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Legitimation of European cultural heritage and the dynamics of identity politics in the EU

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - EUROHERIT (Legitimation of European cultural heritage and the dynamics of identity politics in the EU)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2020-02-29

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 both 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 instrumentalized 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
During the first 30 months, the project has implemented tasks in its WP1-WP3 and partly also in WP4-WP6. The first two 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 WP2 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 work in the WP3 is particularly related to the PhD research of the EUROHERIT’s Doctoral Student. Data collection to this work package has been conducted as planned including: applications of all the EHL sites; promotional and information material of selected EHL sites; and observation of exhibition narratives of selected EHL sites. In addition, the EUROHERIT team members have observed other EU’s heritage initiatives and exhibitions that seek to promote European narratives of cultural heritage.

The data collection regarding the WP4 and WP5 was conducted in autumn 2017 and beginning of 2018. This broad ethnographic field research was conducted in the European Commission and at eleven EHL sites in ten countries. These sites are: Alcide De Gasperi’s House Museum, Italy; Archaeological Park Carnuntum, Austria; Camp Westerbork, The Netherlands; European District of Strasbourg, France; Franz Liszt Academy of Music, Hungary; Great Guild Hall, Estonia; Hambach Castle, Germany; Historic Gdańsk Shipyard, Poland; Mundaneum, Belgium; Robert Schuman’s House, France; and Sagres Promontory, Portugal. The field research includes a) interviews conducted among key EU heritage officials; selection panel appointed by the EU; professionals and experts working at 11 EHL sites in ten countries; and diverse visitors of these sites; b) photos taken by these visitors at the EHL sites; c) a survey conducted among national coordinators of the EHL in ten countries; and d) informal discussions with various stakeholders of these sites, such as staff of tourist information centers. In addition, the data includes multifaceted observation of these sites (e.g. their exhibition narratives) and diverse (multimodal) textual material, such as promotional and educational materials produced by the sites. Transcription and translation of the interviews started in spring 2018. Articles and a book based on this material will be written later in the project.

The EUROHERIT team has already started its work in WP6 as we realized the need for policy briefs providing suggestions and recommendations how to develop the EHL action. We have already produced to policy briefs that focus on a) increasing the benefits and transparency of the EHL (Policy brief 1) and b) recommendations how Finland should prepare its participation in the EHL action (Policy brief 2).

The results of the EUROHERIT’s research during its first 30 months indicate, for example:

- The construction of an official shared European memory is oper
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 multisectoral 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 developed several concepts and theories, such as affectiveness of EU policy discourse on heritage, the concept of ‘placing heritage’, and the model of circulation of the tangible and intangible dimensions of heritage in EU policy discourse, for further research.

The results of the projects during its first 30 months are expected to impact academia and its theoretical and conceptual discussion on European cultural heritage. Moreover, the results and EUROHERIT’s outcomes are likely to have an impact on decision-makers, managers, professionals, and educators dealing the heritage at the European, national, regional, and local levels.