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ESARBICA Journal: Journal of the Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives

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Recordkeeping for Accountability

David A Wallace

Abstract


Records and archives are sources of evidence of human agency. They are a form of “social glue” which holds together, sustains, and sometimes unravels organizations, governments, communities, individuals, and societies. This notion of records and archives as a form of “social glue” can be viewed from many perspectives – as cultural memory, as evidence of a decision trail, as a trigger for deliberative action, as a requirement to meet regulatory obligations, and so on.

An essential aspect emanating from these perspectives is that records and archives are vehicles supporting accountability. However, the often determinative role that records and archives frequently play in the social construction of accountability are mostly muted within the larger narratives they participate in. While records and archives frequently provide the scaffolding for the stories relayed and sometimes even play central roles, rarely are they explicitly surfaced as accountability objects necessitating concentrated attention. Instead they are subsumed as objects that help to tell “the story” and not as active devices that implicate what kind of story may even be able to be told in the first place. The experiences of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its efforts to document the crimes of apartheid are demonstrative here. This obscuring of the accountability dimensions played by recordkeeping and archiving limits societal understanding of how they can and do profoundly shape social interactions and memories of them. In that regard, records and archives are worthy of concentrated examination on their own terms in relation to how they enable, enforce, limit, ignore, and deny accountability.


ESARBICA Journal Vol.23 2004: 17-22



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