CfP: Neoliberal Heritage Statecraft: Exploring The Heritage/Extractive Industries Nexus

Gertjan Plets – Stanford University –

Melissa Baird – Michigan Technological University –

Discussant: Douglas Rogers, Yale University


The emergence of ‘critical heritage’ scholarship has drawn anthropologists into the highly diverse and politically charged field of culturalheritage. An arena where the geopolitical contexts of 'managing' the past intersect with socio-political interests and concerns. Within most sociocultural analyses to date, heritage has been conceptualized as an intimate bedfellow of nationalism, where quintessential state actors such as political elites and bureaucracies are the main protagonists authorizing certain pasts to the detriment of others. Papers in this session wish to break with this popular modernist understanding of heritage, culture and the state. By drawing on case studies from across the world, presenters ethnographically map the changing nature of heritage in the 21st century.

Nowhere is this transformation more evident than in the nexus of heritage and extractive industries. As presenters in this session will explore, by funding cash strapped art and history museums, constructing interpretation centers, negotiating repatriation of indigenous remains, historicizing mineral extraction and competitive grants for archaeological fieldwork, energy corporations have positioned themselves as cultural policy ‘producers.’ Multinationals have especially become key players in the heritage arena in contexts where mining and hydrocarbon extraction considerably contributes economic rewards to both the regional and national economy. Industries have developed statements of engagement that seek to actively shape heritage negotiations. From engaging with stakeholders, local—often indigenous—heritage interests, to interconnected identities, cultural heritage initiatives, and engagements with international NGOs such as ICOMOS and IUCN, these industries have positioned themselves to negotiate corporate security and build bridges with unconventional partners.

Cleary, by funding heritage and memory initiatives, corporate players have not only successfully raised their image and secured their concessions, they have also drastically reformulated local subjectivities and redefined the regimes of truth prescribing the actions ofheritage practitioners, local groups and political elites. As such this session will not only be of interest to those anthropologists and archaeologists interested in cultural heritage, but also scholars interested in cultural policy. By spotlighting how major international corporate players are engaged in statecraft, this session also directly contributes ethnographic perspectives to neoliberalism, globalization and the state. Papers in this session will trace how traditional state actors are not the only players involved in reifying the state as a meaningful polity through cultural policy. In a neoliberal setting defined by the global flow of capital and ideas, increasingly corporate players are involved in statecraft, defining the state’s political economy and institutional landscape.

Lucas Lixinski