Government responses to recent efforts to topple monuments and statues, whether of James Cook, King Leopold, Cecil Rhodes, or the Confederate generals, have demonstrated how heritage laws continue to be rooted in colonial notions of who heritage belongs to, the values heritage serves, and whose interests determine how heritage is protected/regulated (Knudsen et. al., 2021).
These events have triggered polarized discussions about contested heritage: Is the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas a similar crime to the toppling of statues of known enslavers like Colston? To whom do the Elgin marbles really belong? Are artefacts looted from conflicts in Syria and Iraq safer in the hands of private collectors? Should the Slave Trade Route be memorialized as heritage? Where does one draw the line between memorialization and valorization? What does heritage protection really mean, beyond the confines of a sanitized Western museum? What role does the law have to play in these debates?
Although heritage policy on these questions is of interest to and significantly impacts communities around the world, all too often heritage policies are negotiated in insular, Eurocentric, expert circles. This partition is created on the basis of civilizing logics that see local communities as incapable of holding policy conversations with Global North networks (Sud and Sanchez- Ancochea, 2022). There is also little engagement with the growing body of data produced by other relevant heritage disciplines such as history and critical heritage studies, where the politics of heritage policy and its colonialities are regularly up for discussion (Petrie, 2005). Even within disciplines such as heritage history, connections between heritages in different spaces are rarely sketched out. The only running thread that cuts across discipline and borders is that heritage experts – while identifying international organizations and States as political/interested actors – hesitate to accept their own political aspirations and their complicity in the inequalities of policy structures (Meskell, 2014).
A natural consequence of this insularity is that activists, heritage custodians, and the broader field of those affected by heritage policy see little utility in engaging with heritage expertise . This cements a model of policy making which puts Eurocentric expertise at its nucleus, leaving communities far from this decision-making epicenter. This structure has become so naturalized that it is all but impossible for heritage expertise based on epistemologies outside the nucleus to find their way in.
This workshop is an attempt to resolve this impasse. It is designed to create a safe and interdisciplinary space where all people who are affected by heritage policy can come together for knowledge-sharing and discussion. Conscious of our own individual privileged positionalities and the social capital of the academic institution we belong to, we deliberately intend for this workshop to transgress the traditional way that ‘scholarly’ spaces are created by inviting those who are excluded from academic discussions and forging a bridge between siloed networks. The objective of the workshop is also to spotlight what Santos calls an ‘ecology of knowledges’ (Santos, 2007) and understands how new grammars can be discovered in equal collaboration with Global South and other disciplinary partners.
The workshop brings together scholars and practitioners from various parts of the world, in a multilingual long-table format conversation. The conversation will cut across five broad themes, intersecting disciplines such as law, archaeology, history, political science, development studies, tourism, and urban planning.