Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance: On the Content in the Form
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This essay is about the colonial order of things as seen through its archival productions. It asks what insights about the colonial might be gained from attending not only to colonialism’s archival content but to its particular and sometimes peculiar form. Its focus is on archiving as a process rather than archives as things. It looks to archives as epistemological experiments rather than as sources—to colonial archives as cross-sections of contested knowledge. Most important, I want to suggest that colonial archives were both transparencies on which power relations were inscribed and intricate technologies of rule in themselves. The essay’s concerns are two: to situate new approaches to colonial archives within the broader “historic turn” of the last two decades and to suggest what critical histories of the colonial have to gain by turning further toward a politics of knowledge that reckons with archival genres, cultures of documentation, actions of access, and archival conventions. Archives, Epistemological Skepticism, and the Historic Turn Some four decades after the British social anthropologist Evans-Pritchard’s unheeded warning that anthropology would have to choose between being history or being nothing and Lévi-Strauss’s counterclaim that accorded history neither “special value” nor privileged analytic space, students of culture have taken up a transformative venture , celebrating with unprecedented relish what has come to be called “the historic turn.”1 Some might argue that anthropology’s engagement with history over the last two decades, unlike that recent turn in other disciplines, has not been a turn at all but rather a return to its founding principles, inquiry into cumulative processes of cultural production but without the typological aspirations and evolutionary assumptions once embraced. Others might counter that the feverish turn to history represents a signiacant departure from an earlier venture, a more explicit rupture with anthropology’s long-standing complicity in colonial politics.2 As such, one could argue that the historic turn signals not a turn to history per se but a different rebection on the politics of knowledge—a further rejection of the categories and cultural distinctions on which imperial rule was once invested and on which postcolonial state practices have continued to be based. Engagement with the uses and abuses of the past pervades the disciplines but nowhere more than in this burgeoning area of colonial ethnography. Over the last 267 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance On the Content in the Form Ann Laura Stoler ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ Genealogy is gray, meticulous and patiently documentary. It operates on a aeld of entangled and confused parchments, on documents that have been scratched over and recopied many times. —Foucault, The Archaelogy of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language decade students of the colonial have challenged the categories , conceptual frame, and practices of colonial authorities and their taxonomic states.3 Questioning the making of colonial knowledge and the privileged social categories it produced has revamped what students of the colonial take to be sources of knowledge and what to expect of them. Attention to the intimate domains in which colonial states intervened has prompted reconsideration of what we hold to be the foundations of European authority and its key technologies.4 In treating colonialism as a history of the present rather than as a metaphor of it, a new generation of scholars are taking up Michel De Certeau’s invitation to “prowl” new terrain as they reimagine what sorts of situated knowledge have produced both colonial sources and their own respective locations in the “historiographic operation.”5 Some students of colonialism are rereading those archives against popular memory;6 others are attending to how colonial documents have been requisitioned and recycled to conarm old entitlements or to make new political demands. As part of a wider impulse, we are no longer studying things but rather the making of them. Students of colonialisms inside and outside of anthropology are spending as much time rethinking what constitutes the colonial archive as they are reconsidering how written documents collide and converge with colonial memories in the postcolonial aeld. But if Evans-Pritchard’s warning some thirty-ave years ago that “anthropologists have tended to be uncritical in their use of documentary sources” had little resonance at the time, it has more today. For however deep and full the archival turn has been in postcolonial scholarship of the 1990s, what is more surprising is how thin and tentative it can still remain.7 Anthropologists may no longer look at archives as the stuff of another discipline. Nor...


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