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Last week I came out of my personal, Corona pandemic-induced paralysis by presenting a paper at the Interpret Europe web conference. My topic was agonistic (third) spaces, and in preparing the presentation, I felt that creating such spaces is now more important than perhaps ever before.

 

I have already blogged about agonistic interpretation and agonistic spaces here. In summary, an agonistic space is a space in which those views generally obscured and obliterated by the dominant consensus are made visible, and those who are silenced within the framework of the existing hegemony are given a voice [1].

 

Through an excellent Erasmus + project that I was fortunate to be part of between 2017 and 2019 I became aware of the concepts of Third Place and Third Space. Third Place is an idea that goes back to American urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg. In short, he speaks of our homes as the first place, our work places as the second, and the third place are communal spaces such as cafés. For Oldenburg, those third places are crucial for community cohesion: they are social levellers, where we are all equal and where we can discuss and shape our communal futures together.

 

Personally, I have always felt that Oldenburg’s idea of the impact of such third places is exaggerated. Although I think that he does have a strong point about the need to create physical spaces that are perceived as generally open to all, I think more needs to happen in those spaces to truly deliver equality and shared agency. This is where Third Space theory comes in. It was Homi Bhabha who promoted the idea of the third space as what I like to describe as a facilitated space. Reminiscent of representation theory, Bhabha argues that in the third space culture is co-created as all involved bring to bear their own cultural concepts upon the conversation and creation taking place.  Bhabha comes from post-colonial theory, so an important element of his concept is that in the third space, the past with all its injuries and representations is (I’m paraphrasing here) actualised in the present and thus (now we’re back to agonistic spaces) made visible. Only in pausing and examining the underlying representations and dynamics of the past can true equality and shared agency, and thus co-creation of communal futures happen.

 

I argue that creating agonistic (third) spaces is the purpose of (agonistic) heritage interpretation. In these spaces, the representations inherent in heritage, their origins, contexts and present-day impacts are made visible. In doing so, we also give a voice to those heritage communities whose heritage values are not part of the dominant consensus. In turn, the performance, negotiation and (re-)creation of heritage in and by diverse communities is made possible. Therefore, an agonistic space is the prerequisite for the democratization of heritage management and interpretation. Considered more widely, agonistic (third) spaces are the prerequisite for a pluralist democracy, of which heritage management is a part.

 

Regularly, when I speak about the need for agonistic interpretation, that is, interpretation that gives voice to diverse views, some in the audience will raise the issue of ‘hate speech’. This was also the case in the discussion that followed my talk last week. The fear is that an agonistic space may become a platform for extremists and haters. While I understand that fear, I am troubled by the fact that extremism is what we end up discussing – rather than the everyday occurrence of minority views being muted by the dominant consensus. I believe that that, too, is an expression of the hegemonies of which we as interpreters, educators and managers are a part. We know – or could learn – how to respond to hate speech. Hate speech is not the pressing issue in this case. In focusing on hate speech, we are turning a blind eye to marginalisation and the many real ways in which it impacts on our societies. Brexit, Trump – these are all recent examples of the outcome of this process, and Coronavirus may turn out to give rise to yet another. We must become facilitators of agonistic (third) spaces if we want to avoid further splits in our societies.

 

Notes
[1] Mouffe, C., 2014. Agonistics. Thinking the world politically. London and New York: Verso, p. 93.

About 18 months ago, I wondered whether #MeTwo was going to be German museums’ Ferguson moment. It wasn’t. There was no initiative similar to #museumsrespondtoferguson, no MASS action project, no discussions at any of the museum conferences I have attended since.

 

Just over a week ago, nine Germans with what we in the German language insist on calling ‘migrant backgrounds’ were murdered in the city of Hanau.

 

Will this be German museums’ Ferguson moment? I hope so, but I am sceptical.

