Conference, RCMC Leiden

Museums, Citizenship and Belonging in a Changing Europe

SWICH Mid-term Conference, November 23-25, 2016
Research Center for Material Culture, Leiden (Museum Volkenkunde)

Videos of all lectures online:

Download full programme of the conference HERE

Download abstracts & biographies HERE


Over the last few decades, museums, including ethnographic and world cultures museums, have been conscripted into national and transnational debates around questions of citizenship and belonging. Influenced by, among other factors, political, popular and academic debates about who belongs to the nation, what constitutes national culture/heritage and how this heritage has been (mis)represented, museums have responded in diverse ways, mobilising their collections to connect with differently identified publics within society.
In this two-day conference we want to look critically at some of these different responses by museums to the debate on citizenship and belonging. Focussed on ethnographic or world-cultural museums within diverse (so-called) multicultural polities, we are interested to think critically about how we might reposition these museums in the postcolonial moment when citizenship and belonging are in question.

Questions surrounding the museum’s role in practices of citizenship, or in fostering feelings of belonging, have been ongoing for at least the last two decades. These questions have been most rigorously debated within polities regarded as multicultural, where the backlash against what some have posited as a naïve multiculturalism of the 1990s, or against an (allegedly overly) liberal politics of inclusion, has led to heated contestation over who can claim national belonging, what constitutes a national culture, and which heritage is considered national. Within these debates, citizenship is not simply about the legal rights or responsibilities accrued through being a citizen, but is often framed as racialised or culturalised (and increasingly religious) belonging or non-belonging to the nation. On this account some “cultures” are regarded as belonging to the nation, or to Europe, and others not. These discussions have coincided with similarly important questions around the role of the colonial past in shaping contemporary politico-national configurations, and how this past has been included within or excluded from national histories.
While these debates have been ongoing amongst museums in general, with the UK, USA, and Canada leading these discussions, ethnographic museums (many now called world cultures museums) across Europe have, whether willingly or not, been deeply entangled in them. Sharing their genealogy with Europe’s expansionist and colonialist projects, and originally constructed as spaces for the display of cultures deemed 'other' to and outside of Europe, today these museums are asked to become spaces of recognition for migrant and post-migrant citizens, many of whom were formerly colonised peoples or their descendants now living in ‘super-diverse’ cities like London, Paris or Amsterdam.

Part of the response of ethnographic and world cultures museums has been to develop new modes of engagement with this diverse citizenry; oftentimes even where traditional national museums have failed. Additionally, they have been engaged with larger transnational stakeholders from originating nations or communities from where their collections come.
But how does the earlier history of ethnographic museums shape the possibilities, or signal points of caution, of becoming places of recognition for differently organised citizens? How should these museums address their colonial histories to better serve the (postcolonial) societies of which they are a part? Do these museums perpetuate forms of differentiated citizenship, as the ‘appropriate’ museum for the perpetual ‘migrant’, while other citizens are included in the national narrative (through national art or history museums, for example)?
What are the different theories of citizenship that can be useful to think about the role that ethnographic and world cultures museums can play, in the present and in the future?
How might we understand these museums’ role in fashioning feelings of belonging to the nation, and what role do heritage objects play in these feelings of belonging?

Does the ongoing focus on migration and migratory belonging in ethnographic museums (for example, the ongoing desire by some to create migration museums) impact negatively on the ability of post-migrant citizens to truly belong? Or, conversely, do such museums represent a valuable pathway to envisioning migration histories as intrinsic to contemporary national polities? Finally, given rising xenophobia and the move towards the political right, what role can ethnographic museums play in fashioning more convivial polities, and what dilemmas do they face if taking on such in mission in this political moment?
Bringing critical academic work on citizenship and (the politics of) belonging together with ethnographic museums theory and practice, this two-day conference will explore these questions. We hope to not just look at how museums have responded to the demand of thinking their role differently in relation to changing notions of who is a citizen, but also to think critically about other practices that can challenge the growing rigidity of how we think belonging in the present.
(Introduction by Wayne Modest)

