Speaking of us, about us and for us: Data, Identity Politics, Law & Cultural Practice

Short bio: 

Kathy’s expertise primarily relates to intellectual property, media and information technology regulation, reflecting a broad range of interests pertaining to socio-legal history, media and cultural studies and legal theory. She also does research on western laws affecting indigenous cultural and intellectual property.


This paper looks at a little explored area of the state we are in: what is it like to be the subject of an archive where information is taken to circumscribe your identity and what are the obstacles that come into play when the subject seeks to challenge or disrupt the narrative developed from that information?

Reflecting upon personal experience with the management of records pertaining to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in Australia I plot the collision of disciplinary intuitions and intellectual property concepts that free up information flows and authorise others to speak of, about and for the subject. Whilst colonial archives are in some ways exceptional, my discussion will highlight how data management processes, archival practices and intellectual property concepts combine to support a teleology of the copy. In so doing I make a preliminary sketch of a much larger political problem created by the right to document, copy and disseminate information about others. My examples show the inherent difficulties in disrupting these dynamics — to change the dialogue, to ask different questions, to show fuller respect to the subjects of these texts — once an identity has already been framed by information, data and texts that that speaks of them, about them, for them.