Introduction and Narrative
The purpose of this chapter is to explain how various institutional affiliations influenced the archivist’s decisions, particularly during the planning and early design phases of this project, and how those affiliations ultimately shaped the archive itself. A discussion follows of the implications for archivists working within and between institutions. These implications include the ongoing need to renegotiate stakeholders needs to determine best practices, and how gaps in institutional archival holdings serve to influence new archival projects. The narrative also highlights issues of constrained agency as archivists’ positionality within institutional and social conditions allow and disallow possible actions. Lastly, a method of institutional critique is employed to map the tensions between global theory and local practices within the narrative, revealing potential means to effectuate institutional change.
As an archivist-generated project, the emphasis in the other autoethnographic chapters have been on individual actions taken to secure participation or funding and on how the concept grew organically out of my own experiences. As a result, it might seem as if an archivist primarily operates independently to develop digital innovations, what Katherine Skinner calls “the myth of an individual” (41). In reality, even if archivists are carrying out the tasks of archival creation on their own, it is impossible to extricate them from the “the larger cultural system of production, distribution, and reception” that “depends on networks of people interacting and collectively shaping the structure of the system to achieve the desired outcome” (Skinner 42). These larger networks form what Skinner calls a “memory community,” or the collection “of the myriad local communities whose members are engaged in preservation of cultural, scientific, and scholarly research in an increasingly digital environment” (39). This digital participatory archive functions as a particularly good example of a memory community as it represents a collaboration between many community and institutional entities.
For Around Her Table, there are vested stakeholders from across both public and scholarly institutions because of my status as an Azorean-American, a doctoral student at Old Dominion University, and even as an instructor at Florida Atlantic University. However, these multiple roles can sometimes lead to tensions in decision-making as each position will often have “different approaches to issues” that are often “oppositional or even contentious” in nature (Russell et al. 69-70). What may be ideal for a community archive may not meet the requirements for a dissertation. What might be a convenient collaboration with institutional colleagues as a contingent faculty member in the present might require ceding some ownership of the archive to the university, which would not serve my needs in the future as a scholar who might find a more permanent position elsewhere. The specific tensions associated with navigating in these larger networks will vary, but the necessity of maintaining balance between the many roles and competing interests of an archivist’s institutional affiliations is a universal issue.
After first determining that I wanted to do an archival project for my dissertation, and as I began preparing for comprehensive exams in fall 2015, I almost immediately started considering the logistics of the project, which were forefront in my mind after the experiences I had developing a site for just one publication. At this point, I was still thinking that I would be developing an archive featuring underground press publications from the south, and I was interested in thinking about how the interface design would contribute to users’ meaning-making activities. Although the focus of the archive would eventually shift, I knew that it would require funding and a depth of technical knowledge, and I knew that these were areas in which collaboration could be useful and productive. As part of an independent study, I had discovered in the scholarship that collaborative efforts were consistently cited as solutions to archival challenges, so I started to look at the resources around me that could provide support through potential partnerships. Although I am a student at Old Dominion University, which is located in Virginia, I am a distance student, so I actually live in Florida. I realized that any resources available to me as part of my student affiliation, like with a digital librarian or with a media lab, might be difficult to access given the geographical separation. It can be difficult to cultivate relationships with potential collaborators without in-person exchanges, so I began to look at resources at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton where I am an instructor and the Assistant Director of the Writing Center.
In the beginning, my strongest concerns had to do with technological needs for the archive, including collecting, hosting, and preserving digital artifacts. I explored the university library’s web site and found that there is a separate department embedded within the library for digital resources. The Digital Library was immediately appealing because it is clear from their site that they engage in the exact kind of work that pertains to my archive, including developing digital collections, providing technical assistance to digitize artifacts, as well as provide digital preservation functions for faculty research. I reached out to the Digital Library head, Joanne Parandjuk by email in September 2015 to set-up a meeting to discuss my dissertation and see about potential collaboration. Even though I had been at the university for several years, I had never met Ms. Parandjuk, and it occurred to me that even though I had initially thought the geographic distance would make collaboration with ODU difficult, it was also a challenge to generate interdepartmental collaboration given the size of FAU and the natural isolation or separation that occurs between departments. Fortunately, Ms. Parandjuk was kind enough to agree to a meeting, and we made arrangements for the following week.
It was exciting, winding my way through the library’s back rooms and hallways as I found my way to the Digital Library offices and workspace. I really got the sense that there was a bustling hive of activity hidden behind the visible resources stacked on shelves or available online, and it drove home the idea that what we see when we interact with digital collections online is the culmination of many hours of “invisible” work. The links and images we work with in a digital collection is such a small fraction of the work that it takes to bring a collection online. It was immediately daunting to think that I was going to try to replicate the processes and products of a whole institutional department on my own, and I wondered if it would even be possible. As my conversation with Ms. Parandjuk moved beyond introductions and explanations of my dissertation, we began to discuss more practical topics related to developing a digital collection. One of the first things she told me was that in a collaboration, FAU would require project ownership. In other words, if I wanted to use FAU resources to develop and host the archive, the finished product would belong to the library as part of their collection. While access to the sophisticated technology and department knowledge would certainly help my project achieve a greater professional image and secure its long-term viability, I was concerned about ceding my claim to ownership of the archive. One reason for this is my status as a contingent faculty member. I currently work on a nine-month contract that is renewed annually in a non-tenure track position. Were there to be a financial need to reduce faculty, I could potentially not be renewed and would then no longer have the FAU affiliation. It is also possible that after completing my degree, I would seek a tenure track position at another institution, and I would like to be able to continue developing the archive and to study its impact. Without my FAU faculty affiliation, I would likely have to leave the archive behind as part of the FAU collection. To work with FAU, I would have to sacrifice the archive as my scholarly work and instead move into a contributory role with the library claiming the development as its own. This collaboration presented a complicated question for me, one that placed something that would surely be an asset to the final archival product in opposition to my own personal scholarly goals, and it was one to which there was not an immediately apparent answer. There was, however, one additional aspect of the discussion that would develop as a persuasive reason not to collaborate: the standardization of the digital collections. As I mentioned, I was especially interested at that time, and still am to a large degree, in questions about how the archival design and the archivist’s choices in creating the digital archival space would influence the way users perceived and understood the artifacts. If the archivist was looking to actively and intentionally shape the users’ perceptions, then it would require a great deal of flexibility in the design process to create features that responded to the specific archive’s needs. As I discussed these research questions with Ms. Parandjuk, she explained that this kind of flexibility is not possible in FAU’s digital collections as each collection follows the organizational guidelines established by the Library of Congress. The interface and navigational structure is exactly the same from collection to collection, so the sheet music collection and the Florida books collection, despite potentially having very different needs and user interests, have a standard organizational design, as shown below.
The “Sort Results By” and “Narrow Results By” offer users the same categories in both collections, which mirror the Library of Congress standards for digital collections that delineate the categories of format, date, contributor/author, subject, and language. When I asked her about what she thought about how these decisions regarding organization and classification may be strongly influencing how users experience the artifacts, and that I hoped my dissertation would begin to explore exactly how those decisions shape users’ knowledge, her response was an emphatic “I don’t care.” Although at first this reaction took me aback, I began to understand more as she explained her rationale. From her perspective as a librarian, she aimed at rendering her decisions as neutral as possible to avoid actively shaping user interactions. The goal for the library is to have collections be as useful to as many researchers as possible and to function as an unbiased source of information. Even then when I had a different topic, I understood that this ran counter to my goals working rhetorically to use the archive as a kind of persuasive discourse that contributes significantly to users’ understanding of the artifacts.
This seems even more salient now that I am working with the Azorean culture. I do want users to come away sensing the values and identity of the culture to help them reclaim a sense of what it means to be Azorean-American. Standardization helps remove the influence of the archivist, in addition to streamlining the workflow to more efficiently bring digital collections online by eliminating the need to develop an entirely new and customized organizational system for each selection. This best meets the goals of the library as a research facilitator, but what about the needs of the community or my needs as a rhetor-archivist? I ultimately did not want to render neutral my influence, nor did I think that the standardized organizational system would best serve the ambient rhetorical goals I had for how the archival site would function to evoke an atmosphere. I do not want the archive to function as a neutral classification of artifacts, but rather I want users to have a personal sensory experience that creates a feeling more than just serving as an access point to an image.
Although I did not make the decision to forgo collaboration with the library right away, it became clear that the benefits of collaboration were not going to outweigh my differing needs as a scholar. However, the Digital Library also offers faculty the opportunity to archive their research through their preservation services, which would be a free way to address the challenges of long-term preservation of digital data [INSERT LINK TO FUNDING CHAPTER SECTION]. This may come to serve the archive’s needs if I am no longer able to support the project or secure a transference to a trusted institution, but the Digital Library clearly states that archives research cannot be changed once processed. It would secure the data, but it would function as a hard-stop to any future growth. I have taken note of this possibility and would circle back to that if I determine that location to best serve the archive and if I am still associated with FAU.
From that point, I retreated in the work of the comprehensive examination process and concentrated on other more theoretical aspects of the project. Once the semester was over though, I began to realize that some of my priorities and interests were shifting, and I had the epiphany about an Azorean-American archive while thinking about my grandmother’s hope chest [INSERT LINK TO CONCEPT CHAPTER SECTION]. Although I knew that collaboration with FAU’s Digital Library would not be the best direction for the project or my scholarly interests, a new avenue for potential partnership began to emerge with the Division of Research. As with any archival project, funding is a significant aspect of the project. I had started thinking about grants as a way to support the archive I was beginning to envision, and had identified two possible grants: the Division of Preservation and Access Common Heritage Grant funded through the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Luso-American Educational Foundation (LAEF) Research Grant. The NEH grant was especially relevant as it was designed to specifically “support both the digitization of cultural heritage materials and the organization of outreach through community events that explore and interpret these materials as a window on the community’s history and culture” (“Common Heritage”). The grant can provide up to $12,000 to aid in the costs of planning a community digitization event, the technology associated with creating digital artifacts, and subsequent educational events that shares the collection with the public. The LAEF grant provides up to $3,000 to college students working on research related to Portuguese culture. While both seemed like promising avenues for funding the archive, it was February 2016 before I discovered them. I realized that I had just missed the January deadline for the LAEF grant by just a few weeks, and the NEH grant’s May 31st deadline was approaching quickly.
I began reading through the NEH grant requirements and considering the application components when, in another synchronous moment in the archive’s development, I saw an email come through my FAU account from the Division of Research for a grant writing workshop. Just as I came aware of the departmental isolation as I tried making connections to the staff in the Digital Library, I again realized how compartmentalized an institution can be as I learned about the Division of Research’s mission to support faculty research, including grant writing assistance. I realized that I might be able to productively partner with the university in terms of securing funding if not in terms of technological collaboration. In advance of the workshop, I sent an email to Camille Coley, Senior Associate Vice President for Research at FAU, about the NEH grant and possible assistance. She responded, and we arranged a meeting for the following week to discuss it further.
