CFP: Critical Excess

For the inaugural conference of the Association of Critical Heritage Studies 'The Re/theorisation of Heritage Studies' in Gothenburg, Sweden, June 5-8 2012.

We seek contributions to the following session. Please send a title and abstract of no more than 250 words to both convenors by 28 January.

Critical Excess? Or, what is gained and lost for Heritage Studies through the critical view?

The "critical view" has been a key mode of scholarly enquiry in Heritage Studies -as signaled by the foundation of the Association of Critical Heritage Studies. Used to identify certain kinds of political inequality, and to express certain kinds of hope for reconstructing emancipatory heritage, the "critical view" has itself come in for a certain amount of criticism in recent years. Its efficacy has been queried by those who suggest that it has not had the effects its proponents have argued for (Handler and Gable 1997, p.8). Counterpoints to the "critical view" have, thus, emerged.

Bruno Latour has long proposed a method of Actor-Network-Theory as one such counterpoint. He argues:

When faced with new situations and new objects, [the "critical view"] risks simply repeating that they are woven out of the same tiny repertoire of already recognized forces: power, domination, exploitation, legitimization, fetishization, reification. Law may be socially constructed but so is religion, economics, politics, sport, morality, art, and everything else built with the same material; only the name of the "field" changes. The problem of critical sociology is it can never fail to be right (2005, p. 249)

In other words, the "critical view" is in danger of never being surprised and always discovering what it expects to find. The broad point we take from Latour is that any theoretical view is about managing complexity excluding some things (objects, subjects, experiences, affects, materialities, temporalities, scales) so that others can be seen more clearly (Law and Mol 2002; Strathern 1994; 2002).

Taking this as our starting point, this session asks "what is at stake in how the critical view manages complexity?". We invite papers to respond to this question by drawing on theoretical and methodological "counterpoints" which might "see" that which exceeds the critical. These could include, yet should not be restricted to, Actor-Network-Theory (Latour 2005; Bennett 2005, 2007), complexity theory (Law and Mol 2002), phenomenology, vitalism (Lash 2006, 2007), assemblage (DeLanda 2006; Bennett and Healy 2009), or non-representational theory (Thrift 2010). Papers should provide conceptual and/or empirical reflection on how the
boundaries of the "critical view" are being ­ or indeed could be redrawn. What surprising, puzzling, or paradoxical insights emerge through the use of such counterpoints? What politics do such counterpoints enable? And how are these alternative views enacted through exhibition, display, collection, conservation, or communication heritage practices? By considering such questions, our aim is to identify what is "gained" and "lost" through the "critical view" as a particular mode of academic knowing within Heritage Studies.

Helen Graham, University of Leeds
Jennie Morgan, University of Manchester


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