• Bjørn Ask Olesen
4. term, History, Master (Master Programme)
This master thesis is titled Archives and Social Justice as outlined in the problem statement: Based on a description of the concept of social justice in correlation with archives, three international cases have been analysed: Chile (1973-1990), Cambodia (1975-1979) and South Africa (1990-1994) through a comparative analysis in addition to the role and importance of archives in these social justice cases.

Throughout the last 50 years, archivists have debated the power of archives and their position in society. The role of the archivist has evolved from being viewed as a passive guardian who only collected, preserved and made the archives available to the public. Today an archivist is viewed as someone, who proactively engage users. The power of the archive is seen as the power and control the archivists have in maintaining the records being collected, appraised and made available to the public. By preserving certain records and disposing of others, the archivist influences the collective perception of the societies past including stories and events which otherwise might have been forgotten or sunk into oblivion forever. With this in consideration, the power that the archivist possesses over maintaining the common memory of the past, present and future leaves a certain expectation to which records are being collected and preserved but also emphasizes the credibility of the archivist.

This thesis is based on a combination of the case study method presented by Robert K. Yin and the comparative method by Reza Azarian. The two chosen methods complement each other since the combination of the two methods helps to strengthen one’s understanding and give insight into the chosen cases of this thesis. In addition, the results of this thesis are built upon former research on the subject and relevant theory. The selected case studies of Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship in Chile, Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge and South Africa during the Apartheid, each demonstrates the potential power and importance which archivist’s and records have played during the periods of the repressive regimes as well as during the reconciliation processes in order to come to an agreement with the past. All three of the chosen regimes have three main components in common: the oppressive acts such as torture; arrests of opponents of the regimes often without getting a fair trial and procedure in court, and thousands of people disappearing without a trace - simply just murdered. Furthermore, the power of the archives to hold the responsible accountable after the collapse of their regimes, has gained worldwide support and helped to increase the positive approach and awareness of the importance of archives all over the World. The master thesis understanding and use of the concept of social justice is bounded. The selected cases are not everyday situations in democratic societies in which most archivists work. On the contrary, these cases are all very extreme and violent incidents. Furthermore, the archives have al-ways been one of the means by which the people in power, have maintained their power – destroying and manipulating the records if considered politically convenient, as well as ef-forts displayed in order to restrict the access to the information held by the archives. However, the same archives that have previously helped to maintain an oppressive regime, will also be of huge value to the public and to the national and international system of justice helping to keep the regime accountable for its actions when overturned.

The discussion about whether the archivist should work for social justice, is a very disputed subject in the archival world. Active participation in the fight for social justice is an ethical choice that the archivist must take, based on personal values, institutional limitations and the willingness to take risks. The master thesis concludes that archives that have previously been created by the regimes which the thesis focuses on can keep them responsible. The case studies presented each demonstrates the potential power of archives. Additionally, it has become clear that the archives of the individual cases all work to document events and tries to invite the public into the archives so that they can learn about their history. The archivist must resist the exclusion and marginalization of certain groups in the archive’s collections. In doing so the archivist must be aware of which documentation is excluded and therefore not represented in their collections. To ensure that this does not happen, the archivist must aim for a proactive behaviour, where the archive makes participation and access to the archive possible for everyone. Thus, social justice is a goal that archives should strive and work for.
Publication date3 Jun 2019
Number of pages89
ID: 304977914