The meeting with Ms. Coley was exciting as we discussed my dissertation and the NEH grant particulars. She explained that most of the grant support work the division does has to do with scientific or medical research, and she thought it would be a positive shift to work more with the humanities scholars on campus. However, the excitement on my end began to wane as she also explained the way FAU would be the grant applicant and recipient, as an institution, and would keep a percentage of the funds for administrative overhead costs, as much as 50%. Although this is standard practice, there is also an implied institutional ownership and a diminishment of the funds that could be used directly for the archive. The university would also require that the project receive IRB approval through FAU, and although it is possible to have IRB approval from one institution recognized by another, this would have been an added layer of complication since I also need the project to serve as a dissertation through Old Dominion. It was also not clear if FAU could work with me given the dual institutional affiliation I would need to maintain for my doctoral degree, like archiving the dissertation in ODU’s library, since FAU would require exclusive rights to the research produced through their awarded grant. I left the meeting feeling conflicted. The NEH grant would likely not be awarded to me as an individual scholar without a proven track-record of efficacy in the field. Working through FAU seemed to present too many complications related to ownership and the competing institutional interests related to the dual-nature of the research as both faculty scholarship at FAU and student work at Old Dominion. I thought about the possibility of using Old Dominion’s similar grant-assistance resources, which would remove the dual-institution conflicts, but it could still be difficult given the geographic distance and trying to work purely online. There was also the issue of sharing the award and the ownership of the final product about which I had reservations similar to the ownership issues that arose with the Digital Library.
In the end, although I think the NEH grant would be a significant source of support for growing the archive in the future, it would be best to partner with a Rhode Island based institution, like a local historical society or museum, that would be best situated to plan and market a community digitization effort. In truth, it may even be best to simply consider a new project in service of Azorean-Americans, outside of Around Her Table, that would have no personal conflicts of ownership and that could be tailored to the needs and capabilities of the partnering institution. These institutional implications ultimately shaped the funding sources for my dissertation and led me to solely pursue the LAEF grant that would be awarded directly to me as a student researcher. I concentrated on completing the prospectus while I waited for the grant application to open for the following year. I defended the prospectus in October 2016 and then immediately began working on the IRB approval process and the grant application, which I was awarded in February 2017.
Another issue determining the grant applications had to do with the reimbursement of funds spent in advance of the reward. The NEH grant does not allow the funds to be used retroactively, so any personal funds I spent prior to receiving the grant would remain out-of-pocket expenses. If I pursued that grant, I would have to make the decision to either spend my own money, which would change the archive in terms of the technology used and the amount of travel I could afford or postpone many of the archival activities until at least January 2017. The LAEF grant had no such restrictions on reimbursement, so that allowed me more flexibility in planning, although the limited nature of a grant does constrain the archive’s development, discussed further in the Funding chapter [INSERT LINK]. There was however an investment of time to gather all the necessary requirements of the application process, including requesting multiple letters of recommendation, having a wallet size photograph printed for publication on their website, completing several essays related to financial need and my research, and arranging for official transcripts to be sent to LAEF. I would also need to be willing to acknowledge LAEF in the research and submit a progress report to LAEF after receiving the grant to explain how I used the funds and the research results. Although none of these requirements are especially difficult to complete, it does take time and energy to do well and this can take resources away from directly working on the archive, especially since I am working alone. The application process and subsequent requirements were relatively simple for this grant, but for more complex and larger grants like the NEH grant, that investment and influence on archival design would increase exponentially.
Using my role as a student to obtain grant funding ended up being far less complicated than using my role as a faculty member, but this student role has also led to other institutional influences beyond those associated with grant funding, primarily related to the fact that it is a dissertation. The requirements that the dissertation first be submitted to a faculty committee for approval and then to the university’s IRB for review are both influential processes that shape the archive; however, it is a kind of pre-shaping. They both required me to design and describe certain elements of the project before I could collect artifacts or build an online exhibit to house them, which was challenging since, as my Dissertation Seminar professor Dr. Phillips explained, the prospectus is like a “contract” between the institution and me. I knew then that the decisions I made about the project at this stage would be highly influential in shaping the archive because the project as I described would be what my committee expected me to submit, and it was one that would be approved for fulfilling the obligations of a dissertation. To deviate to widely from my prospectus would risk that approval, and even less significant adjustments would necessitate delays in additional reviews. The IRB approval process was like the prospectus, not only because the application requires the research design be detailed, but also because approval of the design is contractually binding. As the researcher, I would be required to follow the approved protocols exactly as outlined in the application, and any changes to any part of the design would require the submission of an amended application and be subject to additional review and approval. It was especially difficult to develop the protocols like the surveys and interview questions prior to being allowed any communication with the community I intended to study. Once approved, I felt the project described in these submissions would constrain my work, making it more difficult to adapt to the realities in the field, and ultimately had a strong influence on the project as a whole.
One of the first decisions I needed to make in these early processes was naming the archive and giving it a space online. After reading a draft of my prospectus in which I was describing the online space and how it would be structured, my dissertation chair recommended that I go ahead and create the space with the various sections represented as a kind of wireframe for the proposed archive, so the committee would be better able to visualize the project. Wanting to complete the prospectus process in a timely fashion, I turned to the technology with which I was most familiar: WordPress.
Were this project not a dissertation that required prospectus approval, I might have made the decision about the platform, or Web Content Management System (WCMS), used to build the site at a later date, perhaps taking more time to review the various options and compare their capabilities. And although I knew that this decision was probably not one that would be completely binding, I also knew that even the process of developing a wireframe site would take a not insignificant investment of time. If I did want to change the WCMS after the prospectus process, I would essentially need to re-complete the process from scratch. I decided to go with WordPress because I have had past experience with it through previous coursework building both a site for underground press publications and a personal website, which I have written about extensively in a series of blog posts related to the project that are now housed on my WP personal site. I think of this as a decision influenced by institutional requirements in the sense that I made the choice of WCMS prior to when and how I would have made it in response to the needs of my committee for the prospectus approval, and the prospectus itself being a completely institutionally mandated step.
The WCMS is an important decision because it shapes and constrains so much of the finished product; it will predetermine many aspects of the site’s appearance and organizational possibilities (see Curation Notes for specific examples [INSERT LINK]). It is also through the WCMS that the domain name for the site is also determined, what people type into an internet search or address bar, which I felt was another critical and early decision. It is actually the first decision I needed to make after clicking the “create” button on the WordPress site. I knew the name would shape how people think and talk about the archive itself. If I named it something more academic, something laden with scholarly terms like Azorean-American Feminist Material Culture and Identity (Re)Formation, then I would also be communicating something about the intended audience while potentially causing others to feel excluded. I wanted a name that would instead communicate something more akin to a mood and likely to evoke a strong visual image.
Initially, I wanted to name the archive Historias e Recordacao, which translates to Stories and Keepsakes. I liked the sound of that, and the linguistic inclusion of Portuguese felt appropriate, but I realized it was problematic for several reasons. It was important to me that the archive helped those who feel disconnected from their culture to find ways to rekindle and supplement those aspects of their identity. Since many people in this situation have already assimilated into the larger culture and lost fluency in their ancestral language, it seemed that having the title in Portuguese might be more disconnective than productive. It would also be difficult to pronounce for English speakers and readers, and it would be more difficult for marketing the site since it could be hard for people to type into a search engine or type into an address bar. I thought about keeping the Portuguese name on the site but having a simpler domain; however, that felt like it might add a layer of confusion as well, as if there were two titles. Then I thought about just naming it the English version, Stories and Keepsakes, but it did not seem to have the same lyrical quality as the Portuguese. I do not know where the name Around Her Table came from, but it did emerge while I was considering my options, and I immediately felt it was the right title. It captures an essential quality of the experiences I hope to show users—that magical mingling of people, food, stories, and keepsakes that happens while anchored around the table—while also being easy enough to read and say to help users find and share the site. Fortunately, when I typed it into WordPress, it was an available domain, and I was able to proceed with the wireframe.
One thing worth mentioning here, although it is more tangentially related to the WCMS selection, is that if I had waited to make the decision, or if I was willing to change it now, then some other options would have become apparent through some other institutional affiliations. As I discussed in the Participation chapter considerations [INSERT ANCHOR JUMP], there are always interesting moments of synchronicity in archival work that can guide the work. Shortly after being awarded the grant, I had a chance encounter on the FAU campus with a former writing center consultant who worked for while taking graduate classes. We chatted about our different projects, and when I mentioned where I was in the process of developing a digital archive, he asked me if I was using Scalar as the platform. I had never heard of that before, but he knew of it from working with Dr. Lisa Swanstrom who had used it for some of her digital scholarship. I made a mental note to check it out but did not really give it further thought. Then, only a day or two later, the graduate program director sent out an email announcing that I had been awarded the LAEF grant. My dissertation chair then forwarded an email to me from Dr. Manuela Mourao, another English department faculty member at Old Dominion, who was interested in my research since she has Portuguese heritage. She also asked if I was using Scalar to build the archive since she had some experience with that platform in her own research. I went from never having heard of this system before, to having it mentioned to me twice in just a few days’ time. It is difficult to ignore these moments of coincidence and to not look at them as signs of possible significance. After the email, I immediately began looking at Scalar, which is a completely free WCMS that is designed specifically to support digital scholarship. It would be a strong contender for this archive’s WCMS had I not already invested time and energy learning and building a WordPress site. However, it struck me as an interesting moment where the institutional affiliations I have across my student/administrator/instructor network came together to shine light on a direction for my research that I probably would have taken under different circumstances. I think it is an example of what this chapter contends, the idea that an archivist has a unique collection of specific connections to various institutions that influence his or her design choices in both subtle and overt ways.
Lastly, while on the subject of affiliations and technological decision-making, there is another institutional connection that has been influential in shaping the archive. Like my chance meeting with Anthony, another former consultant, Charlie Gleek, and I met up during the annual FAU instructor orientation in August 2017. He mentioned that in addition to teaching, he would also be managing the English department’s Advanced Media Production (AMP) lab established to support work in the digital humanities. I had just finished the second research trip and was sitting on the raw data I had collected, including unedited photographs and audio recordings. I asked if we could set up a meeting in the lab to discuss how I might be able to use the lab to assist with processing the collection. We met on August 30, 2017, and I explained more in-depth about the archive and my goals for working with the data. Charlie was able to share some ideas about the tools available through the lab that could be useful for my work: InqScribe, Dedoose, QuickTime Pro, and Adobe Creative Cloud. InqScribe can transcribe audio files, which can aid my work with the oral histories, and the QuickTime program would allow me to create specific clips of the interviews and edit them for use in the exhibit. The Adobe products can help me edit the raw images of artifacts to produce the best quality for display in the exhibit as well. On my own, these products would be too expensive to purchase without more funding, but because they available to me as a faculty member at FAU, I can take advantage of my affiliation to benefit the archive through enhancing the artifacts beyond what would be possible with free software. The specifics of working with these programs to manage the digital artifacts is discussed further in Curation Note #N [INSERT LINK], but they work to shape the archive by way of their availability. Without my FAU faculty affiliation, the archive’s images and audio files would have a different appearance and possibly have less of an impact on users.