Day 1: Wednesday, November 23

4 pm - 5:30 pm Book Launch: The Return of Curiosity: What Museums are Good for in the Twenty-First Century – by Nicholas Thomas
Excerpt: Over the last twenty years museums have proliferated, attracting new audiences and assuming new prominence in public life. The Return of Curiosity offers a fresh perspective on museums and what they may now be good for. Nicholas Thomas argues that what is special about museums are their collections, which are not just rich resources for reflection, but creative technologies that enable people to make new things in the present. Reflecting on art galleries, science and history institutions, and museums around the world, Thomas shows that in times marked by insecurity and increasing conflict, museums can help to sustain and enrich society. They stimulate a curiosity that is vital to understanding and negotiating the cosmopolitan but dangerous world we all now inhabit.
Welcome: Dr. Wayne Modest
The Return of the Curiosity Prof. Dr. Nicholas Thomas (University of Cambridge)
Response: Prof. Peter Pels (Leiden University)
Q & A

Day 2: Thursday, November 24

10:00 am Welcome: The National Museums of World Cultures, Stijn Schoonderwoerd
General Director
10:10 am Sharing a World of Inclusion, Creativity and Heritage, Steven Engelsman
10:15 am Setting the Stage: Museums and the Question of Citizenship and Belonging in Contemporary Europe, Wayne Modest

10:30 – 11:30 Session 1: Museums, Colonialism and its Afterlives
1. The Nation-State, Autochthony and the Struggle over Difference – Challenges for Ethnographic Musea, Prof. Peter Geschiere (University of Amsterdam)
2. Whiteness, alterity and the ethnographic museum, Dr. Rolando Vázquez (UCR/ University of Utrecht)
12:00 – 13:30 Session 2: Museums, Difference and the Politics of Emotions
3. What if I could take your place: Empathy, Emotions and Knowledge, Lina Issa (Independent Artist)
4. Blackness, Belonging and Religion. The Kabra Mask in the Netherlands, Dr. Markus Balkenhol (Meertens Institute)
Curatorial Conversation 1: Ethnographic Museums and the Colonial Past in the Present
Dr. Claudia Augustat (Weltmuseum Wien), Prof. Nicholas Thomas (University of Cambridge) & Bruno Verbergt (Royal Museum for Central Africa) + Q&A

14:30 – 15:30 Session 3: Things Matter: Objects and the Politics of Post-Colonial Citizenship
5. Materialising Postcolonial Polities: Encounters with Things in the Ethnographic Museum, Dr. Sandra H. Dudley (University of Leicester)
6. Artistic Presentation: 100 MIGRATORY, Monica L. Edmondson (independent artist)
Curatorial Conversation 2: “We need to do something with Turks, and Islam”: A reflection on Islamic visual culture, heritage and citizenship in the National Museum of World Cultures Dr. Pooyan Tamimi Arab (Utrecht University/National Museum of World Cultures, NL) & Mirjam Shatanawi (National Museum of World Cultures, NL);

16:00 – 18:00 6th Annual Gerbrands Lecture
Hearing Heat: An Anthropocene Acoustemology
Prof. Steven Feld, Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University

Day 3: Friday, November 25

10:30 – 12:30 Introduction – Day 3
7. Ethnographic Museums, Collaboration and Practices of Self- Representation, Dr. Barbara Plankensteiner (Yale University Art Gallery)
Session 4: Questioning Citizenship
8. Performative Citizenship: arts, politics, subjectivity: Prof. Engin Isin (The Open University, UK) 9. Europe the Game - thinking about representation, museums and Europeanness: Dr. Alana Jelinek (University of Cambridge)
Curatorial Conversation 3, Ethnographic and World Cultures Museum and the politics of Inclusion/Exclusion: Cécile Bründlmayer (Weltmuseum Wien/Haas:Consult) & Liza Swaving (National Museum of World Cultures, NL)

13:30 – 15:30 Session 5: Museums, Multiculture and the Politics of Belonging, 10. Swings and Roundabouts: Pluralism and the Politics of Change in Canada's National Museums: Prof. Ruth Phillips (Carleton University)
11. Is belonging still worth striving for? Museums in the political cultural landscape of Israel: Dr. Judy Jaffe-Schagen (University of Amsterdam), Q&A
Curatorial Conversation 4: Global and/or Local - Museums as Spaces of Belonging, Dr. Sandra Ferracuti (Linden-Museum Stuttgart), Nadja Haumberger (Weltmuseum Wien) & Dr. Bojana Rogelj Škafar (Slovenski Etnografski Muzej)

16:00 – 18:00 Film Screening: J.C.ABBEY, GHANA’S PUPPETEER (56 minutes; in English, Ga, Twi, Ewe, and Fante, with English subtitles), a film by Steven Feld

Organization of the conference: Wayne Modest, Liza Swaving and Ninja Rijnks-Kleikamp.