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ERC

EUROHERIT Report Summary

Project ID: 636177
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - EUROHERIT (Legitimation of European cultural heritage and the dynamics of identity politics in the EU)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-02-28

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

The idea of heritage has become more and more problematic in today's Europe characterized by two opposing trajectories. On the one hand, the increasing cultural pluralism and hybridity, global cultural flows, and movement of people within and across borders challenge the traditional nationalist and Euro-centric meanings of heritage and the ways of fostering them in Europe. On the other hand, the increasing nationalist and populist movements in Europe have politicized the ideas of national and European heritage in new ways. The recent political, economic, social, and humanitarian crises in Europe have shaken the very foundations of the EU and raised criticism towards the European integration process and the legitimacy of the EU. Simultaneously, the idea of shared cultural roots, memory, and heritage has gained an important role in EU politics and policies. The EU´s increased interest in a common European heritage and a common European narrative and its various initiatives and projects seeking to promote them can be perceived as the EU´s means to respond to and as an attempt tackle some of these recent crises—including identity crises—in Europe. Indeed, cultural remembrance, historical memory, and the idea of heritage have become a powerful vehicle for shaping the EU’s current identity politics.

Cultural heritage is an emotional and politicised concept easily instrumentalised for diverse political, economic, social, and socio-cultural attempts. Understanding and researching cultural heritage processes and politics is important, because cultural heritage can strengthen the positive emotions associated with a sense of community and togetherness. It can also be used to create boundaries, exclude, and bring attention to unilateral, politically charged interpretations of the past. In recent years, the EU has launched a number of projects aiming at highlighting and remembering the past and fostering European cultural heritage. The idea of a common European cultural heritage doesn’t come without its problems, though. Europe is and always has been culturally diverse, and Europeans interpret Europe’s past and cultural traits very differently. Defining a European cultural heritage is not a neutral, objective, or value-free process. It means taking a stand on the idea of shared cultural values, understanding of the past, and communality that transcend the national level but are nonetheless not perceived as global or universal.

The innovativeness of the research project EUROHERIT lies in its focus: a critical investigation of the EU as a new heritage actor and of its heritage politics and policies as attempts to create a new trans-European heritage regime in Europe. The research seeks to produce new theoretical conceptualizations on transnational cultural heritage and the territorial dynamics and power hierarchies in the production and legitimation of its European dimension. The project participates in the broader critical analysis on the current identity and integration politics and policies in the EU and Europe by expanding the discussion with the investigation of heritage. The project seeks to advance the research of cultural heritage by emphasizing interdisciplinarity; conducting a broad comparative study; applying the multi-method inquiry; and developing visual methods in the field of heritage studies. On the societal level, the project seeks to increase the transparency of heritage politics and policies and their strategies, tactics, and legitimacy in Europe.

Scientific aims
•to advance research on cultural heritage by widening the perspectives through an interdisciplinary approach
•to increase mutual interaction between heritage studies, cultural studies, sociology, political science, cultural policy studies, European Studies, and cultural geography in order to bring new insights to each of the fields
•to produce a new conceptualization of the trans- and supranational dimensions of cultural heritage
•to theorize territorial dynamics, power hierarchies, and legitimacy in the processes of heritagization

Societal objectives
•to increase the transparency of heritage politics and policies and their strategies, tactics, and legitimacy in Europe
•to promote understanding of the multivocal and discursive nature of heritage
•to provide tools for critical evaluation of the motives, means, and consequences of the processes of heritagization

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

During the first 18 months, the project has implemented tasks in its WP 1 and first two tasks in its WP2. These work packages seek to clarify the complexity of the concept of cultural heritage and produce new theoretical insights and conceptualizations for understanding its transforming nature (WP1) and to theorize the idea and function of cultural heritage in the EU politics and policy by investigating EU heritage politics and the use and operationalization of the concept of heritage in EU policy sections other than culture (WP2).

The work in the WP1 included the analysis of previous research and diverse uses and functions of the concept of European cultural heritage in it. The research in WP 2 focused first on policy documents of EU heritage initiatives: the European Heritage Label, the European Heritage Days, and the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage. The research also dealt with policy documents related to the European Capitals of Culture and exhibition narratives in Parlamentarium, the visitors’ center of the European Parliament. In addition, the research in the WP2 sought to explore the concept of heritage more broadly within EU policies. The data collection in the WP2 resulted to a broad database that includes approximately 8000 documents gathered from EUR-Lex, a database of legal texts of the EU, with a search term ‘heritage’. This database is managed by the PI and is available for other researchers with the permission of the PI.

The results of the analysis indicate, for example:

- The construction of an official shared European memory is operationalized through textual and narrative devices such as intertextuality. The EU’s memory texts are performative narratives which do not only describe a shared European memory in a particular way but also position the receivers as active agents in the story of the EU-Europe and invite them to produce it on their own initiative. (See: Lähdesmäki, T. 2017. Narrativity and intertextuality in the making of a shared European memory. Journal of Contemporary European Studies, 25:1, 57–72.)

- The notion of a European cultural heritage in EU policy discourse is extremely abstract, referring to various ideas and values detached from physical locations or places. Nevertheless the EU initiatives put the abstract policy discourse into practice and concretize its notions about a European cultural heritage. A common strategy in this practice is ‘placing heritage’—affixing the idea of a European cultural heritage to certain places in order to turn them into specific European heritage sites. ‘Placing heritage’ is an affective and therefore effective strategy of using power and governing both the actors and the meanings of heritage. The EU heritage policy and initiatives are processes in which the tangible and intangible dimensions of a European cultural heritage are in constant circulation. (see: Lähdesmäki, T. 2016. Politics of Tangibility, Intangibility, and Place in the Making of European Cultural Heritage in EU Heritage Policy. International Journal of Heritage Studies 22:10, 766–780.)

- The vague concept of a European cultural heritage is frequently referred to—but rarely explicitly defined—in a scholarly discussion. The use of the concept in academia constructs a European cultural heritage as a category in research and explicitly and implicitly produces its focuses and outlines. The political discourse and heritage initiatives of European organizations are commonly discussed in academia. Although the discourse and the initiatives can be explicitly defined in the scholarly texts as a construction of a European cultural heritage, the repetitive linking of the concept to European organizations in these texts at the same time establishes them as European-level heritage agents and naturalizes their role as meaning-makers of heritage. In addition, scholarly discussions on European-level heritage agents naturalize the idea of a continental scale of cultural heritage. (See: Lähdesmäki, T. 2016 Scholarly discussion as engineering the meanings of a European cultural heritage. European Journal of Cultural Studies 19:6, 529-546.)

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Heritage as a concept and idea becomes operationalized in the EU’s heritage initiatives through political narrativization and discursive meaning-making processes. It is easily transformed into an instrument for multisectional politics in the EU policy. The publications of the project have emphasized this largely unanalysed dimension of heritage and identity politics.

The increased pluralization of European societies and the rise of new nationalism in Europe have both boosted and complicated the diverse and contradictory identity political projects in Europe. The analysis of the EU heritage politics as identity politics in the current societal and political contexts in Europe has brought out how the idea of heritage is instrumentalized at the European level.

The publications of the project have elaborated several concepts and theories, such as the concept of placing heritage and the model of circulation of the tangible and intangible dimensions of heritage, for further research.

The results of the projects during its first 18 months are expected to impact academia and its theoretical and conceptual discussion on a European cultural heritage. The policy analysis has a potential impact on heritage policy decision-makers, managers, professionals, and educators at the European, national, regional, and local levels.

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