Monday, 24 November 2014

Synecdoche, power, archives and digitisation

    The word ‘synecdoche’ is used to either refer to occasions when a part is used to represent a whole, or when the whole is used to represent a part. An example of the latter use, of when the whole is used to represent a part, is a sentence such as ‘India defeated Pakistan by 11 runs.’ The sentence actually means that some Indian cricket team defeated some Pakistani cricket team. Yet the term ‘India’ is used. It brings into question whether 11 human beings (or say 16 or whatever number of players, including substitutes, constituted that specific team) can be representative of 1.2 billion human beings.
    Publishing, bibliographic profiling, archiving and digitisation also follow a similar pattern. Out of all that human beings think/ feel and do, very few of such activities are written down. Out of all that human beings write down, very little is published. The sampling continues. Not all published material make it to some bibliographical list. Very few of even those items are archived for long-term future use. Digitisation of non-born-digital material is also a rare event. Very few material artifacts are digitised. Thus, there is a constant sampling or creating representatives of what to select.
    This diminishing selection is obviously closely related with power. Not many people have the power/ capacity to write. Illiteracy and leisure are two major constraints. Publication is an exercise in appeasing the powers and the moneyed. Bibliographical lists are based on a sense of elitism. Lists are only made of elite collections and publishers. The rest are termed ‘ephemera’ or temporary material artifacts. Archiving is again a matter of taste. Digitisation again brings in an element of elitism when only certain collections are considered important or elite enough to be widely representative of archives.
    Thus archiving and digitisation are activities in synecdochal expressions of power.

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