Inaugural Lecture
"Unearthing Traces" Dismantling the Imperialist Entanglement of Archives and the Built Environment

Organizer: Visiting Lectureship Kennedy
Date: Thursday, 27 May 2021 to Saturday, 29 May 2021
Location: Online Zoom

With the swissuniversities doctoral course Unearthing Traces we propose to explore and learn about memory processes, power structures in archival practices in relation to the built environment and material architectural traces. With the participation of a wide array of thinkers and practitioners in archival and artistic practices, historians and researcher in architecture and social sciences, the course explores how imagined records and traces can be composed and grounded in the context of academic research in order to implement them into a historical argumentation. A particular emphasis will be made on architectural and spatial traces and records both through the methodologies of urban critical and postcolonial studies and through questioning the imperialist dimensions of the architecture of archives and built environments. After two days in the form of a conference, the fieldwork in Neuchâtel constitutes both an opportunity to actively apply these methodologies, and to question the colonial entanglements of Switzerland through a collective and embodied research process in situ. Students across different disciplines — architecture, history, arts, political sciences — will be solicited, in order to decompartmentalize disciplines in this process.

The spreading of archival practices responds to one of the major issues faced by communities in decolonization processes; the monopoly of knowledge and the destruction of other forms of knowledge circulation by imperial powers, enacting barriers to other histories than the dominant ones (Stoler 2008). The rejection of other records still constitutes a major obstacle to the legitimation of cultures and alternative narratives, and sometimes, to the achievement of justice (Caswell 2014). This phenomenon is emphasized by intersectionality, by belonging to several minorities based on race, gender, sexuality, economic class. Beyond the intentional segregation of archival documents, the “absence” in archives is grounded on the limits of the sayable (Hartmann 2008), issued from the episteme and techne of a time (Foucault 1966). Thus, western archives, by standardizing the ontology of their documents hid, erased, obstructed and devaluated certain (organic) forms of knowledge (Povinelli 2011), amplifying the biases of misrepresentations. The European urban environment still supports and perpetuates the economies of symbols of colonialism (Mbembe 2002), both in their physical materiality and virtually, from the origins of materials to the toponymy of their places. As such, there is an urge to deconstruct and re-ground our understanding and reading of both our archives and our environments in relation to one another, to unearth hidden traces, exhume obstructed narratives and give ground to “potential histories” (Azoulay 2019).

View more information here.


Dr. Holly Amber Kennedy
Itamar Bergfreund