Proposed session for the Association of Critical Heritage Studies
Third Biannual Conference
Montreal, Canada, June 7-10 2016
Heritage (as) justice: negotiating values, contesting properties
Who owns the heritage? Although not a new one, this question challenges the taken for granted assumption that heritage “belongs” to its owners or beneficiaries, be it states, museums, social groups, communities, private persons, inhabitants or even humanity, for example in the UNESCO’s world heritage and its several declinations. Technically, making heritage means also to design and apply juridical rules concerning the status of selected elements, including their property rights: museums, art historians, experts, lawyers may contribute to it. Nonetheless, heritage property is a huge matter of contest. From the Parthenon Marbles claimed by Greece to human remains symbolically reburied as a symbol of past oppression and slavery, examples abound of disputes about the ways heritage “goods” were established as such, by means deemed as unfair and illegal or illegitimate.
Postcolonial statements may include heritage policies from former colonial states in a continuous process of “predation”. The suspicion of “cultural theft” is still an issue between countries claiming heritage as their own, against a former ruler or a conflicting neighbour: “minorities’ heritages” (national, religious, ethnic, linguistic…) appear here as a case in point. Apart from the classical nation-states issues, heritage disputes can also emerge in more fuzzy situations of claiming heritage property (if not ownership), for example in the case of intangible heritages lacking specific legal status but possibly triggering conflicts in the “community” around their proper use, or in the case of local and private collections becoming public ones, blurring the boundary between personal and collective property.
This panel aims then at exploring the various ways of understanding heritage (as) justice or injustice, a potentially developing issue in a context of extensive (and globalized) use of the notion of heritage. It will welcome papers (in English or French) focusing on heritage elements submitted to claims, disputes, discontent or contradiction, and on the way claimers, stakeholders or heritage institutions deal, cope, fight or negotiate around contested heritages. A specific attention will be devoted to papers tracking back the concrete history of contested heritages, and focusing on issues such as legal/legitimate, possession/dispossession, justice/injustice.
Such notions as “restitution”, “restoration” or “repair” will be of significant help, as they imply a voluntary (if not desired) returning of heritage to its presumed real owners, for ethical, juridical, political, or even economical reasons. To “give back” an artefact may be a political act, by acknowledging its sometimes “suspicious” origin, but it also means to make clear the whole process of constructing (and possibly deconstructing) heritage, the multiple circulations, exchanges, negotiations, appropriations or exclusions through which it was/is made as such. It questions the blurred boundaries of heritages, in the case of multisited or plural claims, as well as the common meanings of cultural “goods”, “property” or “possession”.
If you would like to contribute to this session, please submit a 600 words abstract through the conference website (https://achs2016.uqam.ca/secure/submitAbstract.php). The deadline for submission of abstracts is 1 November 2015.
All papers submitted will be peer reviewed through a process managed by ACHS2016 scientific committee.