In my classes this week I’ve talked a lot about objectivity. In my MUSC class (Media, Social Change and Africa) we talked about objective photography and presentations of Africa in mainstream global media. In my American Lit class we’re talking about modernism and the documentary of the American depression; and the idea of objectivity presented itself in discussion of writings/interviews and photography collection. In both scenarios, the subject of objectivity was breached through the lens of both the documenter and the audience. It was discerned that its hard to place and categorize photographs correctly, especially without perpetuating stereotyping/trends. Its also hard to be truly objective, which becomes a survey of the degree of falsification–with points/approval of the least falsified production (i.e. how can you least affect the environment you’re trying to capture/denigrate/compile/categorize/etc).

In Duarte and Belard-Lewis’ “Imagining: Creating Space for Indigenous Ontologies a similar subject is explored. The piece talks about how it has proven difficult to correctly (justly?) organize or create the ontologies of indigenous peoples and native americans. “we’re all the same, differently” is not only a great title for the first chapter but a good representation of colonialism/colonial influence. In my MUSC class we often talk about how the first mistake in new contact is assumption. Colonial powers often assume immediate difference/opposition in their new “acquisition” of people as property, subsequently often trying to present the idea of similar but different or separate but equal. It’s so easy to try and use the same words, the same ideas and structures, implement them and think that you’ve solved an issue or assimilated/dissolved a culture. But, you’ve really thrown money, shitty ideas and a band-aid on a seriously fatal wound.

In the realm of archives and databases, this also poses a problem. Intaking material from a culture different than yours can be a good thing (it’s great that native american and indigenous materials are being explored and archived and digitally preserved). But when you do it in a way that prevents its true categorical nature from being maintained or inhibits the society to which it belongs from interacting with it in the correct way, then a problem arises. By insufficiently arranging ontologies, archivers both permanently change and misrepresent them. This is indeed a “text-based form of colonialism” (p8) wherein which attempts at reconciliation of metadata and materials have been futile due to lack of effort or acceptance of cultural significance. By misnaming or westernizing, ignoring principles of gestalt, altering content, etc. Archivers are being transformed into colonialist monsters.

But is this their fault or society’s fault? Have they been engrained to westernize search terms and tags (metadata) to make the preponderance (probably american) of users experience with their work more seamless and “easy.” where is the line drawn on what they can do to material? Is there a way at all for them to truly be objective when it comes to the ontologies? How can they refrain from imposing any of their personal thought into their work?

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One Response to Objectivity

  1. Carla Aviles-Jimenez says:

    Objectivity truly is a key word that pops up when we talk about history, first with Caswell and now with the Duarte and Belarde-Lewis article. Most people tend to agree, I think, that objectivity should always be the ideal when presenting information such as history. However, the evidence being presented to us in these articles seems to point to the contrary. Traces of western colonization found in these indigenous ontologies displays the complete subjectivity in history’s presentation, and I also ask the same question of whether these ideas seems engrained and who is at fault for these errors? These are difficult questions with complex answers that stem from a very long history. However, there may be some hope yet should archivists recognize these errors and make the effort to change. There is yet another difficulty that must be addressed. If we include Native Americans in this coordination of data as we rightly should, how can the two groups be mediated? Who will have access to the new ontologies that Native Americans are a part of? Will this balance then truly become objective or are we just shifting subjectivity to a new group of people and is this a good thing or a bad thing?

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