 

Ferguson was the recognition that a focus on collections is not enough. That museums must engage with the social, political, economic and cultural inequalities and expressions of racism within their societies. That they must face their own institutional biases and racism, be it in the narratives of their exhibitions or their recruitment practices.

 

The emphasis in the German museum sector is still very much on collections, as I have noted in my last post. This would be somewhat acceptable if at the very least and simultaneously a solidly inclusive collections strategy were demanded, i.e. a strategy to collect objects that represent all communities within the locality a museum serves. This, however, is not the case.

 

In fact, there is little critical discussion about museum narratives and the collections these nourish (and vice versa). The most discussion in this area is fairly narrowly centred on provenance issues, which in Germany almost exclusively focus on cases from Nazi Germany, as well as on decolonization, although the latter is mostly limited to a relatively small number of (large) museums.

 

Moreover, the personal subject specialisms and associated profiles of museum directors and curators generally receive more attention, and are more highly valued, than their ability to facilitate community engagement and participation. Consequently, a lack of (experience in) visitor research, evaluation, audience development and diversity is not considered a serious issue at many museums.

 

Finally, because of the above, there is currently very little pressure for museum professionals to consider their own personal positioning in the social, political and cultural contexts of their institutions. In other words, there is little incentive to question their own privileges and biases. It enables museum managers to dismiss, for example, questions about the discursive manipulations behind the construct of “German-Turks” (as opposed to “Turkish-Germans”, as is customary for example in the UK and the US) by suggesting directly, ‘Die wollen das so’ (‘That’s how they want it’).

 

Someone with this attitude and this apparent lack of willingness to take a moment to consider is unlikely to act differently now in their museum practice after Hanau.

 

And yet, it is precisely this kind of change, this acknowledgment of not-so-subtle mechanisms of othering and exclusion that museums should spearhead. Where, if not in museums, can our society expect to have these narratives revealed and challenged? They are part of our history and our present, and we must not let them be part of our future. That must be the job of museums, especially in Germany.

 

My scepticism about Hanau becoming German museums’ Ferguson may be proven wrong. I hope so. There is a young generation of museum professionals slowly coming into positions of power who have a different outlook. Participation, inclusion, sharing power – these are mainstays of museum practice for them.

 

Also, it seems that the new Germans have finally had enough. I have the impression that the way they talk to the (old) German majority has changed, away from the sense of being victims toward the demand to be acknowledged as what they are: Germans. Between these converging forces, maybe German museums will change after Hanau.

 

I really do hope so.

The German Museum Association has recently published guidelines on ‘Working Professionally in a Museum’. The guidelines are intended as a snapshot of current roles in museums. What the guidelines also reveal, however, is a continued imbalance between the focus on collections and museums as institutions for the public.

 

On one hand, the guidelines acknowledge the need for visitor focus, participatory formats, decolonization and provenance research. They highlight that professionalism is required in each of these areas and they call for strengthened collaboration between respective roles.

 

However, from the discussion of these roles themselves emerges a more traditional picture of museums. The guidelines repeatedly declare collecting, collections care and collections research to be the core of museum practice. Curators are consequently established as those with overall responsibility for anything visitors encounter, providing the core concepts and frameworks. Their required qualification is an academic degree in a discipline related to collections.

 

‘Education and Interpretation’ is also stated to be a core task of museums, but not until the forth section of the guidelines. Nor are acitivies engaging communities and visitors, and particularly heritage communities, on heritage values mentioned anywhere as a must. This applies even to the engagement with collections. Of note is also that the guidelines do not consider specific qualifications in museum education and interpretation necessary.

 

And here lies the imbalance. The emphasis is still placed squarely on collections. It is from collections that everything else flows. ‘The public’ are framed as consumers of collections, in ways that are determined by those in control of said collections. Collections are where the power lies. It is the roles concerned with collections that make the decisions. Working with and for the public is considered most strongly in terms of increasing the museum’s profile: an ultimately inward-looking, self-serving objective.

