CFP: Empathy and indifference, Association of Critical Heritage Studies Conference, Montreal, Canada (7-10 June 2016)

Conference session, Association of Critical Heritage Studies Conference, Montreal, Canada (7-10 June 2016)

Empathy and indifference – emotional/affective routes to and away from compassion

Gary Campbell, Laurajane Smith

We would like to propose a session, building on the one we ran at the 2014 CHS conference in Canberra, on how emotion and affect feature in the fields of heritage and museums studies, memory studies, public history, heritage tourism, studies of the built and urban environment, conservation, archives and any field of study that deals with the emotional impact and use of the past in the present.

There is an increasing interest in how emotion is a form of judgement on things that affect our lives, identity and wellbeing. This session focuses on the issue of empathy, the emotional and imaginative skill to place oneself in the subjective position of another. Significant debate has occurred within the wider social sciences that has dismissed empathy as simply a feel-good way of belittling or dismissing social justice issues and thus maintain an individual and societal indifference to the marginalized. Conversely, others have argued that empathy is key to overturning indifference and effecting political and social changes. Overall, this session asks what role(s) can and does heritage, in its various forms, play in engendering empathy, and what might an examination of the ways in which heritage and empathy interact reveal about the utility or otherwise about forms and experiences of empathy? Equally, what may the study of the emotional content of heritage practices and performances tell us about the maintenance of indifference?

This session calls for papers that explicitly address not just the emotional content of heritage practices, but clearly explore the ways in which heritage is used in a range of contexts to elicit or withhold empathy, and the consequences this has for social debates and individual and collective well-being.

Papers may explore such things as:

  • the idea of empathy and its role in the expression of different forms of heritage;
  • the way empathy, or its withholding, can be used to either facilitate or closedown the extension of social recognition in heritage and museum contexts;
  • how forms of commemoration can re-assert or challenge dominant historical or heritage narratives;
  • how people using heritage sites or museums, or debating issues of historical importance, mobilize particular suites of emotional and affective responses to the past;
  • how communities or other groups who propose non-authorized versions of heritage/history utilize emotional and affective responses to challenge received narratives about the past;
  • research which critically investigates the empathetic responses of “”visitors”” to heritage sites, museums and other forms of heritage;
  • research which investigates the role of empathy in the expression and transference of intangible heritage.

Enquires: or

Please submit a 600 word abstract in French or English through the conference website:

The deadline for submission of abstracts is November 1st, 2015.

All papers submitted will be peer reviewed through a process managed by ACHS2016 scientific committee.

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