The materiality of archives — preliminaries for the work of forging solidarities

Three years ago today, I was in Mexico City for one of my research trips. I’m revisiting the notes and photographs from this particular trip today as I return to writing a review article on political geographies of memory and aesthetics.

Inspired by the “a-categorical thought” of Foucault, Rancière, and Deleuze (see e.g., the Theatrum Philosophicum essay — Foucault on Deleuze, or Ranciere’s The Names of History), my previous writing on these themes in the context of Mexico City proposes a genealogy of post-1968 youth politics (for example, see an early version of this thinking, published in ACME). I’ve suggested that genealogical work on the storytelling through which 1968 is given to youth politics in Mexico City would — for contemporary activists and organizers — loosen constraints imposed by representations of the space of young people’s politics only as a venue for the uninterrupted filiation of a movement family.


Acknowledging the materiality of the archive from which I draw primary sources is crucial here. I pull my sources from sometimes unlikely spaces of practice (social centers, street markets, used-book sellers, punk shows, protests, and so on), and I read the texts I collect for how they offer the practitioners of these spaces some sense of orientation in the world. For example, Tiburcio’s used-book stand near the Televisa studios on Balderas is not only a site at which books and magazines are bought and sold (see photo at left); it is a site at which these materials are organized, made contiguous or separated, foregrounded or buried. The messy producedure through which the texts’ circulation is modified is affected in part by Tiburcio’s commitment to social justice movements in his home state of Guerrero (author, fieldnotes, June 17, 2013, Cuauhtémoc – Mexico City). The spatially diffuse and formally diverse set of archives from which I draw my sources is therefore not simply a repository of truth. The boundaries of the spaces of practice, which together compose my archive, are each in their own way policed by their practitioners.

In Along the Archival Grain, Ann Laura Stoler speaks of similar policing in colonial state archives, sites of “piecemeal partiality,” monuments to “spasmodic and sustained currents of anxious labor that paper trails could not contain” (p. 19). The archives from which I draw the sources informing my genealogy of post-1968 youth politics in Mexico City are also practiced in ways that exceed the representations they contain. Any claims I make for the outsides of Tlatelolco/1968 with reference to these archival representations are therefore tentative; in a strong sense, after Foucault (p. 42), they only establish “possible” connections. These spaces endure in their fragility through practices. By virtue of how the spaces endure, one must also necessarily examine this archive not only for the sources it contains (the archival representations themselves) but also for boundary drawing practices through which these spaces of circulation are maintained in their specificity: all of this to open existing collective identities to revision without, then, seeking to reestablish closure.

About nicholasjoncrane

Associate Professor of Geography and International Studies at the University of Wyoming
This entry was posted in Aesthetics, Archives, Fieldwork, History, Memory, Mexico, Political Geography, Qualitative Research, Research Design, Young People. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The materiality of archives — preliminaries for the work of forging solidarities

  1. Pingback: ‘Reading Reclus between Italy and South America,’ Frederico Ferretti in the Journal of Historical Geography | For Another Critique of the Pyramid

  2. Pingback: ‘Objects of Inquiry: Ways of Seeing, Ways of Knowing in the Humanities’ | For Another Critique of the Pyramid

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