Across the world, and also in the Netherlands, cultural heritage is in high demand as a resource for socio-cultural identities. The study of heritage formations leads right into the heart of competing and contested politics and aesthetics of world-making in pluralistic societies.
Cultural heritage is the outcome of a particular, authorized way of mobilizing the past. It is not given, but constantly in the making: a construction subject to dynamic processes of (re)inventing culture within particular social formations and bound to particular forms of mediation. And yet, the appeal of cultural heritage rests on its denial of being a mere fabrication. To be persuasive, heritage formations need an aura of authenticity. Thriving on the promise to provide an essential ground to social-cultural identities, they need to be perceived as real. How to grasp the politics and aesthetics of heritage formations in pluralistic societies? How to assess the fundamental paradox that heritage by definition claims to transport essences from the past to the present, and yet is necessarily constructed? These and other questions are central in the volume Sense and Essence. Heritage and the Cultural Construction of the Real (ed. B. Meyer and M. van der Port, Berghahn 2018).
The aim of this program is to present the key ideas of the book with some of its authors, focusing on case studies in Ghana and the Netherlands. There will be short presentations by some of the contributors, and a discussion of the book’s main themes by Wayne Modest.
As an introduction, some parts of the book are available here.
About the speakers
Markus Balkenhol is a social anthropologist working on issues of colonialism, race, citizenship, cultural heritage, and religion. His PhD thesis “Tracing Slavery. An Ethnography of Diaspora, Affect, and Cultural Heritage in Amsterdam” (2014) deals with different forms of cultural memory of slavery in Amsterdam Zuidoost. He is a researcher at the Meertens Institute.
Marleen de Witte (PhD cultural anthropology, 2008) has published widely on African Pentecostalism, African Traditional Religion, religion and media, globalization, the senses and the body, cultural heritage, popular culture, funerals, urban Africa (in particular Ghana) and Afro-Europe (in particular the Netherlands). Currently she is a fellow at the NIAS.