Archive Fever – Power, Politics & Technology


 ‘traditional  and revolutionary; at once institutive and conservative’ (Derrida 1996).

Derrida’s Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression analyses and defines the term ‘archive’.

It is disseminated by Derrida that power, politics and technology play a distinctive role in shaping the term’s semiotic meaning (Stokes 2003).

Melding the Past with the Present-

The term archive is originally derived from the Greek word arkheion:

‘Initially a house, a domicile, an address, the residence of the superior magistrates, the archons, those who commanded… On account of their publicly recognised authority, it is at their home… that official documents are [were] filed…’ [sic] (Derrida 1996, p. 2).

 The definition of the term archive has grown significantly in order to reflect the changing nature of technology within society. This is reflected in the following definition which links the Internet with the term archive:

‘a collection of information permanently stored on the Internet,’ ( ‘archive’).

Power & Politics: Global Recognition-

The importance of archives has been formally recognised via the development of the Universal Declaration of Archives by the ICA (International Council on Archives). The explanatory note of the declaration states:

‘The adoption of the Universal Declaration of archives by UNESCO emphasizes the importance of including wide public access to archives as an essential component of knowledge societies and of culturally and linguistically diverse communities,’ (UNESCO Conference 36th Session Paris 2011, Explanatory Note, paragraph 6).

The endorsement of the Declaration by UNESCO suggests that archives have become omnipotent. From a politics perspective archives are key to government transparency and accountability. Moreover, archives serve a more important purpose of preserving the ‘social memory’ (UNESCO Office in Dakar 2011).

Technology: Archives & The Real Time Web –

The preservation of the ‘social memory’ is not just left to institutions such as governments and museums. Instead, it is being taken over by the prevalence of mass-archiving platforms such as Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Tumblr and most importantly Google which arguably takes on the role of a mother-archive as it acts as an interface to all other public archives.

The term ‘real-time web’ basically refers to the ability of technologies to automatically receive information at the time that the information is published, without the user having to check the source for updates (Legetter 2011). An example of this would be your iPhone alerting you that someone has posted a status on your facebook wall.

According to the blog Archive Fever: A Love Letter to the Post Real-Time Web:

‘The real-time web might just be the most elaborate and widely-adopted architecture for self-archival ever created,’ (Ogle 2010).

It is doubtful that you will remember what you were doing on the 23rd November 2011. However, Facebook might. Ultimately, these ‘real-time web’ based archiving technologies have the ability to remember what we may have forgotten as they archive the moments that we publish.

A Criticism of Archive Fever-

The omnipresence of ‘real-time web’ based archives forces us to question, whether these archiving tools are positive for our wellbeing? Are they a festering miasma of technological overload?

The contagious archive fever [‘the desire to recover moments of inception: to find and possess all sorts of beginnings’ (Steedman 2002)] has taken the preservation of the ‘social memory’ to a new level. Everything and anything that we publish on ‘real-time web’ based archives are preserved and saved in an open-terrain that everyone has access to. Even if deleted there is a possibility that your status is still floating around on the ever-spanning Internet network.

Arguably, archive fever can be seen as positive as it enables everyone to contribute to the ‘social memory’ and fill in the blanks that may have been previously left out and forgotten.

The controversial Facebook Timeline, is one type of platform which gathers the personal information that each user updates onto their profile and orders it into a chronological sequence of events. It depicts the defining moments in our lives in the form of pictures and new relationships as well as our thoughts and ideas.

The picture below is a screen shot of a part of my timeline during February 2012. As you can see it depicts the moments that I decided to publish, with these moments being displayed in chronological order. The top right of the screenshot where it states ‘Now, February, 2012’ etc. are essentially numerous archives of your profile. By clicking on these various dates it allows you to locate your status updates as well as any photos you have uploaded during that given time period.

My Facebook Timeline – February 2012

Derrida explains that the archive, ‘should call into question the coming of the future’ (Derrida 1996).  As users of these real-time web-based archives we have created countless permanent records of events. We have unconsciously created ‘amazing new tools for remembering’ (Ogle 2010).


Archive fever has undoubtedly affected power, politics and technology. From UNESCO’s Universal Declaration of Archives to the real-time web’s ‘architecture for self archival’ (Ogle 2010), each part of the spectrum highlights the role of archives, as a support system ‘for the creation of records and by selecting, maintaining and making these records available for public use’ (UNESCO Conference 36th Session Paris 2011).

Derrida asserts that archives are:

‘a question of the future, the question of the future itself, the question of a response, of a promise and of a responsibility for tomorrow. The archive: if we want to know what that will have meant, we will only know in times to come’ (Derrida 1996).

Whether archive fever is good or bad is really open to interpretation. However, whether we like it or not society has caught archive fever.


  1. Derrida, Jacques (1996) Archive Fever: A Freudian ImpressionChicago: University of Chicago Press.
  2. Stokes, Jon (2003) Reading Notes: Archive Fever, Ars Technica, accessed 24 March 2012, <;.
  3. ‘Archive’, accessed 24 March 2012, <;.
  4. UNESCO Conference 36th Session Paris 26 October 2011, accessed 25 March 2012, <;.
  5. UNESCO Office in Dakar, UNESCO adopt universal declaration on archives, 16 November 2011, accessed 25 March 2012, <;.
  6. Leggetter, Phil (2011), Real-Time Web or Right-Time Web?,, accessed 25 March 2012, <;.
  7. Ogle, Matthew (2010), Archive Fever: A love letter to the post real-time web,, accessed 24 March 2012, <;.
  8. Steedman, Carolyn (2002) Dust: The Archive and Cultural History, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

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