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Archival activism and mental health : being participatory, sharing control and building legitimacy

The research underpinning this thesis takes a practical approach to engaging with the concept of a ‘participatory archive’. It uses the process of constructing the Archive of Mental Health Recovery Stories ( as a basis for exploring and challenging participatory rhetoric. The disentangling of ‘control’ running through the participatory process has emerged as a dominant theme: who has controlled the construction of the archive? Who has controlled the resulting knowledge production? To what extent can either the construction, or the research around the construction be seen as ‘participatory’? ‘Legitimacy’ is also a central theme: how has legitimacy in and for this work been built, negotiated and contested? How does the grounds for legitimacy alter across different contexts and situated positions? Another strand emerges around the question of ‘activism’ in archival frameworks: to what extent is deep engagement a necessary pre-requisite for archival practice that seeks to embrace social justice as a central aim? To what extent is archival activism possible in mainstream cultural institutional contexts? The narrative leads to a final unraveling of the central contradictions inherent in practices underpinned by participatory discourses, with an articulation of what unraveling these contradictions means for me as I move forward. Whilst beginning from ‘I’, my writing draws directly on reflections from the contributors to the archive, as well as reflections from staff at my host institution (Wellcome Library). As well as addressing the central themes outlined above, I use this thesis to explicitly surface the process of self-negotiation that I have entered into as part of the process. I seek to disentangle the roles and relationships that I have embodied as I have undertaken this research, and I address the discomfort that I have experienced in the collision between my professional, academic and collaborative ‘selves’. In summary, this thesis is about the ‘we’ of participation, but it also seeks to explore how this ‘we’ has affected ‘I’.
Date January 2016
CreatorsSexton, A. K.
ContributorsFlinn, A. ; Bunn, J.
PublisherUniversity College London (University of London)
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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