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Narratives about cultural heritage, conventionally linked with expectations of conviviality and peace, are increasingly marked by identitarian politics. Asking 'what are heritage ethics today', we investigate the moral underpinnings of dominant and subaltern heritage claims under this conjuncture.
What are heritage ethics today? Early narratives about cultural heritage, as espoused by UNESCO among others, were driven by ethical concerns such as conviviality, peace and universal value. These concerns have shaped key themes in twentieth century heritage studies, from the great debates about cultural and human rights, tensions between universalist ambition and particularist interests to questions of representation and ownership of cultural property.Heritage as an ethical concern has come under new pressure in the twenty-first century with the rise of nativism and cultural protectionism, manifest as populist politics, Trump's 'America First', Brexit, Islamophobia and colonial nostalgia. Heritage claims are increasingly integral to identitarian politics, exclusionary narratives and nativist claims of belonging. By asking 'what are heritage ethics today', we want to investigate if and how the moral underpinnings of heritage claims, both dominant and subaltern, have changed.To what extent are the ethical undercurrents that flow through discourses and practices of heritage - the responsibility to recognise and care for certain 'pasts', the moral imperative to remember, the emancipating or even redemptive potential ascribed to cultural heritage - shifting under this new conjuncture? How do today's heritage dynamics shape and potentially alter collective notions of rights, morality and entitlement? And does this entail a shift from universalist to particularist 'goods'? This panel seeks contributions that ethnographically illustrate these complexities and contradictions, including cases where heritage claims are considered to have gone 'too far', to be immoral or irresponsible, or those where sometimes problematic heritage claims are neutralised as ethical.