Chapter 18 Vulnerability: Refusal

This chapter considers the possibilities and limitations of working ethically with colonial archives.


Activity: Listen to M. NourbeSe Philip read excerpts from her work, Zong! Thinking about words, rhythm, sound, texture, space, silence, and speech, eflect on Philip’s practices of refusal and how they disrupt the logic of the colonial text. Plan a collective reading of the poems.

Activity: Identify archival collections in your area (community-based, historical society, university-based). Browse through the finding aids (seek the help of an archivist, if necessary). What does the structure of the archival materials tell you? Choose a particularly rich collection, perhaps one with letters and/or photographs. Reflect on the processes that brought these  materials together for your perusal. Reflect, too, on the materials that aren’t included in the archive’s collections, and why that might be. Finally, free write for ten minutes on the following prompt: what are my ethical responsibilities – as researcher and reader – the material I have encountered?


Taxi boats, waterfront, Paramaribo, Suriname. Photo credit: Sonja Boon
Boats, Commewijne River to former plantation regions, Suriname. Photo credit: Sonja Boon
Frederiksdorp plantation, Suriname. Photo credit: Sonja Boon


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(c) Sonja Boon, Lesley Butler, and Daze Jefferies, 2018.