At the EAA session “Populism, identity politics and the archaeology of Europe“, Elisabeth Niklasson and I will present a paper entitled “Conditions of influence: What enables the Scandinavian populist right to impact heritage governance?”.

The paper draws on our on-going research on heritage and the far-right which started out as an EAA session two years ago and initial results were published in the Journal of Social Archaeology last year. Since then we have developed it further at the AAA session “Cultural Heritage, Rights, and Democratic Practice” and through the conference Polarized Pasts – organized by Elisabeth earlier this year.

The session is organized by Catherine Frieman (Australian National University) and Daniela Hofmann (University of Bergen) and will include several topical papers (check out session 69 in the abstract book!) – that, with time, is set to be published in the European Journal of Archaeology.

Paper abstract – “Conditions of influence: What enables the Scandinavian populist right to impact heritage governance?“: Since the early 2000s a nationalist wind has swept over Scandinavia, enabling its three major right-wing populist parties – the Danish Peoples Party, the Progress Party (Norway) and the Sweden Democrats – to gain influence in state matters. This ought to concern archaeologists and heritage scholars for several reasons. The most obvious is their apparent enthusiasm for heritage, and the privileged position heritage holds in many of their narrowly conceptualized cultural policies. In this paper we seek to move beyond the obvious, however, and address a more fundamental question: What political, bureaucratic and societal conditions need to exist for far-right parties to influence the way heritage is done in liberal democracies?

Using Scandinavia as our case area, we propose three such conditions: 1) A repositioning of the ‘Overton window’, i.e. the window that encompasses the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse at a given time. As the window of normality is extended, heritage can be activated in the service of exclusionary ideas such as Scandinavian welfare chauvinism. 2) Gaps left by changes in governance –following New Public Management, mainstreaming of neo-liberal economic policies and measures to reduce bureaucracies – have enabled a marriage between the rhetoric of democratization and structural decentralization, creating an opening for populist right influence. 3) The destabilization of the traditional block-politics in the multiparty systemsof Scandinavia, and the prevalence of weaker minority governments, have been crucial for creating spaces wherein heritage policies and budget initiatives can be negotiated. Although some of these conditions are specific to Scandinavia, most can be applied broadly, making them interesting starting points for comparison and debate.

Session abstract – “Populism, Identity Politics and the Archaeology of Europe“: Recent election results, debates and demonstrations leave no doubt: populism is back. History and archaeology are increasingly used to bolster such feelings of resentment of the present by apparently providing a vision of a more flattering past. This is the case e.g. for archaeogenetic narratives which can be spun to support claims of indigeneity and racial purity, heritage presentations which stress the most glorious periods of a nation (as defined by a subset of the population) or romantic notions of a lost folk culture and unity in an as yet unthreatened Fortress Europe.

Archaeology has always been political and archaeologists are very well aware of these appropriations of their work. Yet, we have been largely reactive rather than proactive. A minority of archaeologists have begun to be more directly involved in documenting the crisis as it unfolds, joining activist groups and organisations, and writing archaeological narratives that provoke rather than pander. Yet, as a field, there is a widespread feeling that we can do more.

In this session, we seek contributions which grapple with the interpenetration of populism and European archaeology—in the field, in the classroom, in the museum, on social media or in the legislature. We see this session as an opportunity to develop a proactive stance: How can we avoid the appropriation of our research and react when this happens? How do we choose what to display? Can we use our research to advise policy makers? How can we turn the impact of the media to our advantage? And how do we deal with sites that have a history of misuse or with periods and themes that lend themselves to it? What are the ethics of doing archaeology in an environment of increasingly virulent populist politics?

Photo: Løvebakken. Wikipedia.

One thought on “Conditions of influence

Comments are closed.