- Memory in Motion: Archives, Technology and the Social ed. by Ina Blom, Trond Lundemo and Eivind Røssaak
edited by Ina Blom, Trond Lundemo and Eivind Røssaak. Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, NL, 2016. 332 pp., illus. Trade. ISBN: 978-9462982147.
Memory studies in general and archive studies in particular are an overcrowded section in recent scholarship on culture and cultural heritage. In the wake of Maurice Halbwachs's first reflections on collective memory (1925), the landmark book series of Pierre Nora (1984–1992) on the lieux de mémoire (sites of memory), a shortcut for the collective effort to compensate for the loss of traditional, embodied memory and cultural transmission in what he called milieux de mémoire (communities and practices of memory) has foregrounded the constructivist dimension of memory (the idea that traditions can be invented has now become commonplace). Since the breakthrough interventions of authors such as Allan Sekula and John Tagg in the 1980s, much attention has been given to the political and ideological biases that structure all archives, a key example of a site of memory. The work of such philosophers as Jacques Derrida, media archeologists such as Friedrich Kittler and media theoreticians such as Wolfgang Ernst or Bernard Stiegler has further contributed to challenging the still widespread vision of memory as recollection of the past and the archive as one of the privileged instruments of this effort by either individuals or groups. What has come to the fore in their work is not only the importance of technological mediation but also the productive and performative aspects of the archive, which has achieved real agency in memory processes, now often framed in the context of actornetwork approaches.
The editors of this collection, all affiliated with Scandinavian research centers on memory and archive studies, clearly aim at building on these insights while also opening new ground for theories on collective memory (it is tacitly assumed by all other contributors to this book that the difference between individual and collective memory is currently not very interesting to study). The conceptual shift they defend is based as much on theoretical discussions (throughout the book the work of Wolfgang Ernst is used as the primary beacon) as on the analysis of contemporary practices that exemplify the new take of memory "in motion."
This idea of motion is elaborated in mainly two directions. On the one hand, all studies in this book reject the idea of the archive as a passive repository, insisting instead on the fact that contemporary—that is, digitally structured—archives are open environments that permanently change under the influence of many convergent or conflicting impulses: the data input itself can change the archive, and so can (and will) the transformations of software and hardware or the interaction with users and user groups, who do much more than just retrieve or check data, for instance. On the other hand, and this is the most challenging claim of the book, memory in motion not only relies upon data, memories and archives that are themselves changing all the time; it has also become an instance that changes the very object [End Page 212] that it is supposed to represent, namely social memory, social life, if not the social fabric as a (heterogeneous and ever-shifting) whole. To summarize it in very naïve terms: Once the technology of collective memory changes, it is no longer possible to stick to classic conceptions of society and sociality.
Memory in Motion scrutinizes these changes in two ways. First of all, it offers a well-balanced mix of strictly theoretical approaches (the introduction by the editors, the opening chapter by Wolfgang Ernst, the closing chapter by Yuk Hui) and more practice-oriented readings of more or less recent case studies. In all chapters, however, there is a strong historical and theoretical awareness, so that even the most sophisticated and detailed technical readings (and there are some chapters that are not always easy to follow for readers having no more than an elementary knowledge of digital culture) do not lose sight of the bigger picture. Second, the book has also chosen a...