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This City is an Archive! Squatting History and Urban Authority
An archive can take many forms: from national collections, records offices, libraries and museums, to corporate archives, online depositories, and personal keepsakes. Even the city itself is an archive. But what all archives share in common is a claim to authority, or a claim to “know better,” through their accumulation, organization, and interpretation of significant materials. By selecting, collecting, preserving, and retrieving traces of the past, archives develop a normative narrative that continually re-members society, offering an “authoritative basis for who we are, where we come from, and where we are going.”
Since the archival turn, archives have been widely portrayed as “dominating” institutions, which has led to even community archives being defined as “anti-authority.” It is the contention of this paper that this approach misses (1) the way in which DIY archives provide territorial authority for marginalized communities, and (2) the radical potential of such counter-narratives in seeing the city itself as an archive. Outlining both the role of archival authority in community archives and the use of an archival imagination in approaching the city, the paper considers possibilities for urban movements and campaigns, bringing together examples from the Resistance Project, 56a Infoshop, Advisory Service for Squatters, Occupy London, and the Remembering Olive Collective. An approach is forwarded which, in light of the participatory turn in archival studies, reframes the city as an archive, to encourage attentiveness to authority and to produce a capacity to aspire.