In another way, the fact that the project is a dissertation, rather than an independent digital project, also influences its design as there are certain expectations of the genre that need to be included, such as a literature review and dedicated methodology section. Where a digital archive that was not designed to serve as a dissertation might omit these more scholarly discussions, this project necessarily is designed to meet requirements set by the university in terms of chapter types, overall length, style and tone, and ensuring relevance to the field. Although I think a transparent discussion of the archival methods is important for the archive, the discussion of considerations that follows each methodological narrative, rooted in scholarship, has been added to service the dissertation’s needs more than the archive’s. I also did not initially plan to include the literature review that was composed during the prospectus process; however, my dissertation chair suggested that I do include it, even if only as a link out from the archive, for those who might be interested as well as to more closely align this born-digital dissertation with traditional submissions. This eventually evolved into the first chapter “Reciprocal Gifts: A Theoretical Framework for Developing a Rhetorical Archive.”
Adding these sections changed the design of the project in a tangible way, but it also changes the archive’s audience, from one that includes community members and Azorean culture scholars to one that speaks to those interested in examining digital archives from a rhetorical perspective as well.
Lastly, I think the fact that the archive is also a dissertation could have some implications for the design because of the institutional requirements for dissertation submission and storage. As of Summer 2018, this project is the first born-digital dissertation for the Old Dominion English PhD program since the department approved these types of projects. As such, my dissertation chair and I had some concerns about the logistics involved in submitting a digital dissertation to the university, so I decided to reach out to Dr. David Earnest, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, who oversees these procedures by email in March 2017. I wanted to introduce myself and let him know about my project, putting it on his radar, and make an effort to understand the technical submission issues I might encounter once the project is completed. I thought that he might be able to provide insights that could help me avoid any decisions in the design process that could complicate future submission. He explained that “the dissertation review and archiving process consists of two pertinent steps (there’s a third step that is merely procedural). One is the College’s review for style and formatting. The other is the submission for digital archiving with ProQuest” (Earnest). In reference to the digital archiving, his email asked me some questions pertaining to the file types and formats associated with the project. I responded that the media files primarily consist of html text, pdfs, jpegs, and mp4 files, and I explained I would be using WordPress to build the site.
I also explained how the dissertation was also an examination of the archival interface, so issues of arrangement and organization would also be important in terms of capturing and archiving the dissertation. There is also a significant amount of metadata added to contextualize and describe the artifacts, which (as was discussed in the Funding chapter [INSERT LINK TO FUNDING SECTION]) contains important information that is often vulnerable to loss in digital preservation activities. I asked Dr. Earnest to share any concerns about archiving the project along with the metadata, as well as any ideas about what a style and formatting review would mean for me or how I might need to shape the archive accordingly, but as of yet have not heard back from him about anything that I might need to add or avoid to facilitate these institutional processes. However, I am sure that between defending the dissertation and institutional acceptance, that some changes will be required to accommodate the ProQuest and formatting requirements, which may alter the appearance, functionality, or design in significant ways.
Outside of being a dissertation, there are other influences that come from institutional archives already in existence. Seeing what archives are already established, what is or is not included, can help guide the concept for the archive and data collection efforts to fill in any gaps in the archival record or avoid costly efforts reproducing records unnecessarily. Discussed to some extent in the Concept chapter [INSERT LINK], my research in the Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese American Archives (FMPAA) at UMass Dartmouth and the archival holdings of the Bristol Historical & Preservation Society found that there was a significant gap for artifacts from the domestic sphere in Azorean-American culture as well as accessible interviews with community members. Visiting the existing archives can also shape the project, as I discovered in March 2017 when, on a blisteringly cold day, I travelled to the UMass Dartmouth campus to explore the archive and talk with Dr. M. Gloria de Sá, Assistant Professor and Faculty Director for the FMPAA, whom I had contacted prior to travelling to arrange a meeting. Not only was the archival space a respite of physical warmth from the cutting icy wind, it was also evocative of an emotional warmth as the atmosphere was a welcoming display of Azorean culture demonstrating both pride in and respect for the community. The archive assistant, Morgan Michaels, was able to bring me binders that held the interview transcripts for the Portuguese Oral History Project, collection MC24/PAA, that I was interested in reviewing. This was especially useful because it revealed an interview style that was more conversational in tone, and even had a few examples were the interviews were collected by people with familial relations to the subjects. This was helpful because I visited the archive prior to conducting my own interviews, and I was reassured by the style of these archival holdings as they seemed to represent and validate an informal approach that felt more natural to me given my own relationships to the participants. It also helped give me some insights into basic ethnographic methods for documenting interviews, like indicating at the location, purpose, and names of participants at the interview start.
I was also warmly received by Dr. de Sá, who sat with me in the archive for nearly an hour. To this day, I am still struck by the generosity of her spirit and the sincerity of interest and support she expressed. We bonded over our grandmothers having both been seamstresses, and we were both somewhat emotional as we talked about the idea of taking the handmade pieces from Azorean women and bringing them into an archival setting. Like the project as a whole, the conversation moved organically between affective topics, like our grandmothers, and more scholarly topics such as the distinctions between artifacts of “value”—the heirlooms I was seeking to document—that signal class representations and those that hold only symbolic or sentimental value. She shared with me a book by Marta Vilar Rosales from the archive’s collection titled As Coisas da Casa: Cultura Material, Migrações e Memórias Familiares, which translates as The Things of the House: Material Culture, Migrations and Family Memories. Although it focuses on Portugal and not the Azores, it is essentially the very area of study I am looking to address with my dissertation, and I immediately wished I had enough knowledge of the language to read a scholarly text. My favorite memory of the meeting had to do with me explaining that my grandmother had done piece work in a rubber factory that made parts for shoes. I said that I knew her job was to use the industrial machine to sew the shoe’s soles, and she smiled and said my grandmother sowed souls. It was a very touching sentiment that stayed with me as a way of thinking about the “work” my grandmother did in her life.
She also spoke with me in broad strokes about the differences between the Azorean and Portuguese women, which centered greatly around class with Portugal being more urban in nature, with greater opportunities for education and working outside the home, whereas the Azores were far more rural and impoverished. The men would often be the only ones working on farms or fishing boats while women had little opportunity outside the home, leading to a “cult of domesticity,” a kind of fervor and obsession with keeping a home and performing all the aspects of domestic life with an intensity that comes from not having other options. Even if the floors of the home were just packed dirt, the Azorean women would take pride in their homes, and especially in their kitchens, which was expressed through cleanliness of the table, dishes, curtains, and other furniture. That attention to acts of domesticity is still passed on and was ever-present even in my life as a 2nd-generation Azorean-American. I was constantly being taught how to cook, clean, iron, sew, and generally manage a household. Idleness was laziness and it was something to be ashamed of. There is always work to do in the house, and if you must sit, then you should pick up a needle and thread or crochet hook to keep busy and be productive. Also, pointedly, these were only things required of me, and not my brother. When I asked why he did not have to spend his summer days inside making beds and washing dishes, my grandmother scoffed at the ridiculousness of the question and replied “because he is a boy” as if the most obvious knowledge. The conversation with Dr. de Sá not only reinforced several cultural themes about Azorean women I had begun to outline, but as a sociologist, she was able to connect the origins of these themes to the realities of class, gender, politics, and geography that existed historically in the Azores. In the end, Dr. de Sá said I was working with ideas that were close to her heart, and she encouraged me and validated the significance of the project in both its cultural and scholarly value. By visiting the archive and engaging with the institutional organization, my thinking and understanding was influenced, which has the outcome of subtle shaping my research and the archive itself.
Later, Ms. Michaels was able to send me pdf files of four interviews with Azorean women that I was especially interested in studying further. That study further influenced my project by revealing a series of emergent themes, including the significance of American family connections in determining immigration locations, the role of industrial jobs and hard labor in the community, women quitting school to work at young ages, the importance of extended family in daily life, the significance for women in keeping a clean home and general pride in one’s home, and the emphasis on textile production (embroidery, lace, garments, crochet and knitting). These noted themes were also influential in terms of helping me determine how to categorize and tag artifacts and predisposed me to identify related artifacts in participant homes. I think it also influenced how I guided the conversations with the participants, thus shaping the data that ended up being recorded.
Institutional influences exist because archivists themselves do not exist in purely independent or disconnected environments. These influences may shape an archive through collaborating, sharing ownership, or through designing to meet specific scholarly requirements, and although these effects are not inherently positive or negative, they are inherent. The archivist will need to confront these tensions and make decisions that resolve the various and competing interests within the project’s network of institutional affiliations.
Filling Institutional Gaps
An important consideration is the idea that influence occurs as a result of institutional archival holdings already in existence that serve as a kind of guiding force, often leading archivists to work toward filling gaps in the archival record. As I discussed in the Concept chapter, I spent time reviewing the holdings of several institutions to validate the need for an archive that presented more women’s voices and artifacts pertaining to the home. This research also influenced the way I approached my own interviews. I also discussed how my original idea for an archive of underground press publications was affected by another institution’s project to accomplish the same work on a broader scale, making my own project redundant. It is important to acknowledge that the shape of the current institutional holdings has a direct impact on how, and whether, archivists proceed in projects of their own interest. The expense and time required to realize a new archival project requires careful analysis of current archival records, and the motivation to undertake an endeavor almost necessarily requires that the work will in some way fill some hole in the record. It is simply too costly and difficult to start a project that will simply duplicate or only minimally add to our collective archives. We are more likely to undertake a digital archival project that corresponds to an exigency to rectify the marginalization or erasure of a culture than we are to reproduce or add to existing archives where there is little urgency. It is also less likely that the already limited funding resources would be made available for projects that duplicate other institutional efforts. Project conceptualization is often a response to some perceived absence in the institutional record and the archivist’s desire to make the claim that what is missing is socially valuable and worth preserving. In this way, the institution will influence archival project development and support. Constructing an archive to mediate absences in the archival records constitutes a kind of recovery work that has a long tradition in rhetoric.
Even though developing archival projects to address gaps in the historical record is covered more extensively in other chapters that explore the social justice activism of archivist-generated records and rhetorical historiographic recovery work, I felt it was also worth mentioning here in this chapter on how institutions shape archival work. It calls out the blurred boundaries between these chapters I have developed, the imposition on archival processes I have created by partitioning the concept from participation, funding from institutional influence. These distinctions are useful to a point, but it is important to remember that these categories are enmeshed and overlapping. Institutions can influence how we conceptualize a project as well as how we exercise agency in the development of that project.
