Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Out of sight, out of mind? Non-user understandings of archives in Aotearoa New Zealand


Here is my research paper on non-user understandings of archives, submitted to the School of Information Management, Victoria University of Wellington in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Information Studies (February 2014). Enjoy!

Download the paper:
Research problem: Despite a significant amount of research on archival users, only a small number of studies have focused solely on the non-user. This study investigated non-user understandings of archives in Aotearoa New Zealand to learn about their awareness of archives, perceptions of accessibility and use, and views on an archives’ purpose and societal role. This included whether non-users valued archives and what this said about the democratic archival contract.

Methodology: A qualitative research design influenced by critical theory was employed. Eight non-user samples of individuals over the age of 18 were purposively selected within the population of Aotearoa New Zealand, covering variables of geographical location, socio-economic status, education, gender, age, and ethnicity. Three activist samples were also included. Data were collected by semi-structured interviews and analysed thematically.

Results: While their image of an archive was generally accurate and positive, participants had little knowledge of how they were organised. Archives were highly valued and viewed as accessible places for those who needed it, but with clear differences to other institutions. These differences prevented half of the sample with a need to use an archive from doing so. The archival contract was generally accepted, but was problematized in terms of access and cultural bias.

Implications: The findings support the view that understandings of archives greatly influence use. Although limited to a small and geographically specific sample, this study enables archives to know more about potential users, and design, target and implement outreach in order to raise awareness and increase use.

Keywords: Archives - Non-users - User Studies - Outreach - Awareness - Power

User studies in archival research have become a major topic over the last six decades (Chowdhury & Chowdhury, 2011, p.25). Despite one definition of user studies as ‘investigations of the use and users (including non-users and potential users and users) of documents, information, communication channels, information systems and information services’ (Hjorland, 2000), only a small number of studies have focused solely on the non-user. As a result, there is a distinct lack of information and research-based studies on archival non-users, including in Aotearoa New Zealand. It is simply not known how non-users perceive the accessibility and purpose of the country’s numerous archives.

The same can be said of the relationship between non-use and the often-cited societal outcomes of formal archives. How effective are objectives such as ‘efficient and effective government’, ‘trusted and accountable government’, and ‘nationhood and social cohesion’ (Archives New Zealand, 2010) if the archive is not used, or even valued? Such questions also problematise the democratic archival contract: the assumed ‘agreement between archivists and society’ (Hamilton, Harris & Reid, 2002, p.16). Is this agreement reciprocal?

‘If we accept the premise that archives play a public role in modern society,’ note Blais & Enns, ‘we must consider the perceptions people have of archives’ (1990, p.104). This study focuses on the non-user of archives in Aotearoa New Zealand, in order to contribute to the present knowledge gap around archival non-users and their understandings of archives.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A day-by-day account of the signing of te Tiriti o Waitangi - Archives New Zealand

2015 marks the 175th anniversary of the signing of te Tiriti o Waitangi. In recognition of this landmark occasion, Archives New Zealand is tweeting records from the collection as they happened in 1840, using the hashtag #Waitangi175.


Each record is shared on twitter so that you can experience the signings day-by-day throughout 2015. You can follow these on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ArchivesNZ


The tweets link through to the Waitangi 175 Flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/archivesnz/sets/72157649292890288. Here each record is arranged chronologically. It forms an excellent resource for anyone interested in the history of the signings, with detailed captions and plenty of content to explore.

As the project coordinator, it has been a great learning experience—both in terms of the records we hold, and learning more about the Tiriti process. It has meant exploring some unfamiliar and interesting collections, such as harbour charts, patent records, publicity studios negatives, Governor correspondence, and school journal artwork.

The project runs until November, so get onto Twitter and follow #Waitangi175 or he Archives New Zealand account.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Public talk: Aro Valley Seminar

View of the Aro Valley with Brooklyn hill behind. Original photographic prints and postcards from the file print collection, Box 16. Ref: PAColl-7344-16. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22832349

I'm excited to say that I'll be speaking at the Aro Valley Seminar My Country Right or Wrong a Contribution to the WW100 Commemorations. It is planned for the weekend of 9-10 May and it will be held in the Aro Valley Hall, 48 Aro Street. There's some great speakers lined up, so it should be a very good event.