 

The museum that emerges from these guidelines is therefore a museum that still defines itself and its collections without recourse to people. Its primary purpose is not to be an institution for the public, but one concerned with its collections.

 

In many, if not most cases, this is indeed the reality on the ground. Visitor focus, participation, democratization: these are all too often lip service, and not at all reflected in museum roles and resources. When pressed, museum managers will consequently argue freely that they consider these activities to ‘detract’ from the core of museum practice.

 

I will not go into the argument why museums can no longer be defined by collections and collections research only; I’ve done so in numerous posts on this blog. My point today is that unless and until the roles and their responsibilities, and thus the power relations within museums change, the current situation will remain the same. Museums will remain a closed shop. The knowledge and expertise of heritage communities will remain marginalized in museum practice. Museums will fail to speak to the majority of their surrounding community. They will become less and less relevant. They will not fulfil their responsibility as public institutions, particularly where they are publicly funded.

 

I hope the next iteration of the guidelines start with roles that focus on communities and visitors, stipulating specific academic and practical qualifications for such work, and paying staff accordingly.

 

Since my return to Germany, I have been on many guided tours that have truly made me want to weep with frustration. I’ve had guides who held lengthy monologues; guides who asked not a single question to get to know their audience; guides who talked about things that were nowhere in sight.

 

I could continue this list of examples that fly in the face of every professional principle of interpretation. Those familiar with Germany’s museum sector will not be surprised. interpretation as an academic discipline and professional practice is mostly unknown. Museumspädagogik, as the German discipline that comes closest (but which is not Interpretation), is still dismissed as secondary by many museum directors and curators. As the Bundesverband Museumspädagogik e.V., the federal association for Museumspädagogik, notes, there are only limited opportunities to study Museumspädagogik at an academic level. In fact, it lists only one academic course taught in Germany, Austria and (the German-speaking part of) Switzerland. In general, those practicing Museumspädagogik are subject specialists such as (art) historians, with no or only limited knowledge of Museumspädagogik acquired through short courses.

 

The outcome for visitors is as predictable as it is regrettable – not that the impact of these visitor programmes is regularly evaluated, if at all [1]. Again, this shows just how little value is often attached to them. It may be an indication, however, that participation levels at German museums (excluding tourist destinations) are shockingly low. So perhaps it might be a good idea to start offering guided tours that follow some basic do’s and don’ts.

 

Here’s my list:

 

Consider your role

I advocate for tour guides to think of themselves as hosts and facilitators. How would you behave if you had invited strangers over to your house? What would you do to ensure they have a great time with whatever it is you’ve planned for their stay with you? Take that as your guidance for being a tour guide. It should at the very least prevent you from being a bore who only talks about themselves, their knowledge and their interests.

 

Give a duration…

There are a myriad of reasons why visitors may need to know how long a guided tour takes: They may have plans later on and require the information for their decision making. Some in their group may not wish to join the tour and instead meet up again later. I could go on. The point is that to withhold this information is inconsiderate. It is power play and poor hosting. It also puts up totally avoidable barriers.

 

…and stick to it (1)!

When you do tell visitors how long a tour will be (and remember that often, like I do, they ask!), then do stick to the time. Otherwise, visitors are forced to make the decision to either stay and jeopardize their other plans, or to feel rude and leave while the tour is still going on. It creates an uncomfortable situation which begins as soon as visitors realize that the original end time nears, but the tour is nowhere near conclusion. This is just the opposite of an environment that supports new experiences and learning. Which, one should imagine, are the whole point of a guided tour.

 

Be clear about your topic…

You need to let people know what your guided tour is about. I’m not talking about a theme here [2]. I mean the broad topic: is it the art works in an exhibition? The personal history of the artists? The curatorial decisions? Your topic is what lets people decide on whether or not to join your tour. Otherwise, you’re asking them to sign up for the unknown, which only the most die-hard will do (and thus you’ve put up another unnecessary barrier for everyone else). Or, which is just as undesirable, they’ll arrive with their own assumptions, which may have nothing to do with your intended topic.