Briefly again here, historiography seeks to rectify institutional oversight by recovering and adding evidence to archival holdings of the discursive products and rhetorical practices of marginalized figures and groups. Graban et al. explain, “Historical recovery in rhetoric finds great value in digital archives and digitization projects that recover underserved figures or build exhibits of texts” (233). Accepting this, historiographic recovery work can then be understood as attempting to mediate the inaccuracies or biases present in marginalized people’s representations in dominant institutions’ archival holdings. However, it is also true that, along with a lack of representation, the institutional representation of a cultural group may also be influential if it is not done with authenticity and consideration for the needs of the community. As discussed by Selfe and Selfe in terms of the digital interface and elsewhere in this dissertation, our positions within institutions may make us vulnerable to reinforce the dominant values held by that institution. It means that as members of these institutions, and in our collaborations with them, we must be careful to avoid conflating “institutional research agendas with our processes of recovery,” which could result in the replication of the same misrepresentations and biased assumptions (Graban et al. 234). In a way, it is like the commonly repeated maxim that history is written by the victors. It is so often true that archives are generally controlled by the “victors” in the dominant culture’s institutions, who subsequently control the representation of the minority groups present in the community. In operating from our institutional positions, if done so uncritically, we are likely to reinscribe assumptions and impose oppressive hierarchical structures. This results in the kinds of “struggles over public memory” that Aaron Hess argues can be found “between institutional and vernacular versions of contested national narratives” (815). The institution’s role in issues of representation should be recognized as a powerful way that their influence will potentially shape the archive, and it is clear that, again, it is rhetorically important that institutional collaboration does not supersede the community’s needs, especially when they have allowed and trusted the archivist to access and document their culture.
In considering the totality of these experiences and reflections, I come inevitably to the conclusion that it is not possible to escape institutional influences because as the archivist I am deeply embedded in a network of institutional affiliations with varying roles and agency in each. It would not be possible to conduct the work in a vacuum outside of any such affiliation, and the task becomes not one of avoiding these shaping forces, but rather one of carefully considering how to keep competing institutional interests in alignment with the archive’s goals and determining where and to what degree compromises to the ideal vision will necessarily be made. The archivist will feel pulled in opposing directions by the different nodes in the institutional network throughout the process, but it is important, perhaps especially so for community archives, to not lose sight of the cultural and social functions that the archive is intended to meet and to keep these at the heart of every decision.
The Case for Analyzing Institutional Influence in Autoethnographic Narrative
Other chapters in this dissertation have discussed the significance of the archivists’ position, their interestedness and bias—the “locatable agents” as stated by Tarez Samra Graban—in relation to developing and designing archival projects and interfaces. The recognition of these positions results in the need for critically-reflexive practices that work to make them more visible, which the narratives in the Concept and Participation chapters have worked to do. However, while those narratives have revealed my location as an individual scholar and member of the Azorean-American community, it is also important to recognize how my affiliations and responsibilities as part of academic institutions have also shaped my location in the archive and its design. Accounting for the institutional influence on an archivist, and this on an archive, is a complex unweaving of multiple identities—scholar, graduate student, faculty, and archivist. With each identity there exists another institutional position, another push, another role to fulfill. However, the necessity for transparency is paramount in the archive for it to be an ethical management of the community’s archival record and for future researcher’s knowledge-making from those records. Some effort needs to be made to untangle the network of institutional influence as attempted in this narrative.
It should be noted that the issue of institutional influence is also taken up by scholars, particularly those working in digital rhetoric. However, we can turn to Derrida for the seed of such considerations for the archive. He writes, “A science of the archive must include the theory of this institutionalization, that is to say, the theory both of the law which begins by inscribing itself there and of the right which authorizes it” (4). Here, as in the discussions of the archive as a site of power in first chapter’s section, The Archive as a Site of Politics and Power, the assertion is that the archive’s power is two-fold. It is first granted its authority by the institutions of dominant power, but it also becomes the source of that power as the institutionalization of laws from which enforcement is exerted. Derrida’s argument then becomes that any “science of the archive,” any theoretical and practical archival work, must attend to the role of the institution in creating the archive and being created by it. To exclude considerations of the institutional influence is to fail to capture something essential about its nature.
Outside the specific context of the archive, contemporary scholars working with digital technologies also note the essentiality of institutional connections in shaping the constructed objects. Robert Johnson argues that our positions within “networks” of disciplines and institutions can “impinge technology” among those “within the disciplinary and organizational boundaries” by creating “an overriding institutional structure that defines [technologies’] purpose, objectives, proclivities, and so on” (38). The influence of our institutional affiliations shapes the development and goals of a digital project, while also shaping its “proclivities,” which can be understood as the precedents and best practices associated with that institution. He concludes that “these often invisible forces are nonetheless impossible to ignore (nor should any attempt be made to do so),” and that they are “without question essential when defining the use of a technology” (39). In this dissertation, the inclusion of narratives and autoethnographic analysis work to render these forces more visible while cultivating greater awareness for users and researchers, and perhaps other archivists as well. We can see a reiteration of this argument in the work of Douglas Eyman and Cheryl Ball, who claim that as we engage in the “enactment of digital rhetoric practice,” we must “carefully consider the intellectual, social, and technological support structures that need to be used in the construction and dissemination of scholarly multimedia work” (66). The intellectual and social structures that are used to construct and disseminate scholarly production necessarily include the institutional networks to which scholars belong and throughout which the work circulates, develops, and reconciles with prior knowledge. An autoethnographic narrative of one’s institutional connections is one way to enact this careful consideration. It can also be tool to better articulate the ways, as Nathan Johnson observes, that “institutions, academic lineage, citationality, and geography influence scholarship” while providing insight into “how convergences of institutions, technologies, and people enmesh with published academic research,” constituting “powerful dynamics influencing academic work” (97). The narrative approach to archival design begins to map some of the powerful dynamics that shape the academic work, acknowledging situatedness and better visualizing the layered, overlapping influences that undergird the archive. The discussion in the next section speaks more specifically to my multiple identities and positions within such institutional networks.
Balancing Institutional, Community, and Archival Needs
My experiences navigating the various institutions with which I have affiliations is certainly not unique, and it aligns with scholarship that highlights how such projects function as a “collaboration among and extensive conversation with scholars inside and outside rhetoric and composition, stakeholder groups, and digital experts” (Enoch and Gold 109). As the archivist, it becomes my job to make careful decisions that respect the knowledge of all those in my network with whom I have collaborated while also serving the archive’s mission. However, it is also clear that collaborations are also problematized by the competing needs of my many roles: student, faculty member, archivist, and community member. These roles must be carefully juxtaposed, but the precise algorithm is difficult to describe and difficult to universalize a set of operating guidelines. Sometimes compromises are necessary, like forgoing access to greater technological tools as a faculty member to retain ownership of the project as a scholar. Sometimes meeting some institutional requirements can yield a relatively benign influence, just taking additional time and effort to complete some additional steps, like gathering resources for a grant application. Sometimes these different roles are in more direct opposition with tensions that are more difficult to resolve, like determining whether the addition of more scholarly elements, like a literature review and discussion of implications for further research, will pull user focus away from the cultural exhibits, or color the way in which they understand the project’s purpose, in any detrimental ways. There emerges a sense of the archivist as having certain influences from these various institutional roles, but there also emerges an understanding that the archive itself is subsequently designed to meet the needs of various users and stakeholders. It is a constant teasing out of how to balance the competing and clashing needs and expectations between the archivist, the archive, and the audiences.
Digital archivists and historiographers also note these competing institutional interests, particularly between the needs of a community and those with scholarly interests. Kevin Smith explains that “there are two primary audiences…the community and an audience of researchers, historians, and students,” and these audiences represent “a tension between the archive as a project of community participation, and the archive as a tool for academic research” (126). Jim Ridolfo also finds it necessary to balance the competing needs of stakeholders, although he identifies three distinct groups: cultural stakeholders, general interest stakeholders, and then institutional stakeholders (139-40). According to his definitions, the cultural stakeholders for this project are those in the Azorean-American community who would use the archive. The general interest stakeholders would be those interested in learning about Azorean culture from outside the community or scholars with an interest in the subject. The institutional stakeholders would be the English department at Old Dominion.
Although I am connected to the institutional stakeholder as a student, it is also likely that these institutional stakeholders would play a significant role in shaping the work of faculty members looking at developing a digital archive. As Jennifer Glaser and Laura Micciche note, English departments tend toward “a distinctly narrow idea of what scholarship is and can be…the expectations for credentialing and tenure within the academy primarily focus on traditional print publications” (201). Unfortunately, they argue, there still persists a sense in some institutions that “digital knowledge-making practices are viewed as peripheral to idea generation and composing” in traditional academic papers (200). James Purdy also sees this tension between digital projects and practices and traditional modes of scholarship. He claims that digital technologies for production “blur the lines between academic and non-academic texts,” which can offer a “new kind of freedom” for scholars; however, this freedom “troubles the easy distinctions that we sometimes draw between scholarly and non-scholarly texts,” which can impact “tenure and promotion decisions…about whether texts ‘count’” (33). Gesa Kirsh and Liz Rohan advise that scholars who wish to “pursue archival research” will “need to be mindful of deadlines for degrees, publications, and tenure” that may be affected by this non-traditional scholarly effort, in addition to being “realistic about travel expenses and the time, effort, and energy it takes” (8). The implication among these excerpts is that digital scholarship is not recognized in the same way as traditional research that results in a peer-reviewed journal article or monograph published by a university press, and this may impact a faculty member’s ability to secure promotion if the institution does not recognize the digital product as having the same merit as a print publication.
At FAU for example, the University Promotion and Tenure Guidelines indicate, in bold print, that faculty submitting portfolios to be considered for promotion or tenure must include detailed descriptions of “all publications, including electronic media” that specifically outline “the type of refereeing used…the impact factor and acceptance rates of the Journal, citations for the article, and discipline-based indices” for each publication that serve as “important means of external validation” for the reviewers (7-8). The instructions follow this section, although not in bold print and with much less discussion, that faculty’s “scholarly creative work” and “community-engaged research (CER)” can also be included. It is not clear to me where a project like mine would fit into these given types. It is a kind of electronic media, but it is not “published” in the same sense as a journal article. It is a kind of creative scholarship in the sense that there is a kind of designed and technical craft or “making” that occurs, which may be similar to the output by the faculty in the fine arts for which this designation seems to be directed. However, the guidelines indicate that for creative scholarship, the “significance of the venue or exhibition” needs to be described, which suggests this category is designed more for performances or visual art than digital humanities scholarship (8). While this project certainly is engaged in the community, this category is the least defined, suggesting it may also be the least significant for reviewers, with the only description indicating that this is the designation for scholarship that is “a collaborative process between the researcher and a community partner” that contributes to the discipline and strengthens the community (8). There is no discussion for this kind of research about impact, acceptance rates, or citations, presumably since such academic metrics are not captured in this kind of work. While I do see my archive as strengthening a community and contributing to the field, and therefore perhaps best situated within this description, I do not think of it as a collaboration with a specific community partner so much as I do an archival project developed with collaborative or participatory methods. It is also possible to conceive of a digital project that is not participatory in nature, which could exclude it from being considered an example of CER.