Here's my abstract:

Philip Josephs: Aro Valley anarchist

Aro Valley has long had a reputation for radicalism & radicals. One such character was the Latvian anarchist & tailor-cum-bookseller, Philip Josephs. Between 1904-1908, Josephs used his home in Aro Street to spread the revolutionary ideas of anarchism & anti-militarism, building a vibrant a working-class counterculture. This paper looks at his time in Aro Valley, his legacy, & some of his colourful cohorts.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

On the miseries of political life

This is my response to a text written on the AWSM blog: http://www.awsm.nz/2014/10/30/the-miseries-of-political-life/.

I think I should probably qualify my original, short comment (as delayed as this is). I should also say outright that I don’t have much time to participate in this discussion as I have a new baby, so apologies for that in advance. I see further comments on the Redline blog have also clarified some of what I felt was problematic with the text.

Despite agreeing with much of the text, I guess what jarred me was the feeling that it was too black and white, and I couldn’t tell if the Situationist quotes were for real or satire. I think what Olly says about certain types of work leading to further investment in ‘the system’ is spot on. To be aware of the contradictions in our work, and to know how our work reproduces capital, is the first step in challenging and ending that work.

But if I understand what this text suggests, it is that we should aim our struggle towards particular jobs. Olly points out the flaws of this approach, yet it still reads as if certain jobs have more potential for class struggle over others.

I feel this is problematic. It makes me think of those who argue that Auckland should be the main place of struggle, because that’s where the biggest employers are. Or that the online financial sector should be the place of struggle, because that is where the finance sector operates.

Playing havoc with the economy or the financial sector might bring down the economy or the financial sector, but this is not the same as ending capitalism. As we know, capital is not a place, but a social relationship. Thinking about where this relationship might best be ruptured is useful, but trying to pinpoint exact locations of struggle is extremely difficult and possibly a distraction from a broader, collective approach.

Yet it is clear that certain work changes the way we relate to others, as Olly points out. This division of labour, or the divisions between ourselves, is super important – even more so now that many people do not identify as workers, or as a class (this might not be such a bad thing, depending on your point of view, but that is another discussion altogether).

However most people can relate to discussions about work; to the day-to-day content and activity of their jobs (waged or unwaged). I think this is a potentially fruitful way forward for those of us who wish to end the wage relation. Rather than spending time raising the ‘class consciousness’ of our peers in an abstract sense, we can get to the heart of our work, and how we reproduce capital.

Feminist and marxist, Iris Young, talks about how the division of labour may be a more useful way forward than that of class. In ‘The Unhappy Marriage’ she writes that “the division of labour operates as a category broader and more fundamental than class. Division of labour, moreover, accounts for specific cleavages and contradictions within a class… [it] can not only refer to a set of phenomena broader than that of class, but also more concrete. It refers specifically to the activity of labour itself, and the specific social and institutional relations of that activity.” She goes on to talk about how this might speak to the role of professionals – ie the subject of Olly’s text.

I find this approach helpful, because it makes clear that all work reproduces the wage relation – whether you’re an academic, information worker, or a kitchen hand – and that struggle around the activity of work is potentially more fruitful than trying to pinpoint which jobs are best to spend energy on.

In other words, what might be more constructive is to discuss the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of struggle against the wage relation, wherever that struggle may be, rather than focusing on ‘where’.

This relates to another aspect of this text I find troublesome. It feels like another anarchist text policing individuals within the movement for their decisions. It seems to place a lot of emphasis on the role of the individual anarchist. I get this, because that is what we can relate to in our own lives and our own organising, as anarchists. But this does not strike me as a way forward, but a further step inward.

Olly clarifies that we need a collective response to this on Redline, which is cool to hear.

