Kirsty Fife (UCL) - 2018-19 Students

Challenging Voices: Documenting, Archiving and Curating Archival Traces from UK-based DIY Music Subcultures

My PhD explores the documenting, collecting and interpretation of the archival traces and material culture of DIY music subcultures (‘do it yourself’ referring to autonomous modes of cultural production). The recent growth in DIY and community-led digital cultural production has been recognised by the museums and heritage sector (notably the Community Archives and Heritage Group) – however, evidence and material representations of such practices are rarely found in museum and archive collections. This represents a significant potential gap in the documentation of DIY subcultures in the UK and without remedial action these important parts of our heritage are at risk. The need for this study is only increasing as social media platforms become places where cultural producers communicate, organise and promote their work, and as the records created within these cultures become predominantly digital.

For institutions to collect within these subcultures to address these crucial gaps, it is important to develop appropriate participatory and ethical methodologies which make it possible for heritage bodies to collect the material traces from community-led practice and which preserve and engage with the originating politics and context of creator communities.

The objectives of this research are to critically explore the significance of DIY music subcultures and the ethical implications of museum and heritage institutions collecting within these communities. The research aims to build upon existing practice and knowledge within partner organisations and the heritage sector generally to develop and test participatory and collaborative methodologies for co-collecting that can enable the heritage sector to build trust within DIY cultures and develop new collections. To achieve these objectives, the proposed research questions will include the following:

  • What is the historical significance of DIY music subcultures? How have these cultures changed over time?
  • How, if at all, are these cultures documented? Are any of these historical practices endangered or in need of intervention?
  • How are archives of DIY music subcultures constituted?
  • What existing models of participatory co-production and co-curation are available? How effective, appropriate, sustainable and equitable are those models?
  • How can heritage professionals work with producers and participants in these cultures in an ethical and equitable manner to co-create archives and object collections to ensure the sustaining of the memories of these practices and result in the further co-production of interpretation and knowledge?
  • How can these relationships also benefit producers and participants in these cultures? The project is practice-led and participatory in nature, and would result in (1) a better understanding of the significance and challenges facing collecting community-led DIY music subcultures and (2) a collaborative collecting project which developed transferable models for meeting these challenges.
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