In any case, these institutional templates for quantifying scholarship are not yet well-suited for recognizing digital scholarship that is produced and disseminated outside traditional academic routes, and the overall impression they give is that publishing a traditional article in a competitive journal is associated with scholarship of greater significance than projects, like a digital archive, that does not fit into this mold with quantifiable markers for disciplinary importance. Perhaps this institutional privileging of traditional publication exists because of the “relation between publication counts and institutional prestige,” and the inability to “count” and track a digital product in the same ways (Johnson, N. 101). Regardless of the reason though, this reality is likely to shape what scholars choose to undertake and the form of the end result. Like I adjusted the project to include a Literature Review and scholarly implications, other digital scholars may also respond to these institutional publishing hierarchies as well, shifting focus from a community audience to an academic one. This shift may impact decisions about where to place the work, perhaps limiting community access or producing a project that is more didactic and less experiential in nature to meet the journal requirements and conventions. The scholar might also be altogether dissuaded from spending time making a new digital project in favor of producing more traditional scholarship about already existing digital projects. The institutional requirements for faculty evaluation are likely to apply some pressure to scholars working with digital projects, and the shaping influence that is likely to occur in terms of the project’s form and intended audience should be noted and made clear.
Ridolfo notes that these “three distinct stakeholder communities” will each have “a different set of interests in the collection” (139). This assertion was certainly borne out in my own experiences. The reality of these institutionally situated archival projects is one that must be navigated with respect to the changing rhetorical goals and the particular objectives of cultural stakeholders,” which requires compromise at times and the strength to stand firm in the archival mission (Ridolfo 137). The archivist’s goal then becomes “leveling the playing field for member institutions participating in their programs,” so that “no single institution serves as the leader,” allowing all involved to “have the flexibility to move forward collectively as a networked community” (Skinner 39, 43). Making decisions that weigh the institutional needs of one group against another is ungovernable by a single set of rules, but rather requires that the archivist operate from a set of values related the to the archive’s purpose. For me, the purpose of the archive is to create an emotional experience that connects other Azorean-Americans to their culture is ways that solidify a sense of cultural identity. Although I am also working on this as a dissertation, having that clarity of purpose serves as an ethical guidepost in moments when I encounter institutional interests that may be at odds with one another. I would recommend that anyone undertaking a similar archival project spends time developing a clear mission and takes a careful look at his or her institutional affiliations, making an honest assessment of what each will need and expect from the work. There needs to be an expectation that these affiliations will not always align, and that compromising and privileging interests are inherent in archival decisions.
The Question of Agency Under Institutional Constraints
In considering the implications of this narrative, Carl Herndl and Adela Licona’s concept of constrained agency is useful in understanding the complex negotiation of agency that takes place between archivists and the contexts in which they work. Theories of agency in rhetoric are complex and varied, but this dissertation aligns with Herndl and Licona’s definition of agency as “the act of effecting change through discourse,” where the power to bring about that change stems from questions of “who has the authority to speak and represent, but also, what are the conditions and opportunities that allow subjects to act to change or to reproduce social, institutional, and discursive practices” (134). By invoking the question of who has the authority to speak, this view does acknowledge that the individual speaker—or archivist in the context of this dissertation—does participate in agentive processes that bring about change. However, the second question raised here invokes a set of conditions, along with the individual, that are significant aspects of how the agentive state is constructed and occupied. It is this second question, related to the contextualized conditions of the rhetor and the audience, that most concern Herndl and Licona. They argue that agency is not something we can possess, a power we either have or do not have, an object we can seize or be granted, but rather it is a constructed, impermanent site in which individuals and conditions come together in relationships that create the potential to effect change. It defines agency as “the conjunction of a set of social and subjective relations that constitute the possibility of action,” (135) and a concept that is “contingent on a matrix of material and social conditions” that create “a social location and opportunity into and out of which rhetors, even postmodern subjects, move” (Herndl and Licona 137). Agency is the coming together of both “the subject’s dispositions and the temporary and contingent conditions of possibility for rhetorical action that begin to define what we term an agent function” (137). In the case of the archive, the changes that the activist-archivist wishes to bring about can include, like in this project, the more equitable representation of marginalized groups in archival records or even the potential to reinforce cultural identity. The agency to effect this change, in Herndl and Licona’s terms, does not reside within the archivist alone, as a power she has to bring the archive into existence and foment change. Rather, the archivist moves into the site of agency that depends upon certain “material and social conditions.” This may mean the social conditions of her training and experience, her identity as a scholar or archival professional, and the willingness of participants to contribute, but it also requires the inclusion of the very real material conditions of access to technology and funding. When the site of agency is constructed by the intersection of all these conditions, then change may ensue.
One reason this concept is so productively applied to this dissertation is because so much time has been spent arguing for the acceptance and recognition of how the archivist acts from a situated position and how that position shapes the archive, consciously or not. I have argued for greater awareness of how one’s bias may be negatively affecting the authenticity of the archive and interfere with representation of the community members on their own terms. I have also argued that the very real material constraints, of funding for example, will also affect the archive, and in this narrative, I have also implied that I have myself been subject to significant influences from my positions within institutional networks. In their totality, these arguments present a complex web of factors that are all working to shape me, the archive, and eventually the archive’s users. While many theories of agency seem to ascribe a great deal of power to the archivist as an individual, or at least as an individual acting independently, my experience reveals the archivists’ situatedness itself as an influential construct, operating on the archivist and manifesting from institutional connections, which requires a more complex approach to theorizing power. Herndl and Licona stress that in understanding agency as a site we move into, temporally constructed as a function of intersecting conditions, we see a theory that expands beyond the individual. They contend that understanding agency “as a set of relations” means that “it no longer requires that we connect it to an autonomous individual,” and can instead see that “agency exists at the intersection of a network of semiotic, material, and, yes, intentional elements and relational practices” (137). Divorcing agency from a concept solely understood to belong to an individual helps to mediate the problems of a theory of agency that “reifies the individual” (139). This is an important corrective to arguments that assign too much of the question of agency to the individual as someone capable of seizing agency independently of other factors and conditions, an argument that “obscures the network of material and textual conditions upon which agency depends” (139). It comes more closely to a theory that aligns with my experience that any agentive function I am able to employ is neither solely emanating from within nor borrowed from the institutional and social conditions around me. As both an influencer and one who is herself influenced, it brings forward the question posed by Herndl and Licona: “How can we think about the subjectivity of an author, of a rhetor, in light of the postmodern critique of subjectivity and identity?” (134). It forces reflection on the question of agency and how much agency I can have as an individual archivist, how much agency I can genuinely ascribe to my own motivations and needs, given the realities of my situatedness, embedded in influential networks. To find answers to this question, it is necessary to trace our positions to illustrate the tensions between the individual constructed of her personal experiences and the conditions set by the need to maintain institutional identities.
In tracing these tensions, it becomes clear that agency is complexly negotiated. In my multiply-situated identities working as a student needing to fulfill institutional requirements, a non-tenure track faculty member having some institutional privileges but not being entitled to departmental research funds, and an archivist wanting to facilitate the needs of the Azorean-American community to which I belong, I am neither wholly free to do whatever I please however I please nor am I completely constrained by a single institution, forced to construct the archive as it sees fit. However, within this negotiation there is a recognition that at times, the institutional conditions are limiting. Herndl and Licona’s theory of agency as a set of relations that enable the possibility of change is again more productive as a frame for the archivist’s role in creating the archive because it recognizes that the archivist is “a figure constructed within institutional relations of value and power,” and that the “authority” of the institution “often limits and controls discourse and action” (134). These imposed limitations can be understood as “constrained agency” (133). The constraints on our capacity to engage the agentive site is often experienced as the granting or denying of access—access to the modes of discursive production, the intellectual and material elements needed to fully participate in a discourse, and access to the means of distribution. Herndl and Licona connect this particular access constraint to Foucault, who “argues that as authoritative practices legitimize some speakers, they also exclude other speakers from a given discourse,” which occurs as a result of authorizing entities within an institution who establish a mandate that “‘none may enter into discourse on a specific subject unless he has satisfied certain conditions’” and determine whether or not he is “‘from the outset, qualified to do so’” (143). In my experience, there is a direct link between this question of limited agency through limited access and the institutional requirements related to research support.
As I mentioned, there are certain conditions that, if satisfied, would grant me access to university resources, either through using the library’s servers and digitization tools or in a university sponsored grant application. However, satisfying these conditions in both cases would require that I cede the long-term ownership of the project to the university. I would in some ways be “legitimized” by the university, which could have implications for the overall professionalization of the archive and perhaps garner greater participation through the perceived stability and significance that comes from such an affiliation, but I would lose much of the agentive function to determine the archival design and intended use. Conversely, by my refusal to accept the institutional conditions, I am in some ways “excluded” from the archival discourse by the reduced access to supporting resources that could broaden the size and scope of the project and its potential to be recognized, seen, and respected. Constrained agency recognizes that “to participate in the power dynamics of the academy” is to “do so at the cost of a loss of agency” (144). It also acknowledges that institutional authority makes it “extremely difficult for some subjects—typically those from non-dominant groups—to successfully occupy and engage the agentive space” (143). I see my positions as a graduate student and a contingent faculty member to be doubly locating myself in “non-dominant groups,” and that has made the ability to occupy the agentive space more difficult in multiple ways, such as limiting my ability to establish my ethos with participants, my access to funding, and my ability to design as robust and sustainable an archive as needed to effect measurable change. There is also an application for constrained agency in understanding the Azorean-American community itself as a non-dominant group that has difficulty engaging the agentive space of the archive, the agentive possibilities for effecting change, as being limited by institutional authorities that set appraisal processes that determine whether conditions of value have been satisfied. In much the same way discussions in the first chapter highlight the way that power in the archive and the interface both reflects and reinforces dominant social and cultural values and norms, Herndl and Licona’s concept of agency positions institutional authority as having the same quality. It limits access to the agentive site, to the possibility to enact change, which ultimately preserves its own authority. They argue that “in these institutionalized settings, authoritative practices often reveal a power to stabilize, limit, and control meaning and action,” concluding that “as it limits the proliferation of meaning and action, authority can constrain agency” (143). Our access to the power that can bring about change is constrained by institutional authority as those authorities set conditions that reinforce their constitutive rules, further replicating and preserving their controlling function. For archivists, decisions about whether or not to accept these conditions will impact their access to the agentive space, constraining their own agentive function, influencing the constructed archive and its capacity to effect change. It is not possible to operate outside the conjunction of the institutional authorities and one’s multiple identifications, but understanding agency as constrained by such authorities and conditions may empower the archivist to negotiate agency from a stronger position, one more confident in the rationale for each decision.
