A Response to Arjun Appadurai’s “Archive and Aspiration”

In his article “Archive and Aspiration”, sociologist Arjun Appadurai argues that in the age of post-modernity a “Cartesian gap” marks the disparity between desire, memory, the “locus of memory and its social location” (14).  The act of archiving is a result of the societal impulse to preserve the residue of the past left inadvertently behind by those lacing mankind’s history.  Furthermore, there seems to be a desire to cement a coherent collective memory amongst the masses that fuels the tradition of archiving and reinforces an overarching sense of identity. UNESCO’s incessant attempt to preserve historical monuments testifies to mankind’s need to remember and desire to recognize the roots from which a civilization grew.  However, Foucault’s post-structural approach undermines the aforementioned assumption and presented the argument that the memories and archives that have overcome the test of time survived not by chance but rather as a result of the power structure.  This shift suggests that archives emerge from a collective “aspiration rather than memory” (16).  In accord with Arjun Appadurai’s argument, I perceive the truth to be somewhere in between and that in today’s world archives are constructed on the amalgamation of desire and memory.

This sociological shift was namely triggered by, in my opinion, the techno-digital evolution that has brought contemporary communication to the advance state it’s at presently.  The onslaught of technological developments has led the twenty-first century into an age of infinite possibilities that shape and redefine McLuhan ever growing ‘global village’ in inexplicable and unpredictable ways.  Over the course of a decade, there has been a sudden and profound proliferation in virtual communities and online chat rooms.  All over the world, from Bangkok to the flatland, from the hilltops of the Himalayas to the sleazy strip of Sunset Boulevard, people are increasingly interconnected on a global scale via virtual means.  Communities are no longer hinged on locality, but rather collective interests or/and ones sense of identity.  This socio-technological phenomenon complicates that notion of collective memory.  Whereas “natural social collectivities build collectivities out of memory, these virtual communities build memories out of collectivity” (17).   Thus, their collective sense of identity is derived from a constructed memory of a past built on desire and imagination.

The transnational flow of media in tandem to the proliferation of technological advancements such as the Internet and interactive cyber communities has created a space wherein a mass of people construct fabricated realities rooted in collective desire. The flow of migrants, which Arjun Appadurai coins as ethnoscapes in his work “Modernity at Large,” has rendered an even more perplexing social phenomenon.  The intercourse of mediascapes and ethnoscapes has led to what Benedict Anderson famously termed as “imagined communities”.  The mass media has not only served as a catalyst to the exportation of the false realities that those in developing country covet to have, but also has the facility to rewrite memories and history.  Globalization has rendered the past present in different localities.  With no memory or archive to draw upon, migrant communities- informed by the media- construct the social narratives of their past.  These diasporic, refugee and migrant communities share collective stories of loss.  Their notion of identity is split between routes and roots, so in the aspiration to fill the void, migrants will rely on the media to make sense of their disjunctive narrative.


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