Affirmative heritage practices

The first two research themes will serve as important groundwork for this last theme and work package (WP), which will explore the outlines and potentials of what is here called “affirmative heritage practices”.

The “affirmative” prefix draws on Braidotti’s (2010) notion of “affirmative ethics” and Domanska’s (2018) call for “affirmative humanities”, which both aim for more positively oriented and empowering approaches to current socio-political and environmental challenges. In the context of natural heritage and heritage more generally, this represents an alternative to the normative perspectives discussed above with the aim of opening debate on taken-for-granted binaries, such as salvation and threat, guardian and guarded, nature and culture. The current environmental and socio-political discourses have the tendency to become permeated with “a hefty necro-political dimension” which has the effect that “[w]e live in a state of constant fear and in expectation of the imminent accident” (Braidotti 2010:142). The same can be said for the “politics of peril” (Brown et al. 2019) dominating the heritage sphere where the focus is largely on vulnerability, precarity and loss. While these prospects are definitely realistic and impending, such “politics of melancholia” may also come to function as “a self-fulfilling prophecy” (Braidotti 2010:142); that is, in their pessimism they may discourage rather than inspire and empower critical dialogue and action. A similar argument has been put forth by Swyngedouw, who claims that when concerns for nature are brought into politics and the public domain in form of a fixed humanitarian cause and with a specific model for what constitutes the “good” environment, the discourse risks becoming “a gigantic operation in the de-politicization of subjects” (Swyngedouw 2011:255). It becomes rigid and defensive, so to speak, rather than inviting, affirmative or empowering (Domanska 2018). Hence, based on a rethinking of sustainability and ethics, opening both towards a more complex and “polluted” image of the world, and as further informed by the two case studies, research under this theme and WP will sketch the outlines of a different and more affirmative/empowering heritage practice. One that is less controlled by the reactive politics of fear and more attuned to involving publics in exploring what natural heritage actually is, as well as possible ways of including it in nature-cultures and human-nonhuman entanglements.


Braidotti, R. 2010. Powers of affirmation: Response to Lisa Baraitser, Patrick Hanafin and Clare Hemmings. Subjectivity 3: 140-148.
Brown,N.E. et al. 2019. The Politics of Peril: UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger. Int. Journal of Heritage Stud 44(5): 287-303.
Domanska, E. 2018. Affirmative Humanities. “Dějiny – teorie – kritika” [history–theory–criticism] 1: 9-26.
Swyngedouw, E. 2011. Depoliticized environments. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 69: 253-274.

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