Finally, I don’t agree with the ‘poverty of everyday life’ comment of Olly’s. Struggle around our everyday life is a must, but poverty often begets more poverty, and not struggle. I don’t like what this leads to (even if it is unintentional) – that the worse off people’s jobs are, the more they will struggle against it. If anything, history has shown that struggle on a collective scale tends to take place when things are good or improving for workers (a huge generalisation, I know).

I’m not sure if what I’m trying to say makes sense. I guess the short of it is that the potential for mass, collective struggle against the wage relation (and work) is all around us. We don’t need to narrow that to a particular type of work, especially when there may be important sites of struggle that is neglected in doing so. For example, could capital reproduce itself without childcare and daycare centres? I’m not saying this is a great example, but it is the type of question I’d love to discuss, rather than trying to monitor the further personification of capital by individual comrades.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

What is anarchism? - in one sentence

Josh MacPhee, Revolution of Everyday Life, postcard
"You're an anarchist? What does that mean?" It's a common question I get asked. Through deliberate misinterpretation or unawareness, being an anarchist and what that means is completely foreign to many. As well as this, we are sometimes guilty of using unclear or unknown language when describing our ideas.

While I shed my evangelical fervor a long time ago, I still want to be able to talk with those around me about what drives my thoughts and actions.

Related to this is one of my goals for 2015: to speak and write in plain English. So I thought I would share what usually I say when I am asked what anarchism is.

Anarchists believe that no one should have the power to coerce or exploit another, that we could enjoy a life without capitalism, without government, and be free to decide how to live and work with those around us.

This is a huge simplification of a rich and complex movement, and leaves a lot out. But I find it is a nice conversation starter. I have used other terms at other times, such as 'wage labour' for 'capitalism', 'the state' for 'government', or 'organise' for 'decide'. However these are slightly more abstract or harder to relate to. Plus 'wage labour' does not cover all of what capitalism does to our relationships, our environment, and our lives.

You can find out more about anarchism on this blog, and online. For example, Libcom.org has these great guides on what anarchists are against, and what we would like to see instead: http://libcom.org/library/libcom-introductory-guide

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Origins of the police

The Five Points district of lower Manhattan, painted by George Catlin in 1827. New York’s first free Black settlement, it became a mixed-race slum, home to Blacks and Irish alike, and a focal point for the stormy collective life of the new working class. Cops were invented to gain control over neighborhoods and populations like this.

From Libcom.org: Excellent text by David Whitehouse examining the creation of the first police forces, which took place in England and the US in just a few decades in the mid-19th century. And explaining that they were not brought into being to prevent crime or protect the public, but primarily to control crowds: the working class, white and black.

In England and the United States, the police were invented within the space of just a few decades—roughly from 1825 to 1855.
The new institution was not a response to an increase in crime, and it really didn’t lead to new methods for dealing with crime. The most common way for authorities to solve a crime, before and since the invention of police, has been for someone to tell them who did it.

Besides, crime has to do with the acts of individuals, and the ruling elites who invented the police were responding to challenges posed by collective action. To put it in a nutshell: The authorities created the police in response to large, defiant crowds. That’s

— strikes in England,
— riots in the Northern US,
— and the threat of slave insurrections in the South.

So the police are a response to crowds, not to crime.

I will be focusing a lot on who these crowds were, how they became such a challenge. We’ll see that one difficulty for the rulers, besides the growth of social polarization in the cities, was the breakdown of old methods of personal supervision of the working population. In these decades, the state stepped in to fill the social breach.

We’ll see that, in the North, the invention of the police was just one part of a state effort to manage and shape the workforce on a day-to-day basis. Governments also expanded their systems of poor relief in order to regulate the labor market, and they developed the system of public education to regulate workers’ minds. I will connect those points to police work later on, but mostly I’ll be focusing on how the police developed in London, New York, Charleston (South Carolina), and Philadelphia.