If anything, constrained agency may make it even more important for archivists to engage autoethnographic methods as a way to document and trace the results of such negotiations, Herndl and Licona acknowledge that something is needed to “help rhetors both understand the way regulative forces shape the terrain of social space and how this interplay opens possibilities in the grid of regulation” (151). This understanding is made more difficult to obtain because the nature of agency is “diffuse and shifting” (137). They argue that the site is not static, the conditions that enable agency are ever-changing just as we are ever-evolving. Therefore, an understanding of the agentive space means that the scholarly inclusion of an “articulation of the materiality of time to place and practice” is “an important and necessary move” (138). This articulation is precisely what the autoethnographic narratives, at least as employed in this dissertation, are seeking to demonstrate. I have attempted to capture the material conditions, my positions at this time and in these places I occupy, and the archival and scholarly practices I have undertaken to facilitate this archival project; the articulation of which will hopefully bring about greater understanding of the “terrain” and the “possibilities” one finds therein. Autoethnography is one way for scholars to begin “investigating how subjects as writers function in the cultural practices which (re)produce knowledge, power, and identity, and to develop a “more careful understanding of the interaction between agency and those regulative forces that stabilize institutions and practices” (139, 134). Herndl and Licona argue that we need these investigations and understandings “to explore the way institutions regulate and normalize discourse and identity” because “the experience of non-dominant subjects in discourse and society” is an especially “central issue for analysis” (150). Autoethnographic narratives can contribute to that more careful understanding between the archivist and the regulative forces of institutional authority, mapping those negotiations and illustrating the most impactful points of tension. It can also bring into deeper relief the material realities of working from a non-dominant position within the academic institution and the challenges of archival representation for non-dominant groups within society as they are both subjected to normative influences, potentially detrimental influences, that are a critical site for rhetorical analysis.
The autoethnographic methods are also important in mapping the temporal site of agency that is constructed by multiple and complexly-interwoven elements. Herndl and Licona argue that our position as rhetors are not static. They acknowledge that “the same social subject can occupy different, sometimes contradictory, identities and social spaces,” meaning that “the same person is sometimes an agent of change, sometimes a figure of established authority, and sometimes an ambiguous, even contradictory, combination of both social functions” (135). It is a claim, more simply, that rhetors “are multiply situated and differently able and authorized to speak, act, and intervene” (146). In my own experience, I am both student and teacher, community-member and outsider, archivist and rhetorician. These various identities operate in sometimes contradictory ways, and that impacts my ability to occupy the agentive space. When I am a student, I am constrained perhaps in my access to funding, but when I am seen in my identity as a community-member I am better able to occupy the agentive function in terms of greater access to participants via increased trust. Autoethnography can better capture these tensions and allow for more insight into how agency operates in practice as opposed to theory. It is also worth considering here Robert Johnson’s observation about the constraints that emerge as we occupy multiple identities and multiple positions within and against institutional authorities. He writes:
As things move from one context or situation to another they are altered, reshaped, and refashioned by various pressures and constraints that exist in the new environment. Such ‘pressures,’ however, are not so much negative as they are formative; these constraints are what forge the user, the technological artifact or system, and the designers and artisans who take part in the enterprise. In brief, these pressures and constraints help form a complex that circumscribes, and, in turn, fashions, the rhetorical components of technology. (38).
Johnson acknowledges here, like Herndl and Licona, that we experience pressures and constraints as we move through different environments, occupying different facets of our identities and operating within different institutions. However, he is careful to note that we do not need to necessarily correlate the constraints with negative outcomes. Rather, we should understand that they come together to form a complex, the streams of influence that shape an agentive site, that ultimately gives form to the digital object. We can use autoethnography, a formative narrative, to map this complex, which is productive as we seek to gain ever-deeper understanding of the forces that influence discourse and the boundaries of the rhetor’s role in that production.
Negotiating the Affordances and Constraints of Institutional Collaboration
As discussed in the previous section, working within the academy puts the archivist under the umbrella of institutional authority, which can require the individual to cede some measure of agency to that institution as she works to satisfy the conditions of maintaining such an affiliation. However, institutional affiliations do open avenues for productive collaboration, even as they bring about important questions of agency that the archivist will need to address. Collaboration, either across the university or with external organizations, is often cited in the scholarship as a way to effectively resolve tensions in archival design, including providing access to a wider range of participants and artifacts, funding, technological tools, and long-term shared digital preservation mechanisms, which have been discussed in the Participation and Funding chapters thus far [INSERT ANCHOR JUMPS]. Jennifer Glaser and Laura Micciche see the benefit of external collaboration as including the “possibility of moving art and critical practice beyond the walls of the university,” while interdepartmental collaborations across campus enable “research [that] becomes more varied [with] methodological diversity…that explicitly minimizes affiliation and increases relational nodes and creative thinking across sites of knowledge making” (204). Certainly, these are positive outcomes for engaging collaborations, particularly for archives that so depend upon broad interest and support for arguments related to ongoing funding.
Collaboration is often a solution to the challenge of digital archives that “require more active care over the course of their life cycles” by sharing the burden of their care and drawing on the “assistance from those outside the traditional library sphere, such as the graduate school or an IT department” (Perrin et al. 103). Given the difficulties of generating a new digital archive, these partnerships, both within and between institutions, may be necessary. Katherine Skinner argues that “to accomplish anything of significance, the academy stakeholders must work together,” noting that “coalitions are powerful and there is great strength in aligned voices (49). While there is a power in the drawing together of resources and knowledge from across institutions, the collaboration will likely require the archivist to cede some control over the project, compromising to make allowances for partners’ needs and modes of operation. These adjustments should be expected by the archivist moving into these different institutional territories as “the existing occupants have their own traditions and business practices” (Skinner 40). Like my own experiences learning about collaborative opportunities as FAU, it will be necessary to weigh the affordances of collaboration against the partner’s requirements and working practices.
One of the most common reasons an archive turn to collaboration is to secure adequate funding for a project by identifying well-established institutions, often outside the academy, that would have a vested interest in the archive’s production. There is an obvious benefit to partnering with an institution for funding, which will “enable the archive to grow and reward the labor of the many hands that build and maintain the archive” beyond what would be possible with more limited means (Smith 126). However, there is also a possible benefit in addition to growth that has to do with a project’s authoritativeness. Smith argues that institutional partnerships can “implicitly privilege the participatory public memory creation by endowing them with institutional and professional associations,” and that “contributors to the archive may feel a sense of empowerment that their community-curated gathering and contextualization of artifacts will serve as a source for official, historical research along with professional oral history recordings and letters” (126). This reminds me of the discussion in the Participation chapter [INSERT ANCHOR JUMP] about how contributors are more likely to develop trust with researchers if they are associated with an institution or group organization. The idea is repeated here that in addition to possible bolstering participation, an institutional collaboration may also potentially extend a sense of trustworthiness out to the archive users as well as instilling a sense of pride for contributors that their personal histories and artifacts are important enough to have such institutional recognition.
Despite these benefits though, scholars are also quick to warn archivists about the potential consequences for seeking funding through institutional partnerships, namely that it will influence project development and design—the issue raised by Herndl and Licona regarding constrained agency. Broadly speaking, if a project is structured in such a way that it is dependent upon outside funding, there is the possibility that it will never move beyond the conceptualization phase. This is a question of how funding is allocated, where “institutions, such as publishers, government departments, universities, and other funding organizations” function as financial gatekeepers that “significantly influence who has access to resources,” which ultimately “shapes published literature” or digital publication by either lending financial support for a project to pass through the gates or to remain locked out of funding (Johnson, N. 101). If a project is funded through institutional partnerships, the influence will also potentially be seen in the archive design since the mission of commercial entities “is not aligned well with that of the academy,” specifically they are less interested in “sharing knowledge” than they are seeking “to treat it as a commodity” (Skinner 48). As discussed in the Funding chapter [INSERT ANCHOR JUMP], this may result in an archival design that monetizes the artifacts, creates a pay wall, or otherwise treats access and use as a function of profit. Even if an institution does not require monetization in exchange for support, there is a clear mandate for archivists to “think carefully about the way partnerships can affect practices developed to align with project goals” (Smith 127). For example, the NEH grant would financially support the archive without changing my goals for an open-access cultural repository, but it does have very specific guidelines about how data collection should occur in a public collection event. This would have necessarily changed my archival practices for participation, which were rooted in relational dynamics [INSERT LINK TO PARTICIPATION SECTION – FRIENDSHIP AS METHOD] that drew on friendships and family ties and likely produced conversations and revelations that were arguably more in-depth than those that could be made in a public setting where that inherent trust between participants and researcher would not exist. However, despite this constraint, it is important to recognize the benefit of securing such a grant. Shannon Carter and Kelly Dent write about their own archival project and the impact of receiving an NEH grant. They write, “we cannot overstate the role played by institutional support in establishing these networks. The credibility that comes with NEH funding gave university administrators additional reasons to provide extensive support, expanding Shannon’s research team from one graduate research assistantship to four and providing a small budget for supplies, refreshments, and travel…On a campus of fewer than 13,000, with high teaching loads and ever-dwindling funds, the impact of such perceived challenges cannot be overstated, either” (164). The intangible increased credibility and increase in material resources was certainly an asset that offset any negotiated agency in project design. These discussions reveal that essentially, as with so many aspects of creating an archive, there is not one right way to make decisions about institutional funding. It is neither a purely good nor bad decision but is certainly one that is consequential; recognizing that and mediating the institutional influences is part of this process.
In addition to funding, digital projects will often collaborate for technological advantages, but this is also not without its benefits and drawbacks. As I experienced in my discussions with the Digital Library, collaboration with established organizations will often require an adherence to standardization, which will influence project design and limit the archivist’s agency over the archive’s appearance and functionality. There are many scholars that cite standardization as an important way to improve long-term preservation [INSERT LINK TO FUNDING SECTION – STANDARDIZATION], but there is also a possibility that using a predetermined structure could detract from the unique needs and goals of a particular archive. Keith Greenwood argues that “ignoring the organization’s unique features and attempting to apply prepackaged programs or…adopting an innovation simply because other organizations have done so removes the focus from fulfilling a need and is likely to hinder its successful implementation” (83-4). Skinner makes a similar argument that “system-level progress will not happen by focusing on institution-level priorities” (42). As a practical example of these warnings, I am attempting to address the community’s need for cultural transmission to members removed from the immigration act by creating an affective archival experience, but this work would likely be impeded by the institutional inflexibility of using the Digital Library’s standard interface.
