Rodney's Archive: An Ethnographic Encounter with a Private Music Collection and its Collector
Eve OlneyExternal Examiner: Dr Roberta McGrath, Reader in Film and Photography, Napier University, Edinburgh, UK
Date Awarded: 2012
Located in the fields of cultural studies and media studies, this thesis frames an ethnography of the private collector, Rodney McElrea, (from Omagh, Co. Tyrone) and his music collection, simultaneously presenting an analysis of socio-cultural issues relating to collecting and archival practices. Focusing on the relationship between Rodney and his collected artefacts, this study is guided by several interrelated research questions: how is cultural meaning revealed in the private
archive; to what degree are the taxonomic structures imposed on private archives directing interpretations of it; how might the cultural value of this particular private collection be determined in the absence of an institutional system of cultural evaluation. In addition the thesis explores how cultural memory and (Rodney's) private memory are interrelated within the collected object in his archive and furthermore to what degree can the research questions guiding this thesis be explored through Rodney's performance of the archive? The research is, therefore, framed within an overall narrative concerning the uncertain fate of Rodney's collection, beyond the lifespan of its collector and how the collection might be preserved in the future.
The thesis comprises an introduction, conclusion and five chapters. An accompanying DVD features some of my documentation of the field site within an eighteen-minute film. This film provides an ethnographic representation of my experience with Rodney and his archive. Chapter one discusses my first encounters with Rodney and attempts to identify the taxonomic systems at play within the collection. Drawing on a number of scholars from cultural studies, whose primary focus is the ontological status of archives, I explore the meaning of Rodney's engagement with his artefacts and his motivations as a private collector. The role of practice is introduced in this chapter, as a means of navigating Rodney's collection, and is supported by critical arguments from within the fields of visual anthropology and media studies. Chapter two focuses on how recorded sound functions within the collection as both an archival tool (of exploration) and an object of analysis, whilst referring to scholars from within auditory studies. Recorded sounds situate Rodney within the archival space, and are offered as one method of retaining the memory of the collector within future representations. Chapter three refers to Rodney's past collecting practices when discussing the cultural significance of his collection through the metrics of various frameworks of value. Chapter four details the methodological approach to representing such an idiosyncratic collection and foregrounds the practice elements and curatorial process of interpreting and mediating Rodney and his archive. Here emphasis is placed on how the photographic image works in conjunction with recorded sound and how the film sequence performs within concepts of being both ‘archival' and ‘ethnographic' in nature. The fifth and final chapter discusses the film in relation to both Rodney's engagement with it and its success in communicating ethnographic experience to the observer. The future survival of the collection is then revisited in view of Rodney's deeply personal investment alongside external interests from individual and institutional sources, with complimentary yet different agendas surrounding the preserving of this private music collection.