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Accepted Paper:

‘The West’ in the East: decolonial museology, critical friendship, and the response-ability to change at a Polish ethnographic museum  

Author:

Erica Lehrer (Concordia University)

Paper short abstract:

How do the stakes and approaches of “decolonial” museology change when the responsibility for transformation is laid at the doorstep of a classical ethnographic museum in Poland, where a key problem is the distortion and elision of local Jewish - rather than remote overseas - heritage?

Paper long abstract:

This paper takes an under-studied angle on the question of who speaks ‘for’ the ‘West’ and how cultural institutions ‘take responsibility’ for colonial heritage: that of an East-Central European (ECE) ethnographic museum, specifically in Kraków, Poland. ECE societies were without classical overseas colonies, and were themselves victims of various forms of Western colonial imperialism - while also being perpetrators of other forms of “internal” European domination. ECE regional institutions are also still disentangling the legacy a half-century of Soviet communism, while simultaneously being subjected, arguably, to forms of Western neo-colonialism (e.g. via EU cultural policies). The question of which voices are heard and silenced is thus complicated in the region, as the “classical” colonial roots of the museum form are obscured by the cultural, political, and emotional sedimentation of multiple additional “colonialisms”, and the heritage on display relates more to internal majority-minority relations and imaginaries than to overseas “non-Western” peoples. I offer an ethnographic perspective that troubles the emerging language and principles of post-colonial redress and repair as they travel to the “other” Europe. At stake in these debates is the ability for both local and foreign actors to apprehend forms of symbolic violence produced at the intersection of the legacies of multiple colonialisms, the Holocaust, and communism, and the need to develop (anthropological) vocabularies of damage, care, and affiliation sufficiently capacious to address them – even as ECE historical policy legislates a “pedagogy of pride” that rejects any sense of culpability and claims the position of the aggrieved.

Panel Speak21a
Taking responsibility for colonial heritage in Europe? Perspectives from organisational ethnographies I