A cultural continuum

It has been a while between posts. And what a while it has been. I have been undertaking major research commitments and curriculum work during this semester all while trying to teach two new courses and help plan this year’s AERI. I feel like I am in a whirlwind of excitement stabbed with anxiety. I have, in the past, been the master of organization, but this is stretching my skills. BUT the sun is shining today in Ohio and spring feels beautiful. My window is open in my study at home and I am writing a blog post for the first time in a while. I updated my research page and I am thinking again about the cultural continuum. Things are OK.

I wanted to share a video I found where Geneva Gay is talking about “Variables on the Cultural Continuum.” There are some wonderful parallels with my work and in particular the Mediated Recordkeeping Model that encourages me to explore it in more depth. There are several points that Professor Gay makes that are key to understanding how the information continuum works (as it exists in the records continuum models and other continuum models).


  • Essentializing and identity.  Geneva talks about how “everything has some essential dimensions to it” and talks about what is held as being core. I take this to mean essential elements of how we define ourselves via our identities. What we think is important to us – our essential being. This makes me think of the sociological concept of habitus and the writings of Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu refers to habitus as a “system of dispositions” that contributes to the creation of individuality and in turn helps to form the conditions that will impact on further iterative development of identity (1984, p. 2). These are productions of knowing, power and identity, yet they can be unconsciously enacted. My identification as a continuum theorist in the research and in the subsequent thesis served to highlight this as my cultural area and the primary source of production and authorisation. That continuum theory has been developed and applied to archival science also plays a significant role and ultimately influences and contributes to the construction of how I understand and apply knowledge in research.

These kinds of understandings are also apparent in the Research Design Model, another continuum model that came out of the PhD research. I have written a book chapter on this model (this is a thesis chapter) but have not published on it very much, instead focussing on the Mediated Recordkeeping Model. I have two papers in draft related to the Research Design Model as a reflexive model and their use in informatics. But these are on the back burner.

  • Multiplicity in the continuum. Geneva refers to “varying degrees of elaboration” related to our identification of components of our essential selves.  She explains that there are various components or elements (or the kinds of data captured in demographic research) such as race, socio-economic background, age, gender and so on that “have an impact on how the core features of a given culture are manifested in expressed behaviour.”  As an example, each member of her “nuclear” family unit expresses “different layers” along a continuum of African-American culture “because of the fact of who we are.” She refers to her brother expressing African-American culture differently and proposes that there is likely a gender factor, but also refers to the age difference between family members as being relevant to a different expression. Yet, all these expressions exist along a continuum of African-American identity.

Geneva’s examples are very micro – her family, but this is the point of multiplicity and continuum thinking – that very small parts contribute to a whole (continuum). What is also relevant here is the points of intersection are not just singular, but are multiple. Her brother is both a male and a different age. The continuum models express these intersections and multiplicities in various ways in relation to recorded information. On the Records Continuum Model identity is only represented by grouping from individual to institution, but is intersected by ideas about memory and evidence, as well as activities and parts that contribute to how records are formed. So, by taking Geneva’s example of her brother, his contributions to memory via recorded information will be informed by his identity as he perceives it, including what roles he might play within groups and organizations (included or excluded) as well as in relation to the activities he performs related to how he captures and manages memory.

My work says that OK, this happens, but there are also more factors and complexity than that. Identity must be understood within the context of how and what we communicate as part of our identity and the impact of power on this, as well as how we interact with our social and technological environments. Plus, memory and evidence are linked but not so linked that that are the same and that memory-making or the need to remember is a vital aspect of cultural identity and transmission (heritage) over time. This is what the Mediated Recordkeeping Model proposes. What my research suggested was that there are multiple factors and ways that people decide on what is of value and how they then encode that value into what they create and communicate. These factors and ways or interactions are quite complex and have multiple intersections between various identities over time, including how community norms and values impact on decisions.

I want to do some more research into the cultural continuum and memory-making but looking at how technology engages and mediates these transactions. My immediate goal is to explore distributed identity on social media and in particular decision-making related to significance and value across social media platforms related to memory-making. I am interested in what people decide to create so that they can remember or create memory and who that memory is for and if use of different social media sites is at all relevant.

I also recently proposed a research project related to how people experience the internet and what it means to capture memory of this and whether or not this would be relevant to manage as archives and, if it is, how it is useful and who would care about it.

Sometimes, when I stop and reflect on what I am doing I wonder why exactly I care about how people make decisions and construct ways to remember. In a way I think it is me trying to make sense of the immenseness of the world and how individuals carve out our place in it.

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste. London, UK: Routledge & Kegan Paul.