Conference paper Open Access

Unneutrality of archival standards and processes

Michetti, Giovanni

Standardization is a very complex process in which many different factors need to be mediated and harmonized in order to create tools based on the consensus of the parties involved: standards are the result of a negotiation process where different perspectives and approaches compete, in a domain populated by different stakeholders. As such, they may well be qualified as social constructions. However, the widespread technocratic attitude tends to hide their very human nature, overstressing the technical aspects and presenting them as neutral instruments to get to some objectives. Archival standards are based on consensus, but the level and quality of such consensus is rarely investigated: as a matter of fact, the creation of international archival standards has been committed to groups of people representing a well-identifiable geographical and cultural portion of the whole world; nonetheless, they are assumed to serve archival communities all over the world. Moreover, standardization may be seen as a process of codification of professional knowledge—as such, it is a biased and historically determined process. The language, the interpretation of objects and actions, the nature of professional functions, the definitions of terms and concepts: all standards rely on these ever-changing factors. Last but not least, digital memory relies on the use of technical standards in order to be managed, accessed and preserved; therefore, it is fundamental to investigate the nature of technical standards along with their biases, in order to understand how they affect digital memory and its representation, since memory is malleable, continuously reinterpreted and represented on the basis of the cultural milieu and available tools. We cannot escape unneutrality but we can raise awareness of the discretional factors affecting digital memory if we really want to serve our role of professional mediators between objects and users.

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