Transversal Research Project: The Associational Archive. Rethinking Volunteerism Through its Documentary Fabric

This workshop addresses one of the three pillars of our COST Action i.e. voluntary associations. In order to renew our understanding of these organizations, it puts their archives under scrutiny.

This choice is deeply influenced by the renewal in the perception of the archive that started in the last quarter of the XX century, at the crossroad between archival science, anthropology, and history. Thanks to such an archival turn, the archive ceased to be considered as a container of primary documents and became a primary document in itself (Poncet, 2020). In this perspective, archives are conceived as eminently political objects, as “material places […] where communities of humans, practices, and objects find their impetus; in other words, they are social communities where things as diverse as identity, power, the state, memory, heritage, but also truth, history, knowledge, technology, can circulate… They are places where networks and positions, in the world and about the world, are assembled and unfold” (Jurgen and Sfeir, 2020, p. 7).

The term associational archive covers here a wide range of objects and situations: a drawer protecting a few pictures in the house of an activist’s descendent; a meagre and lonely folder with just a few pages inside, kept in a municipal or state institution; meters and meters of shelves filled with registers, meeting minutes, collections of press publications and pamphlets, flags, medals, bills, sheet music, and much more. Following the seminal work of Ann Laura Stoler, the archive will be thus understood in a most flexible and inclusive way. Of course, the archive records

labeled as “associational” will represent the core of the analysis. Nevertheless, these associational archives stricto sensu will be analyzed in constant dialogue with documents preserved elsewhere in public and private archives, as well as the press. By following the documents like a thread, the workshop aims to explore the different “mixed economies” in which associations are involved – of welfare of course, but also of education, leisure, etc.

The workshop seeks to gather scholars from different disciplines interested in engaging in a collective reflection based on the associational archive(s) they work with. This conversation does not follow an area-study logic: given the ubiquity of voluntary associations, which, especially since the last quarter of the XIX century, spread “from San Francisco to Vladivostok” (Hoffmann, 2007, 75), from the colonizer North to the colonized South, scholars working on virtually every region are very much welcome. The workshop does not follow a thematic logic

either: scholars of welfare, nationalisms, women and gender, as well as leisure and sociability who work with voluntary associations are all invited to join. As a matter of fact, this workshop wants to achieve a triple decompartmentalization, putting in dialogue scholars working on the same objects but from different disciplines, thematic groups, and cultural areas. The goal is to address voluntary associations as a “unitary phenomenon” (Agulhon, 1988, 36), and to grasp the associational forest, too often hidden by its own trees.

This project will be structured through a cycle of workshops, with the first one to be organized at the EUI (Florence) on December 15, 2020, in the framework of the meeting of our COST action. The work languages of the first workshop are English and French. Given the current circumstances, this first meeting will be entirely online. In their presentations, the participants are invited to display an archive, a document, a series or a typology of documents related to associational life, focusing on the drafting and reading circuits of these documents, which often cross the associative, state and religious fields. Following the trajectory of the documents from their conception (by an activist, a state or a religious official, a beneficiary, etc.) to their production, circulation and archiving, the goal is to grasp the specificities of the associational writing – its vocabulary, categories, silences.

If you are interested in participating in this workshop, or simply if you need more information, please contact Fabio Giomi (fabio.giomi@gmail.com).


Maurice Agulhon, « L’histoire sociale et les associations », La revue de l’économie sociale, XIV, 1988, pp. 35-44.

Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, Civil Society : 1750-1914, New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Christine Jungen et Jihane Sfeir (sous la direction de), Archiver au Moyen-Orient. Fabriques documentaires contemporaines, Paris, Karthala, 2019.

Olivier Poncet, “Archives et histoire. Dépasser les tournants”, Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales, 3, 2019, p. 711-43.

Ann Laura Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2008.