley.

Artists typically work with a broader palette than archivists and academics, and can deploy capacities to respond rapidly and engage the public. Through the works discussed, we demonstrate how artistic approaches can promote mechanisms of collective custodianship, advocate design for broader legibility, and illuminate issues of access and anonymity, erasure and censorship, the fictive and the documentary.


State Violence and Counter Archiving : I am an archive! Recording voices from the margins

  • Ufaque Paiker1Raktim Ray2Srilata Sircar3
  • Ashoka University, IndiaUniversity of College LondonKings College London

In the wake of the ascendency of majoritarian politics in India geared towards recognising citizenship solely on the basis of documents, the paper records the narratives of Muslim women countering this document-determined approach to prove to belong to the Indian nation. As part of the project “Artefacts of Resistance: Creating Archives of Transnational Protest Movements”, this paper builds on the study of a protest movement in India where Muslim women were at the forefront of spatial occupation against the state to counter the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019. The paper looks at two perspectives of the archive. Firstly, it analyses the perspective of the government, its definition of archives as state documents defining citizenship and its colonial origins. Secondly, it documents the counter-narratives by women and curates the artefacts that emerged from these protest sites. It discusses these within the larger context of documents becoming the sole marker of one’s identity as citizen, overriding emotions, memory and even the real physical presence. While historically negating belongingness to nations, this paper-proof system was specifically countered by women against the 2019 CAA. The paper argues that by drawing from artefacts, memory and narratives presented by women as an archive of belongingness, they are redefining the very logic of the requirement of proof or evidence to ascertain one’s nationality as an Indian. Finally, the paper offers an alternative framework for building an egalitarian archive.


Unsettling the colonial archive: Living archives: weaving reparative urban knowledges

  • Catalina Ortiz 1Natalia Villamizar-Duarte2
  • University College of LondonNewcastle University

Archival processes involve multiple forms of recording who we are and what we do. This paper explores debates about living archives as performances that alter conventional narratives to enrich reduced, suppressed and omitted histories (Sabiescu, 2020) and as a strategy for affective knowledge co-creation (Ortiz et al., 2022). We build on the collaborative project ‘Archivo Vivo: Weaving gendered (hi)stories of reclamation in Moravia’ to frame weaving as a strategy of territorial reparation. Moravia is a neighbourhood in Medellin (Colombia) born from forced displacements and socio-environmental injustices. In Moravia, as well as in many other places in Colombia, women have used weaving as a symbolic reparation strategy. In the current context of transition towards territorial peace, these processes become key to documenting what has been woven, torn apart, and repaired while interweaving the polyphony of stories of dispute and togetherness. Archivo Vivo explores practices of urban reclamation led by women around the right to stay put, the search for diálogo de saberes (dialogue of knowledges) and fostering collective visions of memory and future. As living archives, these practices are inscribed in bodies, self-built urban spaces and spatial practices. To explore the living archive as a tool for reparation, we engage in two processes. First, we build on decolonial feminist perspectives that conceive the interdependence of “body-territory-land” (Cabnal, 2019), as it points to the inseparability of territorial forms of violence experienced in the bodies of racialized women, their ancestors and the community. This approach guides the exploration of weaving as a healing practice. Second, we co-create an unfinished living archive of Moravia using textiles, photography, audio-visual material, oral histories and spatial practices to trigger collective spatial imaginations. We argue that living archives are artefacts for the defence of rights with the capacity to channel processes of weaving territory-body-earth as an act of healing.