 

…and stick to it (2)!

Once you’ve let people know your topic: Do.Not.Talk.About.Everything.Else.You.Know. It is false advertising. Think of it like a contract. People have given you their time because they’re expecting to get something specific in return. They’re not there to provide you with the (captive) audience to impress with your vast knowledge. Remember: you want to be a good host, not a bore (see above).

 

Get to the point

This is Communication 101 stuff, but it clearly needs stating again: if you know what you’re trying to say, then say it. Don’t meander. Don’t get side-tracked. Don’t get too fond of hearing your own voice. Here’s a clue: if you stay more than five to ten minutes in one spot, then you’re not getting to the point of what can and should be said at that spot. And if you’re not sure about what your point is, then take some time beforehand to gain clarity.

 

Focus on what is there

Talk about what people can see. Do not have them stand in front of something and then talk at length about something else. It frustrates people, and loses their interest. If there is a connection to what they can see, point it out to them.

 

And finally: Asking questions does not make a dialogue

Do not confuse asking questions such as, ‘What can you see in this painting?’ and ‘Do you know what this is?’ with facilitating a dialogue. These questions are more reminiscent of school teachers than tour guides. They are, in essence, about people’s knowledge relating to what you are showing them. A dialogue is something different. Of course you can and should ask questions of your audience to initiate a conversation. But these questions should be about them. Ask them why they’ve come. What are they interested in? Is there anything in their personal experience that resonates with what is on site? It’s also good practice to offer something of yourself as well: what is your background? What interests you? Let the ensuing conversation guide the tour: that is dialogical; that is participation.

 

 

Notes

[1] In Germany, visitor research, which includes evaluation of programmes, is still considered by many to be superfluous. And thus, many museum directors, who really should be interested in the outcomes of their programmes and thus the impact of their work, don’t actually know what they achieve, if anything at all. The German Museum Association has therefore launched a laudable effort to persuade more museums to engage in visitor research.

[2] see Ham, S. 1992. Environmental Interpretation. A Practical Guide for People with Big Ideas and Small Budgets. Golden: North American Press

 

A couple of weeks ago, DIE ZEIT published an article on democracy in art museums.

The article accepts that a museum is ‘a political space’ [1] and that there is validity in arguments calling for greater democracy and diversity therein [2]. However, the article asserts, these developments ‘almost inevitably endanger the freedom of art’ [3] since museums no longer ‘[defend] the freedom of art against all protests’ [4]. This defense, the article concludes, should be based on aesthetic value.

 

Much of what goes on in the article is illustrative of the wider museum-related discourse in Germany, so I feel like making a few observations.

 

  1. The language of war

I find it truly revealing that the language used is that of war. Democracy (and participation) in museums ‘endangers’ the ‘freedom’ of art, which museums must ‘defend’. In other words, this is a scenario of museums vs. the rest of the world; museums ‘defending’ a higher good. It is this kind of attitude that shores up resistance to democratisation processes within museums.

 

  1. Aesthetics as Power

The article places aesthetic values above ethical values such as, for example, animal rights (see below). Ethics, of course, is something that concerns all of us in our daily lives. It is the basis of human societies through laws and religion, it deals with how we want to be treated and how we treat others. In one way or another, we each of us have knowledge, or at least an informed opinion about ethical values which we can voice and argue. Aesthetic value, however, is something quite different. An evaluation of aesthetic value requires knowledge of art history and artistic techniques in order to be more than a simple, and thus easily dismissed statement of personal taste. By placing aesthetic over ethical value we are therefore back to an authorizing, that is, power-giving discourse that asserts that only experts (i.e. museums) can understand and thus determine the value of art. The public’s values, which in this case are ethical values, are being dismissed as less important.

