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Jacek
Smolicki

Para-Archives (2013-2017)

'Para-Archives: Rethinking Personal Archiving Practices in the Times of Capture Culture' is a title of my doctoral thesis pursued between 2013 and 2017 at the School of Arts and Communication, Malmö University. The project was also nested within Living Archives research project funded by the Swedish Research Council.

The study explores possibilities for alternate modes of personal archiving in the context of contemporary techno-culture and dominant practices of personal data capture. An intensified proliferation of various capturing technologies concerned with collecting, storing and analyzing personal data allows to problematize personal archiving as one of the most prevalent everyday media practices that people engage in today, both voluntarily and involuntarily.

The main point of departure for this thesis is a recognition of a certain polarization of perspectives and debates prompted by this new techno-cultural condition defined in this research as capture culture. If on the one hand we are presented with an enthusiastic scenario of a certain infallibility of digital memory and possibility to fully control the way one constructs a digital archive, the opposite view confronts us with a pessimistic vision of a full penetrability of our digital repositories (and hence everyday lives), ever more tightly dependent on the imperceptible dynamics of network technologies.

In this thesis I investigate a possibility to move beyond these ramifications and seek alternate techniques for personal archiving by engaging in a practice-based research, media archaeological inquiry into histories of personal archiving techniques and technologies, as well as tactical and peripheral practitioners committed to personal archiving and counter-archiving practices.

The practice-based case study unfolds as an auto-ethnography of my personal recording techniques over the last decade. It traces the trajectory from a paper notebook, through a series of digital recording techniques excerpting various subsets of the surrounding world, to the post-digital, archival cabinet organizing analog and digital traces from these practices. As a result, this thesis puts forward a concept of para-archiving, a creative media practice presenting alternate ways of configuring a subjective position in capture culture, a departure from the dominant motivations for engaging with it. As part of an experimental methodological assemblage defined as media practice approach, I also use my own practice as as a vehicle enabling a critical reflection on the implications of today's pervasive technologies on, for example, material, performative and agential aspects of personal memory and archiving.

While located within the field of media and communications the thesis borrows from such fields and debates as philosophy of technology, media archaeology, cultural studies and (media) arts.

The full text can be downloaded here


As one of the side outcomes of the project (and in conjunction with the exhbition on post-digital archives organized in September 2017 at Inter Arts Center in Malmö) I initiated a small post-digital publishing initiative. Para-archives explores idiosyncratic, disobedient and creative modes of working with archives and archiving across variety of media, sites and temporalites. Read more here

In 2018, 'Para-archives' received an honorary award for the best dissertation in Media and Communication Studies granted bianually by FSMK (Föreningen för Svensk Medie- och Kommunikationsforskning) Swedish Association for Research in Media and Communication




Fragmentarium, a hybrid media archival cabinet and working station developed as part of the practice-based component of the research project






Fragmentarium, a digital component of the personal archive accessible through an open network within the vicinity of the cabinet




Fragmentarium, examples of index cards containing selected memories and poiting to the digital archive




Fragmentarium, a portable version of the digital archive embeded in a paper notebook


Fragmentarium, a portable version of the cabinet used as a research tool and a dialogical device during the practice-based part of the research project