A Matter of Life or Death: A Critical Examination of the Role of Records and Archives in Supporting the Agency of the Forcibly Displaced

Anne J. Gilliland


Having the necessary documentation to cross borders, claim refugee status or benefits, settle elsewhere or return to sites of origin may literally be a life or death matter for people who have been forcibly displaced by persecution, war, or natural or economic disasters. This paper argues that government and other organizational archives that hold necessary records are not epistemologically or structurally oriented to address the immediate needs of the forcibly displaced and other "non-citizens" who reside in liminal spaces and temporary shelters or who move across multiple jurisdictions or nations and often resort to "irregular" forms and uses of records to survive. For the archival field to play a proactive role in supporting the survival, resettlement and recovery of the forcibly displaced, theoretical, organizational and practical reorientation is required. Such reorientation should be based in transnational and transinstitutional thinking and proactive humanitarianism that engages at the level of affected individuals and their everyday lives. It should also account for records generated or deployed in exigency or in other forms of radical agency.


Archival Studies; Forcible Displacement;Migrants; Records; Recordkeeping; Refugees

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.24242/jclis.v1i2.36


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