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“Heritage as Placemaking” awarded a € 1.5 million grant



27 August 2021

The trans-regional project “Heritage as Placemaking: The Politics of Solidarity and Erasure in South Asia” is a partnership between four international research institutions: the
University of Heidelberg, the
School of Oriental and African Studies in London (UK), the
South Asian University in New Delhi (India) and the
Social Science Baha in Kathmandu (Nepal). It is one of eight collaborative research projects being funded in the context of the joint call “
Global Issues – Integrating Different Perspectives on Heritage and Change” a fund created by Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo (Italy), the Volkswagen Foundation (Germany), and the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond (Sweden) to promote the contextual study of heritage resources. The grant, totalling approx. EUR 1.5 millions, is provided by the
Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and will fund a large-scale study covering sub-projects in eight culturally and historically linked cities in the border area between India and Nepal, over the period of four years.

Operating through themed research groups, the project aims to promote diversity and inclusiveness by fostering a better understanding of the dynamics underlying the forming and disintegrating of solidarities amongst communities invested in the making, the upkeep, and the erasure of living and lived heritage. The Heidelberg research group is composed by
Prof. Christiane Brosius, professor of
Visual and Media Anthropology at the HCTS and spokesperson of the
Flagship Initiative “Transforming Cultural Heritage” at Heidelberg University, and Dr. Monica Mottin. Their study will concentrate on the importance of commoning – that is, solidaric practices of collaboration and sharing – in vernacular and performative heritage.

At the South Asian University in New Delhi, the group composed of Prof. Sasanka Perera, Dr. Darshana Ashok Kumar, and Tirangie Jayatilake will focus on documenting changes and transformations within transnational pilgrimage networks. Dr. Sabin Ninglekhu, Dr. Monalisa Maharjan, and Binita Magaiya, all from the Social Science Baha in Kathmandu, will investigate heritage activism, the bureaucracy of heritage making, its lived gendered experience, and issues of selective historicity. Finally, the SOAS University unit, with Dr. Stefanie Lotter and Dr. Emiline Smith, will engage with discourses of development and object repatriation that strongly reposition heritage in the 21st century.

The project’s ambitious plan is to develop criteria to predict decision-making over heritage at times of global crises, ethnic tension, and nationalist chauvinism. “This is why we seek to understand the conditions for placemaking, the transient solidarities amongst people that enable the making, upholding, or even the destruction of heritage,” explains Dr. Stefanie Lotter. To this scope, the pool of ten researchers involved in the partnership will focus on analyzing power dynamics amongst diverse stakeholders, including government agencies, community groups and NGOs. As Dr. Sabin Ninglekhu comments: “Through a critical and engaged analysis of power dynamics that underlie relationships among heritage stakeholders, we aim to produce a framework for anticipating and dealing with natural and man-made crisis in heritagization.”

The methodological repertoire will include ethnography with qualitative interviews, oral histories, and participant observation, and will take up a relational and comparative approach. Outreach activities, including heritage walks, minecraft events, and even the creation of a graphic novel, will be undertaken to encourage the participation of local people, stakeholders, and academics. “By doing so – Prof. Sasanka Perera adds – we will push the academic boundaries in the understanding of solidarity and decolonization and bring our work to bear upon popular discourses as well.”

Find the press release of Heidelberg University (30 July 2021)

Photo 1: Procession of the Newars at Patan Darbar Square, September 2015. © Christiane Brosius, 2015.

Photo 2: Buddhist pilgrims following the Indian Buddhist heritage circuit. Vaishali, North India. © Sasanka Perera, 2018.