Continued at http://libcom.org/history/origins-police-david-whitehouse

Wednesday, November 26, 2014



Becoming a dad for the second time must have triggered some kind of punk-regression, because what little time I have between naps and nappies is being spent on a blog called CUT & PASTE. There are hundreds of punk, hardcore, thrashcore, fastcore and powerviolence bands on there, all with downloads.

In keeping with the name of the blog, here are some of my favourites so far:

Human Junk

"Human Junk is an incredibly raw and blistering two-man hardcore punk from the UK. Super-fast and rad as all hell. Noisy and thrashy riffs, spastic drums & utterly pissed vocals work magic for these guys. Any fans of powerviolence and fastcore must snag this immediately."

Man Hands Split Cassette (2011)
(Human Junk Tracks Only)

"Threatener is ridiculously hyper, manic, destructive & extreme fastcore extravaganza. These punks from An Arbor, Michigan tear shit up! Super-thrashin' speeds of power-chord shredding, absurdly fast drumming, and harsh & rowdy vox. They are a distorted, rusty buzzsaw right through your brain. Soooo fucking good! They sadly only lasted from 2001-2005."


"If you haven't heard of this band yet you are an idiot. Period. Vaccine is yet another Western Mass powerhouse featuring The Legendary Will Killingsworth, Matt Swift from Relics and The Living City, Joe Shumsky from Think I Care and Glue, and our friend Matt McKeown who spilled his guts with No Faith. In a nut shell this band tears shit up. Super pumped up and vicious straight edge power violence. This shit kills!"

Vaccine / No Faith Split 7" (2013)

My Photos by
"Genders was a short-lived Powerviolence outfit from the Massachusetts/Connecticut Area. These guys released a Demo in 2009 under their previous band-name "Afflictions" and a 7" titled "Day Of Choices" on Prgnt Records."

2009 Demo

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A new project: censored letters of the First World War

Chief Censor Colonel Gibbon. S P Andrew Ltd :Portrait negatives. Ref: 1/1-013982-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22787758

From the outbreak of the First World War until November 1920, the private letters of mothers, lovers, soldiers and workmates were subject to a strict censorship. A team of diligent readers in post offices across the country poured over pounds and pounds of mail. Some were stamped and sent on. Others made their way into the hands of Police Commissioners. In an era when post was paramount, the wartime censorship of correspondence heralded the largest state invasion of private life in New Zealand’s history.

Although hundreds of books exist on New Zealand's war effort, and soldier's diaries and letters, “neither the restrictions imposed nor their effects upon the political life of the community has previously been subjected to careful scrutiny,” wrote John Anderson back in 1952. “No adequate attempt has ever been made to trace the development of wartime censorship as a weapon in the armoury of authority.” Despite censorship being mentioned in numerous books and theses since, Anderson’s unpublished work remains the primary study of domestic censorship during the First World War. Indeed, The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History dedicated a mere paragraph to the topic.

This is the task I have set myself, and the topic of my forthcoming book. Using the actual censored letters, I hope to share a fascinating insight into postal censorship, state attitudes toward dissent, and the New Zealand home front during the First World War.

The letters also allow us to hear voices often silenced by traditional histories. Most ordinary working-class women and men did not keep diaries, publish their thoughts, or fill the shelves of manuscript libraries with their personal archives. Writing about the remarkable exception of Wairarapa labourer James Cox, Miles Fairburn notes how illiteracy, work-related fatigue, the stress of economic insecurity, and lack of spare time deprived many workers of the opportunity to keep diaries. Letter writing was far more common, yet even these snippets of working-class life are wholly dependent on whether they were kept, or in the case of this book, detained.

It is early days however! I have only just begun my research and writing, but it is a topic I've covered in my previous work. Watch this space for updates and snippets.

no adequate attempt has” Anderson, ‘Military Censorship in World War 1: Its Use and Abuse in New Zealand’, Thesis, p. 5.
Miles Fairburn notes how” Miles Fairburn, Nearly Out of Heart and Hope: The Puzzle of a Colonial Labourer’s Diary, Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1995, p. 6.