 

  1. Museums in a bubble

To assert that ethical value matters nothing in the evaluation of art and that, in essence, only the expert’s (i.e. the museum’s) aesthetic evaluation should count, is to say that both art and the museums that show it are entirely separate from society and context (see point 1 above). Accordingly, the values, even the laws of society are not to be brought into the bubble. This is why the article can decry the ‘ready’ removal by the Guggenheim Museum in New York of ‘Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other’ by Penk Yu and Sun Yuan after 830.000 people petitioned for it because, alas, animal rights matter nothing when it comes to art. Art and museums are thus a law upon themselves, a separate universe: one which must be defended.

 

  1. Expert cowardice

Ludicrous as I personally find the dismissal of ethical values when it comes to art, I actually have no objection to museums ‘defending’ art on aesthetic grounds. What I do find objectionable, however, is that most museums aren’t actually ‘defending’ their opinions at all – they are simply not putting them up for debate. They use their control of the museum space to present only their own view. So while many, like this article’s author, bemoan the supposedly negative impacts of democracy on museums, in reality most museums are still not engaging in true democracy at all.

 

  1. Political correctness

In my experience of museum discourse in Germany, there are many who, like this article, will readily grant that there must be more participation in museums, more diversity, more inclusion – you name it. I pose that this is said not out of conviction, but out of  political correctness. For when it comes to let action follow words, which can only mean to allow greater debate within museums, to share power, and to make visible other views, these same people argue that for reasons of expertise, science and knowledge more participation/diversity/inclusion isn’t possible. The spectre of lessened quality and false information is raised to scare everyone back into accepting what is really little more but those in power doing everything they can to hold on to it.

 

 

 

Notes

[1] ‘ein politischer Ort’, my translation.

[2] ‘[Museums] have understood that [official art history]…has mostly been told from a Eurocentric, white, male perspective’ (‘Sie [Museen] haben begriffen, dass die klassische Fortschrittsgeschichte der Kunst, die in der Avantgarde ihren Höhepunkt fand, viele bline Flecken aufweist, weil sie meist aus einer eurozentrischen, mnnlichen, weißen Perspektive erzählt wurde.’) My translation.

[3] ‘Allerdings gerät damit die Freiheit der Kunst…fast unweigerlich in Gefahr.’ My translation.

[4] ‘Sie [Museen] hätten die Freiheit der Kunst gegen alle Proteste verteidigt.’ My translation.

Our Shared Heritage?

I have recently read ‘[Eure] Heimat ist [unser] Albtraum’, a book on the concept of Heimat, or heritage [1] with essays by writers with ‘a migrant background’, as the classification in German has it. It raises many points that we in the heritage and culture sectors must engage with even more than we have done to date, and there are no easy answers. [2]

 

The book’s challenge begins with the title: ‘[Your] heritage is [our] nightmare’, with the words ‘your’ and ‘our’ embossed without colour so that they can only be read at a closer look. The title thus emphasizes both a sense of separatedness and of a threat. That treat emanates from the concept of Heimat, which is contested in Germany, but which in large parts of society enjoys a revival as the feeling of belonging to a place or group [3].

 

The issue, as several essays in the book make clear, is how Heimat is defined and who has access to it. More specifically, it is about who does the defining and the granting of access. The writers argue that it is the dominant (non-migrant) group. It is they who establish a norm and classify people accordingly into those who belong to this Heimat,  and those who do not.

 

Several authors argue that speaking the language fluently, upholding the values of the German constitution, and even holding a German passport does not ensure that people are considered as belonging to the German norm. The examples they cite are numerous: from being constantly asked ‘Where are you from?’ to having their loyalty to the German state questioned [4]. One writer, Mithu Sanyal, also notes that the history of the new Germans [5] is not represented: they are not part of the German Erinnerungskultur, or memory culture, she argues, and thus of those who are remembered and those who do the remembering.

