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ECPR Standing Group on the European Union 10th Biennial Conference LUISS, Rome

Active Citizens Participating in Constructing Cultural Heritage

European Union
Katja Mäkinen
University of Jyväskylä
Katja Mäkinen
University of Jyväskylä

Participation has become a catchword that cannot be avoided. New, less institutional forms of participation are increasingly popular and participatory practices and experiments are introduced at every level of administration. In this “participatory turn” (Saurugger 2010), participation is seen as a solution for any problem at any possible sphere of life. The ideal of active citizenship is clearly behind the potential attached to participation.

The Council conclusions on participatory governance of cultural heritage, adopted by the Council of the European Union in 2014 is a case in point among countless similar examples in various policy sectors, showing that participation is high on the agenda of the EU’s cultural heritage policy. According to it,”the adoption of a locally rooted and people-centred approach to cultural heritage [and] participatory approaches” (Council 2014, 1) are central in several EU programmes, including the European Heritage Label (EHL), a recent flagship initiative in the EU’s cultural heritage policy. Interestingly enough, these questions are hardly visible in the EHL documents themselves.

This paper therefore examines participation in the EHL framework, focusing particularly on the heritage sites that have received the European Heritage Label. The material has been collected through ethnographic fieldwork at the selected EHL sites in 2017-2018 and includes interviews with EHL actors at different levels of administration, the visitors and the locals as well as observations of guided tours and other activities at the sites. The material also includes policy documents and textual and visual material of the sites.

The aim is to explore how the participatory approach is present at the EHL sites and in the discourses of different level EHL actors, the visitors and the locals and how do the conceptions of participation in the ethnographic material differ from those formulated in the policy documents. Are the benefits of participatory governance of cultural heritage – such as “opportunities to foster democratic participation, sustainability and social cohesion and to face the social, political and demographic challenges of today“ listed in the Council conclusions on participatory governance on cultural heritage (ibid. 2) – recognized in them? Who are the participants, e.g. do they include “public authorities and bodies, private actors, civil society organisations, NGOs, the volunteering sector and interested people”? Do they participate “at all stages of the decision-making process”? Are local people actively involved? (ibid.) Is there space for the participants to define, construct and give meanings for cultural heritage? Which interpretations are dominant and which are marginal? In other words, do the conceptualisations of participation related to the EHL indicate active citizenship capable of tackling current challenges and changing something or rather “active citizenship” as a help for the administration?

Cultural heritage is socially constructed in practices and linguistic acts and always open to change and struggle. Due to this intrinsically political character of cultural heritage, it is here approached from a conceptual perspective (Wiesner et al 2018), through a textual analysis focusing on the concepts such as cultural heritage and participation. The multidisciplinary theoretical background draws from political science and critical heritage studies.

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