Passive Archives or Storages for Action? oral history projects in Northern Ireland

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In the absence of political agreement on an overall mechanism for dealing with the past in Northern Ireland, storytelling has become a prevalent mode of addressing the legacy of violent conflict. Accordingly this paper opens up two parallel tracks of examination: one exploring the (ideally) more comprehensive and egalitarian approach to accessing the past found in digital oral history; and the other considering the ‘power’ of the digital archive. Adopting the idea that story-telling as a form of ‘witnessing’ is also an ethico-political act (Kurasawa 2009), the paper discusses what kind of discourses may be empowered by the digitalisation of memory in oral history archives. The contested realm in which these archives operate condition how they are funded, assembled, described, opened and maintained in the process of which some stories may be privileged and others marginalised or subsumed (Brown 2013). Drawing on a qualitative study of two story-telling projects in Northern Ireland, the paper brings out the potentialities of co-created, shared, searchable, linked and reusable data in fostering social change and transforming cognitive patterns of conflict as well as exploring the extent to which this mode of accounting for ‘life during conflict’ works in producing/repeating stories that inculcate and perpetuate particular norms, practices and values. Two key considerations are on the one hand the promise of ‘visibilising’ women in conflict and conflict transformation, as they appear to be more engaged in story-telling sessions, and on the other whether the proliferation of oral history projects funded by EU’s PEACE III programme leads to ‘a surfeit of diffuse personal trivia’ and ‘Shandian infinite regress’ (Lowenthal 2010), in the course of which important testimonies are drowned and depoliticised. Both, of course, speak directly to questions of empowerment.
Original languageEnglish
Publication yearMar 2015
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2015
EventSOFEIR International Conference: Unheard voices: telling stories of empowerment - Paris, France
Duration: 19 Mar 201521 Mar 2015


ConferenceSOFEIR International Conference

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