 

Max Czollek adds to this an excellent analysis of the discursive system of representation through which the German norm is established. He argues that it stems from Germany’s desire for normalcy after the Holocaust. In the ensuing narrative, Germany is no longer racist, because it cannot be: to acknowledge racism would end that normalcy the country craves, a normalcy it is too emotionally invested in to give up. Thus is born the Integrationsparadigma, or integration paradigm, he writes, with an all-encompassing expectation for those outside the dominant group to ‘integrate’.

 

Czollek in particular offers a suggestion on how we might move forward. For one, he suggests a focus on Gegenwartsbewältigung, or Coming to Terms with the Present, as opposed to Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or coming to terms with the past. The latter is at the root of the current narrative of German normalcy, he argues, as a focus on the successful (yet equally past) efforts of the country to take responsibility for the Holocaust. Gegenwartsbewältigung, he suggests, would make the country tackle current issues of racism so that the events of the (German) past are not repeated. Furthermore, he suggest ‘an acknowledgement of radical diversity’, which moves beyond classifications and instead acknowledges that contemporary Germany is already “all of the above”. The norm, therefore, is radical diversity.

 

The points raised in this book are a challenge to heritage and wider cultural practice. The easiest part, one might imagine, is to include ‘migrant’ narratives in the stories we tell, and that’s something that we’ve discussed in the sector for years. And yet here we are, with people still telling us that their stories are missing.

 

The book’s essays engage forcefully with the systems of representation that are at work, and I believe it is those very systems that prevent us from radically changing our practice. In Germany, for example, we may indeed, as Mithu Sanyal implies, require a shift in our memory culture. However, as Max Czollek has pointed out, for non-migrant Germans this represents a deeply engrained narrative which to challenge is difficult [6]. And yet, if we are serious about true inclusion and equality, we must do more to understand the underlying dynamic and move beyond it.

 

Both Czollek’s concepts of Gegenwartsbewältigung and radical diversity seem an excellent start, but they require of us a focus away from the past and into the present, away from repeating existing narratives to negotiating new and shared narratives instead. On the surface, that sounds simple. Digging deeper, the waters immediately become murky. In practice, I think we need to start by creating spaces where the representations applied to people are made visible and an open and respectful discussion about those representations can take place.

 

 

Notes

[1] ‘Heimat’ is sometimes translated as ‘home’, but the English word ‘home’ does not by far come close to the multifaceted and highly charged (as well as contested) meaning of the German word ‘Heimat’. ‘Heritage’, in its encompassing senses of origin, inheritance, and belonging to a group or country seems much more appropriate. This also becomes evident in the translation of the book title, which is likely to engender a similar response in English readers when using ‘heritage’ to translate ‘Heimat’, whereas ‘home’ makes the meaning of the title just a little odd but not a real, emotionally charged challenge.

 

[2] The book is written in a German context, and some of it is quite specific to that context. Nevertheless I feel there are points that are relevant beyond Germany’s borders, especially regards the processes of othering and exclusion, and the creation of a strong and shared heritage and culture.

 

[3] The foreword more specifically relates the sense of threat to the Ministerium des Innern, für Bau und Heimat, or Ministry of the Interior, for Construction and Heritage, which – as ‘Heimatministerium’ – was established in 2018. Of course it didn’t help that the minister in charge immediately proceeded to question whether Islam was part of that German Heimat.

 

[4] As happened with footballer Mesut Özil who, despite being born in Germany, was given a prize for integration and then had his loyalty to the German state questioned because he posed with the Turkish president Erdoğan (the point being also that another footballer, Lothar Matthäus, met Russian president Putin yet his loyalty was not questioned at all – presumably because he is part of the dominant group).

 

[5] This seems a term often used by those ‘with a migrant background’. It seems to offer a real sense of inclusion. And if we must still have a distinction between German people, I’d rather it be ‘old’ and ‘new’. Point is, we’re all Germans.