This claim is also repeated by Jim Ridolfo who describes a design dichotomy in which standardization focuses on processing information, doing what is best for digitized data, while customization allows design to focus on cultural stakeholder needs, doing what is best for the community. He argues that a “stakeholder-based lens produces tailored interfaces…with a focused interest in the needs of particular stakeholders as they relate to the content of their texts,” which is ultimately more appropriate for “scholars of rhetoric interested in the digital humanities…because it requires extensive research into the rhetorical needs of individual stakeholder groups” (140-1). The suggestion here is that a rhetorical archive will better address questions of audience and purpose, will be better suited to mediating the rhetorical exigencies driving the archive creation, if it avoids institutional standardization in favor of customized design. Graban et al. seem to make the same claim about the rhetorical appropriateness of developing customized tools that support rhetoricians’ work, which is a way to “help them imagine new kinds of relations among texts and users rather than only representing relations according to traditional taxonomies of storage and use” (239). Greenwood echoes these concerns that digital archives run the risk of becoming digital processes and less usable by the public in meaningful ways if they are designed to meet institutional purposes. He writes, “The production focus of the archive creation processes reported raises questions about what researchers will find in those digital files. An archive built to serve internal interests…will not be the same as one constructed to preserve an ongoing history of an organization or community” (94). Archivists will need to determine whether institutional collaboration, and thus building an archive according to institutional processes and standards, is worth the unavoidable influence on the archival design and the stifling of an archivist’s agency and creativity.
Institutional collaboration presents challenges surrounding agency for the archivist and may require a compromised archival vision to meet imposed requirements upon which the partnership’s benefits are contingent. However, there are always compromises to the archival vision and concessions that must be made, whether that is because of funding constraints or institutional alignments. There is going to be a gap between the idealized form of the archive in the mind and the practical one that can exist within the bounds of reality, so the archivist should not shun such institutional partnerships. Rather there must be an awareness that although potentially beneficial, “partnerships can also…affect the meaning-making potentials of a project” (Smith 126). It will be necessary to keep those effects in balance with the project goals, recognizing that although “advancing scholarship at this moment requires engaging together within the community,” it must be done in such a way “that a passion for knowledge dissemination remains at the core” of the project without over-privileging institutional precedents (Skinner 49). For community archives, the caution against allowing such standards to subsume the needs of cultural stakeholders may be more imperative, involving ethical questions of having been entrusted to be a faithful steward of community property and memory.
Institutional Critique as Archival Method
The discussions of institutional influence, especially in the context of imposed constraints, could lead some considering archival projects to see the institution as an overwhelming force that will subsume archivists’ ideas and intentions under the weight of its authority. However, despite the constraints, scholars often depend upon their institutional affiliations for resources, productive collaboration, and increased perceptions of legitimacy. The relationship requires a negotiation between the benefits that affiliation can provide and the limitations or concessions that come from institutional regulation. It is also possible that within these negotiations, the scholar can employ methods that contribute to institutional change. In their article “Institutional Critique: A Rhetorical Methodology,” published in College Composition and Communication in 2000, James E. Porter, Patricia Sullivan, Stuart Blythe, Jeffrey T. Grabill, and Libby Miles present their vision for using institutional critique as an important method in rhetoric and composition scholarship as a means of changing institutional practices, particularly for those working in the margins. They start by reminding scholars that although “institutions are certainly powerful, they are not monoliths; they are rhetorically constructed human designs (whose power is reinforced by buildings, laws, traditions, and knowledge-making practices) and so are changeable” (611). By focusing only on the constraints of institutional authority, it is possible that archivists will overlook the potential to engage in archival production and scholarship that can transform the institutions in and from which they emerge as well as change the broader culture through the introduction of new records. Porter et al.’s method of institutional critique offers such an opportunity to render institutional influence more visible, probing the boundaries of its authority and mapping the network to identify key points at which to apply counterpressure. By including a narrative of this project’s situatedness in and across various institutions, and by demonstrating the limitations of these positions, how they shape the projects, and how I have made to decisions to either accept or work against the constraints, this chapter employs institutional critique as one method to enact change.
It is important to remember that the goals of institutional critique are not solely to offer a detailed map of institutional agency and influence, but rather it is to use that mapping as a tool to facilitate change, specifically for those often disenfranchised within and by the institution. Porter et al. explain, “We aim to change the practices of institutional representatives and to improve the conditions of those affected by and served by institutions: especially, within our own field, writers, students, part-time composition teachers, workers, local communities, and those not traditionally served by the university (e.g., the economically disadvantaged)” (611). They hope that by engaging in these productive critiques “institutions can be sensitized to users, to people, systemically from within and that this sensitizing can potentially change the way an entire industry perceives its relationship to the public” (611). The goals of the critique are to improve the lived, material conditions of individuals and communities associated with the institution by increasing the organization’s ability to recognize these groups with sensitivity and compassion, which can inspire operational and structural changes to be initiated.
Porter et al. state, that meeting these goals will require that we “include institutional research in the realm of what counts as research in rhetoric and composition” (612). They call for rhetoricians to engage with issues around institutional influence, to work in multiple ways to study and document the experiences of scholars as they are supported and constrained by their situatedness in institutional contexts. The autoethnographic data included here is one way to begin such an inclusion in the field. As such, this narrative becomes an important part of the critique in presenting my experiences as a distance graduate student, non-tenure track (NTT) faculty member, and as part of the Azorean-American community. In each role, I have experienced some degree of institutional constraint upon the project, particularly in terms of support. Funding opportunities are less available to me from my faculty position, as research is not a requirement for NTT faculty and this not included in the department budget. As a distance student unable to take graduate assistantships, certain financial support options are not readily available, although I was honored to be nominated for and receive a fellowship from Old Dominion for one semester. However, I think it is more about the physical distance from the institutional setting that makes the work more challenging. Not having the frequent formal and informal interactions with peers and faculty in the program can be a disadvantage in terms of intellectual and emotional support, essential ingredients in scholarly production. The student and NTT status also create challenging conditions related to project ownership, as discussed in the narrative. These more subordinate positions within the academic institution means that I would need to further cede agency—such as allowing the university library to control the archival records and their exhibition—in order to gain access to their resources. By sharing these experiences, it is possible that I can contribute to greater awareness for the impacts of these limitations and an increased sensitivity to those in similar situations.
To move from the goals of institutional critique to the processes involved in the method, it is important to look at the scope of the investigation. Porter et al. contend that a well-grounded critique must include analysis of scholarly practices, not just of theory. They argue that institutional critique arises from “a particular brand of postmodernism and critical action that eschews theoretical abstractions in favor of a materially and spatially situated form of analysis” (613). They explain that they “are frustrated, however, with the gap between local actions and more global critiques (which are far more common in our disciplinary discourse),” and when “global critiques exist only in the form of ideal cases or statements, which all too often bracket off discussions of materiality and economic constraints in favor of working out the best case scenario—which, all too often, does not come to pass” (615). The frustration here is a pragmatic one that articulates the problematic approach of divorcing the actual practices of scholars from theoretical discussions of the issues that are either too generalized or idealized to have relevant implications for practitioners. Instead, Porter et al. advocate for a method of institutional critique that looks at the theory in situated practices; they write that this method should focus on the “research practices” that reveal “the alignment of faculty within such organizations, and the material conditions of support for these practices, the structural and material and spatial conditions” (618). This is again what makes this method particularly well-suited to this dissertation and the choice of autoethnographic methods. One goal for this project overall is to better understand the archival processes when approached from a rhetorical perspective, to understand how these practices shape the archive and are shaped by “materiality and economic constraints.” The autoethnographic narratives capture and prioritize these conditions and constraints, but in contextualizing the narrative with theoretical analysis in the considerations, they also reflect the interdependent relationship between scholarship on the theoretical level, what is set by the institution of the discipline, with what occurs at the practical level.
In an effort to close the gap between theory and practice, institutional critique is a method that works to visualize the full spectrum of scholarship that exists across a range from global to local, from theory to practice. The authors explain that institutional critique examines “the rhetorical relationships between general social (if not sociological) processes and local practices” (621). Included below is Figure 1: Site for Institutional Critique that diagrams Porter et al.’s view of this spectrum and the relationships between institutions and scholars and shows the interactions that the institutional critique method investigates (622).
The figure establishes that institutional critique operates from a positioning of the relationships between several entities: the theoretical positions of a discipline and the macro institution, the actions in the micro institution, and the sites of enacted practices. It examines the productive tensions that emanate from and are exerted onto the theories, practices, and actions involved. Locating this dissertation in this mapping, we can see the disciplines of rhetoric, archival studies, and interface design interacting with the macro institutions of my various university affiliations at the theoretical level, which create tensions operating on the micro institution of the constructed archive Around Her Table. The archive I have built from the practices of archival processes operates on the discipline and macro institutions as I push back against disciplinary or institutional pressures and precedents. The multidirectional influences throughout each level is made clear, with negotiations being layered and complex, intertwined and recursively exchanging influence. I think it is a good representation of my experiences in developing this archive. The theoretical approaches to archives, such as privileging user needs and community agency, exerts influence on the archive’s form and purpose, which is articulated by and from the practices I have employed, as in generating a participatory archive and inviting user-generated descriptions. Certainly, as discussed in this narrative, the macro institutional affiliations also shaped the product and practices, especially in terms of funding and how the decisions around the selection of a content management system were affected.
In addition to articulating the hierarchical and directional flows of influence as we operate within and from networks of theories and practices and disciplines, institutions, and organizations, Porter et al. highlight the importance of institutional space as part of a methodological critique. They argue that although “institutional critique is an unabashedly rhetorical practice mediating macro-level structures and micro-level actions,” it is ultimately a method “rooted in a particular space and time” (612). This is an important reminder that practices, although shaped by organizations and institutions, are also situated in unique locations, spatially and temporally bound. This argument is also recognized by other scholars working in rhetoric, particularly with the issue of proximity. It is the idea that the ways we work and what we produce are powerfully influenced by the specific physical locations of our institutional affiliations and our proximity to them. We are shaped by the location as much as we are by global theory, by the people with whom we work and share space, and by the material resources that exist within those locations. In the context of archival production, Graban et al. argue that proximity will affect “what decisions inform their construction, particularly when deciding where such archives can or should be virtually housed,” which can be complicated for researchers “who work among or between institutional spaces, are motivated by their knowledge of the topic, and must negotiate affective, geographic, and virtual attachments to the social, cultural, or institutional context in which their topics reside” (235). This is exemplified in this narrative as the decision about where to locate the archive was a significant rhetorical decision shaped by constrained agency and negotiations between realizing community goals and sourcing funding.
