From Chaffee & Lemert (2009), p. 126:
It is often said that the most important tool of structural methods in all fields is the archive – that is, the discovered (or maintained) residue of mental or cultural events held in libraries and other social forms of memory. The structural method is often referred to as archeological or geological in nature – a systematic reconstruction of evidently dead and buried events and objects.
This is the last mention of the archive that Chaffee and Lemert make in this overview of Structuralism and Poststructuralism, so we’re kind of left to fill in the blanks about who often said it. But the subsequent discussion of Derrida and Foucault are good indicators of they might be thinking of.
For someone who studies information it’s quite surprising to see how quickly this little passage moves from talking about libraries to forms of social memory, to physical processes like geology. It reminds me a bit of Jenkinson’s idea of naturalness which Caravaca (2017) relates to the Italian concept of sedimentation in archives. How do our archival practices shape that sedimentation process?
As I write this on a computer, in the form of a blog post, by placing a text file on the file system as Markdown, running a piece of software to convert the text to HTML, and publishing it to the web using another piece of software, it’s interesting to think about how the structuring method of the archive is present in the form of computation. Does computation disrupt or distort this sedimentation process? Does the debate around the roles of la parole (speaking) and la langue (a community’s language) in Structuralism and Poststructuralism have anything useful to say about archival materials and their deployment on the web?
Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a theory of practice (Vol. 16). Cambridge University Press.
Caravaca, M. M. (2017). The concept of archival “sedimentation”: its meaning and use in the Italian context. Archival Science, 17(2), 113–124.
Chaffee, D., & Lemert, C. (2009). The new Blackwell companion to social theory. In B. S. Turner (Ed.). Wiley-Blackwell.
Foucault, M. (1966). The order of things: An archaeology of the human sciences. Pantheon.