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Over the last decades, Europe's heritage institutions have come under public scrutiny over their responsibility for representing societies in the making. This panel asks how, through such critique and activism, institutions and the meaning of Europe and 'the West' transform in this process.
Over the last decades, Europe's heritage institutions have come under public scrutiny over their responsibility for representing societies in the making. From the toppling of Leopold II statues in Belgium, the activist 'theft' of colonial loot from the Louvre in France, to calls to demolish the nascent Humboldt Forum in the German capital, Europe is called out to take responsibility for its colonial past. What is at stake in these debates, often waged and initiated by civil society organisations and minority activist groups, is the role of heritage as public theorisers of society at large.
At the core of these tensions is a renegotiation of the responsibility of 'the West' for itself and the institutions and epistemologies that emerged with its colonial enterprise. Implicated in this debate is the role of anthropology. Its institutions and its forms of knowledge production are called to take responsibility for unjust pasts and just futures. But who speaks 'for' the 'West'? And how do its institutions 'take responsibility' without reiterating the structural asymmetries of voices heard and silenced? If the institutions 'take responsibility', is this simultaneously an act of ownership and therefore potentially problematic? Are there ways of 'taking responsibility' that entail giving up responsibility - e.g. via acts of restitution?
This panel seeks ethnographic contributions on the responsibility of 'the West' in European heritage institutions. Who actually does the work in practice? And in whose name does it appear? We are interested in case studies from within heritage institutions in transition.