Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense

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Along the Archival Grain offers a unique methodological and analytic opening to the affective registers of imperial governance and the political content of archival forms. In a series of nuanced mediations on the nature of colonial documents from the nineteenth-century Netherlands Indies, Ann Laura Stoler identifies the social epistemologies that guided perception and practice, revealing the problematic racial ontologies of that confused epistemic space.


Navigating familiar and extraordinary paths through the lettered lives of those who ruled, she seizes on moments when common sense failed and prevailing categories no longer seemed to work. She asks not what colonial agents knew, but what happened when what they thought they knew they found they did not. Rejecting the notion that archival labor be approached as an extractive enterprise, Stoler sets her sights on archival production as a consequential act of governance, as a field of force with violent effect, and not least as a vivid space to do ethnography.

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From the Back Cover:

"A stunningly attractive book that reads like a great novel. Ann Laura Stoler provides a model of the new historiography rich in the historical, anthropological, and psychoanalytical insights demanded by the newly theorized subjects of history. Reading with the grain of the archive provides a way of realizing Walter Benjamin's injunction to read against the grain of history."--Hayden White, Stanford University

"Ann Stoler has read the reports of colonial administrators in the Dutch East Indies with a new eye. Instead of clear categories for rule, practical plans for control, and reasoned affirmation, these nineteenth-century documents are full of gaps, uncertainties, and wishful thinking about the future, especially in regard to people of mixed 'native' and European parentage. Stoler ends with a riveting account of plantation murders, where authorities can't agree on whom to blame. Her own sleuthing is superb."--Natalie Zemon Davis, author of Fiction in the Archives

"Archives are foundational for all historians, although they are rarely the objects of study. Ann Stoler has brilliantly succeeded in capturing the broader ethnographic and theoretical registers of the Dutch colonial archive in this long-awaited book. Offering an eloquent and probing reflection, Stoler discloses how the archive is the principal site of the contradictions and anxieties of empire, the repository of hidden and contested knowledge of and about the European colonizer."--Nicholas B. Dirks, Columbia University

"This is an ambitious and engaging work. Stoler lives and breathes these archives and it shows-her engagement is thorough and deep. She refuses to settle for even the most recent versions of conventional wisdom, and seeks to rethink accepted truths from the very colonial studies to which she herself has helped give shape."--Webb Keane, author of Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter

"This is an original, ambitious, excellently researched, sensitive, and smart book. Stoler's longstanding, intensive scholarly engagement with these archives makes for an especially rich and nuanced understanding of the particular ontologies of Dutch colonial rule that emerge by reading closely 'along the archival grain.' Equally important, this engagement allows her to reflect powerfully on the nature and import of archival production more generally."--Patricia Spyer, Leiden University

From the Inside Flap:

"A stunningly attractive book that reads like a great novel. Ann Laura Stoler provides a model of the new historiography rich in the historical, anthropological, and psychoanalytical insights demanded by the newly theorized subjects of history. Reading with the grain of the archive provides a way of realizing Walter Benjamin's injunction to read against the grain of history."--Hayden White, Stanford University

"Archives are foundational for all historians, although they are rarely the objects of study. Ann Stoler has brilliantly succeeded in capturing the broader ethnographic and theoretical registers of the Dutch colonial archive in this long-awaited book. Offering an eloquent and probing reflection, Stoler discloses how the archive is the principal site of the contradictions and anxieties of empire, the repository of hidden and contested knowledge of and about the European colonizer."--Nicholas B. Dirks, Columbia University

"Ann Stoler has read the reports of colonial administrators in the Dutch East Indies with a new eye. Instead of clear categories for rule, practical plans for control, and reasoned affirmation, these nineteenth-century documents are full of gaps, uncertainties, and wishful thinking about the future, especially in regard to people of mixed 'native' and European parentage. Stoler ends with a riveting account of plantation murders, where authorities can't agree on whom to blame. Her own sleuthing is superb."--Natalie Zemon Davis, author of "Fiction in the Archives"

"This is an ambitious and engaging work. Stoler lives and breathes these archives and it shows-her engagement is thorough and deep. She refuses to settle for even the most recent versions of conventional wisdom, and seeks to rethink accepted truths from the very colonial studies to which she herself has helped give shape."--Webb Keane, author of "Christian Moderns: Freedom and Fetish in the Mission Encounter"

"This is an original, ambitious, excellently researched, sensitive, and smart book. Stoler's longstanding, intensive scholarly engagement with these archives makes for an especially rich and nuanced understanding of the particular ontologies of Dutch colonial rule that emerge by reading closely 'along the archival grain.' Equally important, this engagement allows her to reflect powerfully on the nature and import of archival production more generally."--Patricia Spyer, Leiden University

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