The Association of Critical Heritage Studies is dedicated to promoting and developing heritage studies as a social, cultural, economic, and political phenomenon and as an area of professional or governmental intervention from a perspective of sustainability and social and cultural equity. Inspired by the paradigms of change inherent in postcolonial studies, it was officially founded in 2012, in Gothenburg (Sweden), based on an inaugural manifesto calling for a transdisciplinary and transversal reflection on the discursive and political bedrock of heritage, so as to bring together people from the world over who are interested in contributing to a critical analysis of the situation, construction, and role of heritage.
In recent years, in the wake of the "heritage building" studies boom in the francophone world of the 1990s, the debate on social and cultural heritage issues has intensified on the world stage, and the Association has contributed significantly to this process. The three international conferences, organized successively in Sweden, at the University of Gothenburg; in Australia, at the Australian National University; and in Canada, at Université du Québec à Montréal and at Concordia University, led to the creation of new networks and the identification of organizing themes for reflection and dialogue. Cultural particularization, a driving force behind the transnational scientific and professional cross fertilization supported by the Association, is one of them.
An important question has emerged from our epistemological progression: What is the true status of heritage studies? Is it a field of study, a set of heritage professions, a realm of undergraduate and graduate level teaching, or a focus for postcolonial research? Like a number of other academic, theoretical, and public areas of research, the heritage studies field is indeed facing global transformations which challenge its positioning, conceptual affirmation, and growing societal role. It is now plain for all to see that heritage is at the heart of identity politics, conflicts, and also of economic development, whether in terms of the reconstruction of history or from the perspective of developing and promoting a given territory, possibly at the expense of another. In an ever-changing world, the renewed complexity of issues related to the construction, appropriation, and meaning of places, of the past, and of traditions has not yet been unraveled, and reflects the scale of the challenge that awaits us.
In this sense, the field of critical heritage studies, true to its tradition of focusing in particular on themes of power, protest, and dissonance, has become solidly ensconced in academia. Such pursuits go hand in hand with studies, in the francophone world, on the underside of institutions and the manufacturing and historicity of heritage. There is still a great deal left to do, both at the conceptual and methodological levels, to ensure that heritage studies and all its possible combinations, in worlds of differing idioms and cultures, maintain a consistency and rigour that will nurture a true post-colonial perspective and sustain these pursuits over time. Recent works have more than ever shown how the most fruitful modes of knowledge production are anchored in a real understanding of local issues and their differentiations according to regions of the world or different cultural and intellectual traditions. Collaboration is the cornerstone of this process, promoting a meeting of fields as different as material culture, political ecology, and local development, to name only a few.
The three Association conferences held to date have clearly demonstrated a widespread commitment to surpassing disciplinary boundaries and a desire to build mutually respectful exchanges with those who work in various sectors and in various parts of the world. We want to continue in this direction and, above and beyond collaborative learning, we believe that a truly promising critical analysis must transcend borders in the building of inclusive dialogue.
The international working language of the Association is mainly English, but we hope to encourage contributions in other languages and other cultural universes, as they are a key to our ability to develop new knowledge.
Below are links to sections of the English website which we hope will be of some interest to you.
Welcome to the Association of Critical Heritage Studies.
Lucie K. Morisset