 

[6] Not just, I would argue, because ‘we’ – and I suppose I must include myself in the non-migrant, dominant group – require validation that we have overcome our country’s horrific actions of the past and have atoned for them. It is also difficult because the discursive boundary to right-wing rejections of the need for remembering, and taking responsibility for the Holocaust seems like such a thin line. (And no, while I am supportive of a widening of our current memory culture I am in no way suggesting that we should forget our responsibility for the Holocaust. See the definition of Gegenwartsbewältigung. And to non-German readers: me feeling the need to add that illustrates the difficulty.)

Next week, I will take up a new post and in doing so, I will formally be leaving the heritage and museum sectors that I have worked in over the past years. From now on, I will be working in the further education and socio-cultural sector.

 

I will admit that when I first read the job advert for my new role, I paused to do some soul-searching. What would I be leaving behind? Would this include the very thing that I am passionate about – (cultural) heritage and its interpretation? Would I lose my own professional identity?

 

Somewhat to my surprise, the research into the sector and the institution that I would be joining brought me renewed clarity concerning my values in heritage and interpretation. It also gave me an immense sense of excitement. It started with the organising premise and raison d’être – enshrined in law, no less – of the German Volkshochschulen: to provide access to education for all. Breaking down barriers to access, inclusion, diversity: these are all principles that underpin the work of the sector. And not just on paper either. There are annual statistics, baselines and monitoring on the basis of which the claims are checked and the work is further developed. For example, I was thrilled to see courses offered in Turkish, and the number of collaborations that the Volkshochschule I will join is already doing – and has been doing for quite some time. Even ‘education’, which is a term I am not particularly fond of [1], is explicitly understood and described as the ability to acquire knowledge, to make an informed judgment about information provided, and to participate in and contribute to society. In fact, the overriding aim of the sector, and Volkshochschulen in particular, is to enable everyone’s participation in our democracy, not just understood politically, but culturally and socially as well.

 

All of that is what has been motivating me in my work at cultural heritage sites and in museums. I have never been focused on a site’s material or evidential values, and this goes for museum collections as well. On the contrary, I have spent the better part of my professional career arguing that sites and museums must be more than places for the presentation of expert knowledge, in the sense that it continues to be overwhelmingly defined, which is material or historical knowledge. I have supported the view that such expert knowledge too often not only exerts an undemocratic hegemony over heritage, but also misses the very values that turn something into heritage in the first place. My own focus has consequently always been on supporting (and understanding) people’s heritage work on the basis of my own and other’s research, particularly, but not exclusively from within critical heritage studies.

 

Engaging with the legal framework, strategies and practices for the further education and sociocultural sector in Germany has made me realise – somewhat ironically, considering my long-held stance – that I do not need to be working at a cultural heritage site or in a museum in order to maintain my focus on facilitating and understanding heritage work. Power over the management of the materiality on site is all that I will be losing in changing sectors. I believe I can live with that loss.

 

In fact, after the last three years, I feel a distinct sense of liberation. Particularly in Germany, there is still a long way to go before these values of participation, democratization and inclusion will be widely shared in the museum and heritage sectors. There are initiatives aplenty, but merely looking for example at the heated discussions at conferences about using simpler language in interpretive texts, or the need for the federal association to persuade museums to undertake visitor studies (!!) reveals that the institutional impact of these initiatives often remains rather limited.

 

Like I said, my focus is, always has been and always will be on people. I have never been in this to garner prestige for myself. The fact that some people are now telling me that in leaving a museum post I am losing status and ‘taking a step downwards’ just reassures me: I have made the right decision. Now I can focus on the work that I consider important and right, without having to endlessly defend it.

 

 

[1] The reason is that while even in formal pedagogy, the concept has evolved, in practice I find that there is still a hint of a one-way-street of (expert) instruction in quantifiable knowledge.