More-than-human ethics

Ethics, in form of a quest for wellbeing, preservation and sustainability, is at the heart of heritage projects. The general understanding of heritage as inherently positive, as something important, wanted and deserved, may even be claimed to portray heritage itself as an ethical project; as the means towards a moral end (Olsen and Pétursdóttir 2016, Pétursdóttir 2020). However, this also hints at the normative and dualistic form of ethics that guides heritage projects, where the distinction between fixed notions of right and wrong, safe and threatened, guardian and guarded constitute the incentives for action. In this understanding ethics is an ideal model, an already given code–factual, rational and calculated–but inevitably abstracted from the complex muddle of real environs. The question this thematic work package (WP) asks is; does this form of ethics serve natural heritage well? And, is this the form of ethics we need in the Anthropocene–that is, one that appears systematically displaced from the polluted terrains of the imperfect real (Swyngedouw 2011:256)? Exploring these questions, conceptually as well as in the context of the case study landscapes, this WP will investigate the possibility of a less anthropocentric heritage ethics. Following MacCormack it proposes that ethics cannot be based on “a relation that privileges the being of each entity rather than the space between” (MacCormack 2012:257). In other words, rather than seeing it as a project of disentangling the world (e.g. keeping nature from culture), or a means of setting things straight, ethical endeavour will be explored in terms of engagement with the complicated disorder of the real, in a manner Haraway (2016) refers to as “staying with the trouble”. This also relates to the proposal that ethics in a changing world cannot be about static or passive beings, but must be concerned with real entanglements, with the imminent potential of any being to become other, and with processes of deformation, reformation and movement (Grosz & Hill 2017:16).


Grosz, E. & Hill. R. 2017. Onto-ethics and difference: an interview with Elizabeth Grosz. Australian Feminist Law Journal 43(1): 5-14.
Haraway, D. 2016. Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press.
MacCormack, P. 2012. The queer ethics of monstrosity. In:Picart & Browning eds. Speaking of Monsters, 255-265. London: Springer.
Olsen, B & Pétursdóttir, Þ. 2016. Unruly heritage: tracing legacies in the Anthropocene. Arkæologisk Forum 35: 38-45.
Pétursdóttir, Þ. 2020. Anticipated futures? Knowing the heritage of drift matter. Int. Journal of Heritage Studies 26(1): 87-103.
Swyngedouw, E. 2011. Depoliticized environments. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 69: 253-274.

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