Life on File: Archival Epistemology as Theory

Anna Skarpelis, Harvard University

How do archives shape the production of sociological knowledge? And how does life become captured on file? Here, I suggest the heuristic of ‘archival bodies’ to render manifest comparative historical sociologists’ epistemological practices. Through three heuristics making up archival bodies – 1) the turning of a person into a record, 2) the collection and preservation of files by archives, and 3) the act of person recovery by the scholar – sociologists can follow ‘life on file’ all the way from the creation of documentary reality to a final state of archivization and analysis. The illusion of empiricist false necessity, that is to say, the likelihood of drawing false generalizations and abstractions based on contentious data taken at face value, is an enduring problem with archives in sociological research. Archival bodies facilitate the evaluation and reproducibility of qualitative and quantitative historical research.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 15. Archival Work as Qualitative Sociology I: Methodological Reflections