• Archive sub-versions: Photography, the accident, and the biopolitics of extraction

Skatulski, Armelle, 2023, Thesis, Archive sub-versions: Photography, the accident, and the biopolitics of extraction PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

The documentation of work accidents takes place in a tension between production and destruction, the archivable and the unarchivable, the biopolitical governing of labour and the speculative economics of capitalist Extractivism. This research, led by practice, takes a multi-disciplinary path to analyse the normalisation of work accidents through the study of photographic documents produced by a former coal mining company in the Northeast of France. These are now deposited in the public archives of the Centre des Archives Industrielles et Techniques de Moselle * which holds the greater part of the records yielded by Houillères du Bassin de Lorraine**, one of the nine regional sections of Charbonnages de France ***, the mining conglomerate disbanded in 2007. While a widely occurring social and economic reality, work accidents are paradoxically under-studied as is often acknowledged by sociological studies. The work accident highlights the contradiction in which the body of the worker is caught: while the biopolitical and industrial logics of extraction depends on its productive force, its exposure to the risk of injury or death is admissible, even normalised.

Coal mining is considered as a particular historical incarnation of capitalist Extractivism which encompasses but is not limited to the extraction of natural resources. While extraction leads to capital accumulation, the work accident leads to its disruption or delay, and to a qualitatively different form of accumulation, that of documents. Photographic documents of work accidents are invaluable tools for a critical analysis of a form of power that legitimises the risk of injury and death at work, in the name of profit. The relationship between the work accident and photography is approached from the perspective of a biopolitical and dispositival analysis of corporate archival practices derived from Michel Foucault. A dispositival analysis emphasizes the heterogeneity of strategic mechanisms and techniques deployed by biopower to regulate the aleatory. Photography is understood as one such mechanism, inscribed in the material and infrastructural dispositif of the archival-industrial complex and in an economy of power relations.

The research’s aim is twofold: to analyse how photographs of work accidents and of accidents simulations functioned as materially and logically correlated to the process of extraction; and to probe the tension between the normative effects of these photographs and the unruliness of an affective response to them by a viewer or an interpreter. Roland Barthes’ notion of punctum is invoked to account for the transformative power of affect and the emergence of an other value of the photographic document. I develop artistic methodologies engaging with the archive conceived as an infrastructural ensemble – itself deriving from a past industrial extractive complex – while reenvisioning photographic reproducibility in a tension between the logistics of documentation and affective resonance. Such interventions endeavour to reconfigure archival consignation and give a formal expression to relations – between accidents, their documents, and subjects – that might have been obscured by corporate logics and, in this instance, the relocation of documents to the public archive.

Keywords: (Work) Accidents, Affect, Archive, Biopolitics, Biopower, Extraction, Extractivism, Infrastructuralism, Photography.

* The Industrial and Technical Archives Centre of Moselle.
** The Collieries of the Lorraine Basin.
*** The French National Coal Board.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W600 Cinematics and Photography > W640 Photography
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Funders: AHRC [1947816]
Uncontrolled Keywords: Accident; Archive; Biopolitics; Extraction; Photography
Date Deposited: 14 Nov 2023 14:58
Last Modified: 14 Nov 2023 15:02
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/5590
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