- Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom by Abigail De Kosnik
by Abigail De Kosnik. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, U.S.A., 2016. ISBN: 9780262034661.
The archive has been at the center of a tremendous amount of scholarly, critical and political reflection for more than four decades. In 1969 Foucault published the book that triggered the renewed interest in archives—The Archeology of Knowledge—and a sudden outburst of new publications, such as for instance those by Alan Sekula and John Tagg, appeared in the early 1980s. Within this field, the focus has increasingly shifted toward the medial infrastructure of the archive, both by opening the research to nonprint or nonpaper archives and, even more generally, by addressing the importance of the digital turn. Abigail De Kosnik’s book is a stimulating and innovative intervention in the field. Its originality is derived not only from the particular corpus that she examines (mainly fan fiction archives created and managed by minority groups—in this case female, feminist, global-South and queer groups), but also from the theoretical framework that she develops for the study of what she calls “rogue” archives—a type of archive that is much more than just a digital or a digitized archive but that rather exemplifies and implements several of the new opportunities disclosed by the digital turn.
For De Kosnik, whose book is based on an oral history project at Berkeley and interviews with some 50 “rogue” archivists in the domain of fanfic archives, a “rogue archive” (the metaphor is borrowed from the work by Jacques Derrida, who establishes a strong link between the figure of the rogue and radical democracy) is very different from a traditional archive, where the preservation, organization and presentation of a certain type of document of the past produces an official interpretation for present use that also aims at maintaining itself in the future. Rogue archives are created bottom up, by sometimes untrained and generally unpaid amateurs and volunteers sharing a special interest in a certain, often marginal or [End Page 538] marginalized field, whose ambition is less to transmit a certain idea of things past to future generations in a well-structured and tightly controlled way than to make possible the very survival of ignored or censored experiences as well as to generate a community life around an archive where all roles and functions become and remain blurred. Rogue archivists are almost always activists, and the driving force of their work is passion and commitment. Rogue archivists are in many cases not interested at all in technical or scientific standards and reliability and ignore or willfully break the current rules of copyright and intellectual property rights. Examples of rogue archives therefore do not include YouTube channels or Facebook groups, even if much rogue archiving work can be done in these digital environments; the commercial interests of these platforms are in direct contradiction with the basic “no rules, no restrictions” spirit of the real rogue archive.
De Kosnik’s book, which does not hide its sympathy for the anticanonical and politically inspired approach of rogue archivists, is an important contribution to a better understanding of the stakes of digital culture in general. First of all, the book offers a clear and well-informed state of the art of many smaller and larger debates that surround the issue of digital archives (in that sense, it is almost tailor-made for classroom use—after all, the oral history project was executed with the help of MA students, and one feels throughout the book the strong commitment of the author to the intertwining of teaching and research). Second, and this is of course what stands out most, Rogue Archives is also an attempt to sketch a theoretical framework for the study of the countless grassroots initiatives that represent a huge percentage of the archival work that is being done online (the final chapter of the book proposes a big data analysis of the production as well as the reception of these online archives, and the quantitative figures are absolutely dizzying). De Kosnik does so by emphasizing the notion of archival “style...