ACHS was formed in the early 2010s via conversations and meetings between academics based in Australia, Sweden and the UK. In its initial phase of development it received support from the University of Gothenburg and the Australian National University. It has also received ongoing support from the International Journal of Heritage Studies.
To initiate debate and dialogue about the Association's aims and scope of interest, a preliminary manifesto was produced for the 2012 conference held at the University of Gothenburg:
This document is a preliminary manifesto – a provocation – presaging the creation of the Association of Critical Heritage Studies and its initial conference at the University of Gothenburg in 2012. We want to challenge you to respond to this document, and question the received wisdom of what heritage is, energise heritage studies by drawing on wider intellectual sources, vigorously question the conservative cultural and economic power relations that outdated understandings of heritage seem to underpin and invite the active participation of people and communities who to date have been marginalised in the creation and management of ‘heritage’.
Above all, we want you to critically engage with the proposition that heritage studies needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, which requires the ‘ruthless criticism of everything existing’. Heritage is, as much as anything, a political act and we need to ask serious questions about the power relations that ‘heritage’ has all too often been invoked to sustain. Nationalism, imperialism, colonialism, cultural elitism, Western triumphalism, social exclusion based on class and ethnicity, and the fetishising of expert knowledge have all exerted strong influences on how heritage is used, defined and managed. We argue that a truly critical heritage studies will ask many uncomfortable questions of traditional ways of thinking about and doing heritage, and that the interests of the marginalised and excluded will be brought to the forefront when posing these questions.
The study of heritage has historically been dominated by Western, predominantly European, experts in archaeology, history, architecture and art history. Though there have been progressive currents in these disciplines they sustain a limited idea of what heritage is and how it should be studied and managed. The old way of looking at heritage – the Authorised Heritage Discourse – privileges old, grand, prestigious, expert approved sites, buildings and artefacts that sustain Western narratives of nation, class and science. There is now enough sustained dissatisfaction with this way of thinking about heritage that its critics can feel confident in coming together to form an international organisation to promote a new way of thinking about and doing heritage – the Association of Critical Heritage Studies.
In doing so, the conferences and the association can build on and promote existing critical innovations and interventions in heritage.
What does this require?
- An opening up to a wider range of intellectual traditions. The social sciences – sociology, anthropology, political science amongst others – need to be drawn on to provide theoretical insights and techniques to study ‘heritage’.
- Accordingly to explore new methods of enquiry that challenge the established conventions of positivism and quantitative analysis by including and encouraging the collection of ‘data’ from a wider range of sources in novel and imaginative ways,
- The integration of heritage and museum studies with studies of memory, public history, community, tourism, planning and development.
- The development of international multidisciplinary networks and dialogues to work towards the development of collaborative research and policy projects.
- Democratising heritage by consciously rejecting elite cultural narratives and embracing the heritage insights of people, communities and cultures that have traditionally been marginalised in formulating heritage policy.
- Making critical heritage studies truly international through the synergy of taking seriously diverse non-Western cultural heritage traditions.
- Increasing dialogue and debate between researchers, practitioners and communities.
- The creation of new international heritage networks that draw on the emerging and eclectic critique of heritage that has given rise to Critical Heritage Studies.