Sunday, July 02, 2006

Synchronization and synchrony in the archive: pgs. 35-73

Bowker uses a historical analysis of geology to create a backdrop for modern day record keeping. His explanation, although developed more elegantly in the book, is something like this:


  1. Geological Sciences in their infancy where heavily influenced by traditional Creationist beliefs. Catastrophe and miracles were thought of as occurrences that happened on a regular(?) basis. These events could not be predicted or discovered without empirical evidence.

  2. British scientist Charles Lyell challenges this idea, and develops the idea of geological events being semi-deterministic, and occurring slowly over time. Fellow Englishman, Charles Babbage, supports a fully Laplacean determinism, which is not nearly as well received.

  3. Lyell supports record keeping this is cyclically dependent. Due to his thoughts about the history and evolution of the Earth, he believes the best way to record and research geological history is by incrementally recording change in fixed intervals and by spatializing time.

  4. At the same time, the Industrial Revolution uses a similar concept in order to organize the workforce. Labor is divided and fixed spatially and temporally on the assembly line.

  5. Record keeping for these activities reflects this spatiotemporal philosophy.


I have a feeling the next part of Bowker's argument in the following chapters is that applying this type of record keeping is pervasive and and it imbues these spatiotemporal values into human archives and memory systems.

Comment #1
Given the interest in technological determinism from the last book, I'd be interested in thoughts about this passage from pg. 47.

Technoscientific representations were socially and organizationally imposed by means of the new infrastructural technology-with a dual process of commodification and representation central to the shift. The same infrastructural technology that permits a qualitative leap in the process of commodification (the railway) also enforces a form of representation (abstract space and time) that is inherent in commodification. It enforces this form of representation not out of some kind of weird magic (or, worse, Hegelian dialectic) but for very good organizational reasons of control and communication. You need to be able to represent the world in a coherent and standard form in order to run railways and deal in commodities. Emerging here is Michel Serre's insight (1987) that since we live in a world with the human/nonhuman (nature/society) boundary is increasingly less well-defined, then we need analytic categories that allow us to account for the unified representational time and space applied to both bureaucratic and scientific work.

Comment #2
The past could be generated from knowledge about causes such as climate or race; but contemporary humanity would move completely outside the flow of narrative time. The end of history, anyone?

This passage from pg. 51 bugs me. Bowker is making a strong case for the rhetoric of a spatiotemporal archival system, but as soon as he would offer a narrative as an alternative, he's lost me. A social historical narrative would potentially be an even more persuasive form of record keeping than the tables and grids of a spatiotemporal record. He may not have meant it in the way that I took it, but it still raised a red flag for me.

Comment #3
Bowker goes well out of his way to create a framework for pervasive ontological influence. He then goes on to cite Derrida several times, but not mention the rhetoric of language once. In my mind, he needs to make a connection and then division between why his categorical theory of influence is different than many post-structural linguistic arguments.

BTW, I found this online for those interested in an alternative media form to the book. It takes forever to load (so long that I'm still waiting after a couple hours), but I believe it's Bowker lecturing about this book.

Bowker Video

3 comments:

k8 said...

Still trying to catch up with you after my three day migraine (not helpful when trying to read complex texts).

But as a side note to comment #2, you've gotta love the sly little throw away Fukuyama reference at the end.

Anyway, you say "A social historical narrative would potentially be an even more persuasive form of record keeping than the tables and grids of a spatiotemporal record" in reference to the quoted passage. I'm not sure that B is claiming this as his argument. I thought he was stating the argument set forth by people like Buchez and Michelet. As I read it, that final allusion to Fukuyama is his (B's) commentary on the philosophical approaches he is recounting.

What do you think?

natezilla said...

Ok, after re-reading the chapter,I think I have a better understanding of what he is trying to say at this point. The video that I had posted seems to have strong correlations with your POV as well.

Your reading also would provide a bridge between the first chapter, and the folding concept that he had elaborated in the intro.

However, I can't help but feel that it may be tied into Derrida's Specters of Marx as well. The folding he describes in the intro seems to have more in common with the sentiment expressed in that book than with Fukuyama's.

k8 said...

I wouldn't be surprised if it is. It has been a while since I've looked at that text by D. I think D even contends with F's ideas within it. Or doesn't he? I'm not sure now. Of course, F has revised his 'end of history' ideas a bit since the '90s.