If I were positioned in a different location, with proximity to different locations—perhaps working from the campus of UMass—Dartmouth where the Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives is housed—then the decisions would likely also be differently determined. My location in Florida is a physical separation from the community I am studying and working with in Rhode Island, which also influences how much contact I have, how much trust I can develop, and how many participants I can work with. It also removes me from scholarly communities of other Azorean-Americans and academic departments that support research into this group. While I can converse with other academics about my work, the nature of these mutual exchanges is necessarily determined by their own areas of expertise. We shape and are shaped by our locations and those who dwell within them. The significance of this is asserted by Nathan Johnson, who writes that “place is intimately bound to human communication and social change,” so much so that “when people physically live close to each other it creates a hotbed of innovation that is unique to the location and time” (104). He continues, “When people physically commune, they communicate in ways that are unique in the way they produce ideas, products, literature, or scholarship” (104). We often think of the scholar as an isolated writer, alone in front of a computer screen or behind a desk, ensconced behind a fence constructed of books and journals. However, this romantic notion of the solitary writer obscures the reality of writing as an often social process, developed at least in part by the interactions we have with others in our locations. Conversely, it is precisely because “institutions, publications, and people are materially bound by place” that it becomes “more difficult for unaffiliated scholars or scholars at smaller institutions to become part of a larger academic community simply because they do not have access to the institutional communication channels that scholars at large institutions have” (Johnson, N. 104). We can experience institutional influence as a function of location, for both how it enables or disallows access to scholarly communities and intellectual exchange and material resources. A method of institutional critique should include a description of scholarly location, reflecting on how the times and spaces in which we work are influenced by institutional affiliation as much as they influence us.
However, institutional critique is not only interested in space more broadly conceived as location. It is also especially interested in issues surrounding the control of space. Porter et al. explain that “both physical and figurative space plays into the construction of a university,” but “control of space is power” (620). The decisions about how spaces are used are one way an institution exerts its power and influence over the bodies of scholars who work within those spaces. This can extend to digital space as well, such as on a university funded and maintained server. In my own experience with the FAU library, the control over that digital space was maintained by regulating the appearance of and access to any data housed there. Use of that space would require the acceptance of FAU regulations and would be subjected to maintenance and sustainability decisions by digital librarians and other IT staff members. My own agency in making decisions about how the archive is represented online or how the metadata is handled and accessed would be significantly limited by such a collaboration, and the clear exercise of power in control of space is exemplified. As such, an institutional critique needs to understand institutions as rhetorical systems of decision making that exercise power through the design of space (both material and discursive)” (Porter et al. 621). Scholars should consider how they can negotiate greater agency by considering how they can occupy spaces with greater control, perhaps determining that finding spaces to occupy that lie outside the institution are the most advantageous.
Porter et al. explain that, since one of the goals of institutional critique is to effect change, we should look to our interactions with institutional spaces as one potential way to achieve that goal. They write that “space itself is a major factor in achieving systemic change” (630). They argue further that the “construction of space (whether it be discursive or physical) can be a key rhetorical action affecting institutional change, and once created, the space can operate independently of the sponsoring agents” (630). I see this occurring in my decision to create the archive outside the institutional boundaries. Although WordPress is a type of institution unto itself, and its constraints should likewise not be ignored, I am still able to “operate independently of the sponsoring agents” and exercise greater control over the interface design than I would ever be able to do by using the institutional space. It is also an example of how “research practices themselves (including publication) can embody institutional critique” (631). In my decision to move outside the university for publishing the archive, it embodies a critique of the institutional preconditions I would need to meet to draw on their resources. It is one way that this dissertation functions as institutional critique, since in order “to qualify as institutional critique, a research project has to actually enact the practice(s) it hopes for by demonstrating how the process of producing the publication or engaging in the research enacted some form of institutional change” (628). External publication, maintaining agency in interface design and in the long-term stewardship of the archival metadata, I am enacting the kind or archival agency that would represent an improvement in institutional practice. While this decision is unlikely to create significant change at the institutional level, my decision to write about the constraints of spatial control may inspire others to create their own space for production as well. A movement rooted in the frustration over the lack of control may achieve some sensitization to these needs, which could result in tangible structural changes.
The reflections on our positions within the theory/practice spectrum and our positionality in space and time are valuable aspects of the institutional critique, but Porter et al. also offer two more concrete suggestions for how to conduct an institutional critique: mapping and boundary interrogation. The first tactic is mapping, which is an effort to “explore social, disciplinary, and institutional relationships in composition studies,” while also “showing how maps might be used to negotiate disputes arising among differing theoretical perspectives, to explain changes over time, to clarify the positions and values of various groups that relate to one another” (623). Again, autoethnography is one way to visualize and “map” these important relationships “social, disciplinary, and institutional relationships.” By recording and reflecting on our interactions, positions, and the tensions we experience, we give shape and boundaries to the network in which we operate. However, autoethnography becomes a productive practice as it shares knowledge about how the scholar has worked to resolve disputes and clarifies relational values. These insights can usefully inform others engaged in similar work not only about what kinds of tensions they may also experience but also how to effectively negotiate resolutions. Enough autoethnographies can, like archival records, also serve as a new kind of evidentiary body, one that provides first-hand accounts of institutional practices, especially if they marginalize or limit the agency of contingent members of that institution. Then, in their totality and abundance, these accounts can be used to exert pressure to change.
A second tactic is boundary interrogation, which is an examination of how power is asserted at institutionally constructed boundaries. These boundaries usually exist to delimit access and legitimacy. They determine the boundaries of a discipline by setting limitations on funding according to professional status, like the Foucauldian arguments discussed above by Herndl and Licona about the rarefaction of discourse by authoritarian control over speaker’s access to that discourse. Institutions can determine their own boundaries simply in terms of who has access to their material, spatial, and intellectual resources simply through who is hired or admitted as a student and thus granted permission to occupy these locations. Departmental boundaries can also limit scholarly production, as well as those divisions that exist more broadly between the academy and the broader communities in which they are situated. Institutions contribute to the boundaries that exist even between our intersecting, and sometimes conflicting, identities as scholars and teachers, students and writers, experts and novices—like the constructed boundaries between my identities as student and NTT faculty or between researcher and community member. Identities that are at times welcomed and other times excluded. In my experience with the archives, it may also be interesting to think about how the institution constructs the archival boundary that creates a permeable barrier between the past and present and between members of a community and non-members. It would also be difficult to discussion the question of institutional boundary construction without revisiting some of the discussions surrounding the interface and how it both reflects and reinforces dominant values and power. Porter et al. argue, that when we begin to tease apart the circulation of power at the institutional boundaries, we begin to see that “the powerless have little or no ability to wield boundary power” as “they are normally excluded or marginalized from the process of boundary construction and maintenance” (624). We can also see that even when there are efforts to address the institutional conditions experienced by those who are marginalized, it is typically done on their behalf, without necessarily obtaining their input or allowing for self-representation. It is a process that is “formulated by those in power and are based on how the empowered view the powerless and their ‘plight’” (624). However well-meaning these efforts may be, and while the words of those with power can be valuable in garnering attention and action, it is important that these efforts are made from an allied position and not from positions that further silence the marginalized. Porter et al. argue that employing boundary interrogation as part of an institutional critique should ask questions: “How is the institutional (or disciplinary) culture classed? Raced? Gendered? Aged? And so on” (624). They contend that this work falls under the purview of rhetoricians as “certainly, those are the very questions asked in composition studies” (624). They argue that we need more efforts to be made in “articulating the hidden and seemingly silent voices of those marginalized by the powerful, and observing how power operates within institutional space” (631). Articulating how our intersectional identities either open avenues for greater institutional access and support or how they may constrain our agency as move through bounded spaces, begins to answer these questions, potentially contributing to an increased sensitivity, and perhaps responsiveness, to the highly variable experiences that members of the same institution can face. Again, Porter et al. make the argument that those working in the field of rhetoric and composition need to attend to institutional research, understanding that scholarly production is situated within the institutional network and how it is occupied, or its occupancy limited, is necessarily significant.
Ultimately, an institutional critique is a structural analysis. Porter et al. outline the scope of this analysis, writing that “that institutional critique should look at bureaucratic structures—for instance, at how law and policy create ‘value’ for sites and influence discursive relations and at how organizational roles and responsibilities, work models (e.g., management philosophies, publishing models, collaboration practices), lines of authority and communication, and alignment of and interaction between personnel all affect institutional practices” (626). However, they reiterate the claim that such an analysis is incomplete unless we work from the premise that “understanding the power and operation of such structures is important to developing strategies for changing them” (626). We cannot change that which we do not understand, so institutional critique is a method that foster greater understanding of institutional influences on our situated practice so it can be altered and improved. Institutional policies that establish regulations, job responsibilities, funding lines, and interdepartmental communication and collaboration opportunities are all part of how we can come into this greater understanding.
Porter et al. seem to suggest that autoethnographic methods are well-suited to this outcome, although not explicitly stated. They argue throughout the essay that “first-hand observation of institutional practices” is “an important stage of institutional critique” (628). Another claim expresses the idea that a valid institutional critique needs to include examinations from “a spatial, visual, and organizational perspective” that includes “maps of decision making, or maps of authority (including organizational charts) and may focus on mismatches between the official story told by public relations and other narratives and the actual practices of the institution” (630). Autoethnography can accomplish both of these suggestions for practice as it develops first-hand observations in narrative form, which both document and map how authority circulates in the institution, and can, if necessary, serve as a counternarrative to those presented by the institution. They also acknowledge that “feminist interest in critical autobiography has spurred a number of important narratives about researchers’ processes,” which is a methodology rooted in autoethnographic data collection, but they also note that these efforts are often dismissed as “the general relegation of storytelling in composition studies to the status of lore has downplayed the importance of the local story, even the one told critically” (631). In scholarship, despite the significance of institutional critique, any methods that rely on “storytelling,” even when done critically and grounded in scholarship such as the work in these autoethnographic chapters seeks to do, are generally considered less rigorous and less relevant than those more “purely” situated in theoretical analysis. It is an unfortunate reinforcement of the “unhealthy boundaries between research and theory” (631). However, not all within the field ascribe to this theory/praxis binary, which I discuss further in the Data Collection and Management chapter, with many looking for a method that “undermines the binary between theory and empirical research by engaging in situated theorizing and relating that theorizing through stories of change and attempted change” (631). Autoethnography is appropriate for more accurately representing the interplay between scholarly practices rooted in our affective and situated identities and those rooted in the synthesis of predominant theoretical discourse in the field.
Although an institutional critique may open some scholars to feelings of greater vulnerability and concerns over the ramifications of exposing power differentials or potential mistreatment, it is a necessary part of how we change institutions. It is a starting point from which we can work toward a more equitable distribution of agency across the boundaries of the institutions, greater sensitivity to the embodied practices of multiply-situated scholars and bring the stated values of diversity and equality from the field into our practice. Capturing our experiences of producing scholarship through autoethnographic mapping and boundary interrogations of our institutional affiliations is a powerful step in effecting change.
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