19 Oct 2023 17:00 - 19:00 Room SG1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge


An event by the Ambivalent Archives research network.


Ambivalent (OED)

The condition of having contradictory or mixed feelings, attitudes, or urges regarding a person or thing. Also: the condition of being undecided about a viewpoint or course of action, or of being unconvinced by the merit of something; the state or fact of being contradictory or inconsistent.

The position of ‘ambivalence’, or the state of being ‘ambivalent’, is central to our network’s conception. In part, this is because ‘ambivalence’ – with its implied multiplicity of position – reflects the many dispersed ways in which archival engagements occur. Yet, through centring ‘ambivalence’, we also seek to foreground our own consciously ambivalent critical position. Given that archives can exclude and obscure as much as they retain, we believe that an interdisciplinary space to explore critical attitudes of uncertainty and speculation towards the archive has become necessary.

In turning to ‘ambivalence’, we consciously draw on a rich critical tradition, from ‘Homi Bhabha’s ‘Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse’ (1984), to its recent exploration in the literary journal Post45 special issue on ‘Ambivalent Criticism’. Ambivalence has also been the subject of significant recent philosophical enquiry, as in D. Justin Coates’ In Praise of Ambivalence (2022) and Hili Razinsky’s Ambivalence: a philosophical exploration (2017), as well as the subject of contemporary poetic focus, such as in Fanny Howe’s poem ‘Ambivalence’ (2017).

Against this critical backdrop, we hope that Ambivalent Archives will offer a space in which to grapple with our own ‘contradictory or mixed feelings, attitudes, or urges’. We do not seek to escape the condition of being ‘undecided’, nor to reach conclusions or definitive viewpoints about ‘the archive’ or ‘archival practice’; rather, we hope to continue to think in the productive tensions, uncertainties and speculations raised by discussion. As Tina Post and Michael Dango write in Post45 on ‘Ambivalent Criticism’:

We’re all ambivalent — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something historically specific about the ambivalence in which criticism finds itself today, as well as something historically specific about the kind of criticism that can be generatively produced from sites of ambivalent intensity.


The three readings selected below, by Ann Stoler, Saidiya Hartman and the Digital Women’s Archive North collective (DAWN) each propose different relations to the archive and to archiving. Whilst Stoler more traditionally critiques the condition of archiving, especially of colonial archives (in the case of the Dutch East Indies company), Hartman and DAWN each propose a manifesto for alternative archiving. We hope these texts will allow us to exist in the ambivalent inbetweens, of past and future, of methodology and imagination, of critique and praxis.

Readings (PDFs linked):

Approach to readings: reading sessions will typically have around 30-50 pages of critical reading. We realise this is a significant amount of preparation when academic workloads are only increasing; we therefore encourage you to read as much as you can, and we will range between all set readings in our sessions.

Please feel free to email the network if you have any questions.

For enquiries please contact the Research Networks Programme Manager.

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