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Research Focus

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The CHESS program will train students to engage with three sets of overarching concerns for cultural heritage in Europe: the relationship between "public" and "private"  heritage; the role of state, civil society, market, and small-scale community institutions in heritage debates across cultural and political settings; and power asymmetries and forms of exclusion that may shape debates and policies around heritage.  Each year, students will engage these themes by developing research projects that fit within a specific “research stream.”
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                                                Future Research Streams
 
2014-2015: Sustainable Heritage, Communities, and Economies
 
Please visit the Apply page for more information about applying to participate in this research stream.  
 
Sustainability has become a policy keyword in Europe and around the world. Groups across the political spectrum use concepts of nature, culture, and heritage strategically in a moment characterized by ecological crisis and unstable labor markets. We seek to critically unpack the concept of “sustainability,” approaching it from three different angles: 1) as a concept that often holds contradictory or ambivalent meanings for different stakeholders, social groups and institutions, 2) as a practice that implements policies defined by their ‘sustainable’ aim in widely different and local contexts, and 3) as a framing argument that engages civil society actors in various ways in response to ongoing political economic transformations. In this research stream, student projects will contribute to the body of research on the varied ways that "sustainability" is deployed in contemporary European settings (Heatherington 2008, Heller 2006, Vaccaro and Beltran 2010), analyzing the discourse and practices of ecological, economic, and cultural sustainability that different social agents have developed in the last decade. We will study how actors' traditional economic practices produce distinctive landscapes and "moral economies" of locality (Caldwell 2006, Counihan 2004, Edelman 2005, Griffith 2009, Herzfeld 2009, Hodges 2010, Leitch 2000). CHESS faculty will challenge students to develop projects investigating power relationships of scale/region, class, gender, and race that are involved in the preservation, commodification, and consumption of nature, heritage landscapes, and place-based products and experiences. 
 
The field supervisor for this cohort will be PI Krista Harper, a cultural anthropologist who studies civic mobilizations for environmental protection, urban sustainability and food justice in postsocialist eastern Europe, the United States, and Portugal (Harper 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009). This research stream synergizes with our Spanish partner Susana Narotzky's project, "Addressing Multiple Aspects of Sustainability," a multinational research grant sponsored by the Spanish government and the European Science Foundation.
 
2015-2016: Social Justice and Changing Forms of Value
 
Research projects in this stream explore the intersection of values and social justice. Within Europe, in 2011, Spain became a prime example of public debate on values and social justice with the movement of “indignados” [outraged] that took over Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and many cities' central squares. Students will investigate which values in particular are emerging or contested in the contemporary European crisis. Current experiences and systems of value must be contextually and historically positioned. How are “traditional” values of responsibility, reciprocity, or hospitality, for example, co-opted or used to challenge logics of late capitalism? Conversely, how are the values of the marketplace – innovation, profitability, flexibility -- being appropriated into the discourse and practices of struggles for social justice and cultural recognition (Urla 2012; Strathern 2000)? Research will explore the extent to which the collective memory of past struggles is being mobilized in the current debates over forms of value and social justice. How is cultural heritage mined, reinterpreted, or recovered as a reservoir of values, moral grounding, and traditions for addressing the ongoing crisis, defining social responsibility, and legitimating demands for social justice (Francioni 2004; Silverman and Ruggles 2007)?
 
Jacqueline Urla will be the field supervisor for this research stream. This research stream synergizes with our Spanish partner Susana Narotzky's multinational research project, "Moral Economies and Social Innovation in Times of Crisis," sponsored by Spain's government and European Science Foundation.
                                                       
                                                Current Research Stream
 
2013-2014: Crisis, Culture, and Heritage
 
Students participating in this research stream will explore the dynamics between crisis, culture, and heritage. With the European economic crisis significantly impacting social, economic, political and cultural cohesion and stability, this research project encourages students to think critically about the dual role of heritage in offering possibilities for imagining different futures, as well as how it can be deployed to reinforce older antagonisms and resentments, including the return of hyper-nationalism and nostalgia (Boym 2011). The increasing construction of cultural ‘others’ further destabilizes the imaginary of a unified Europe, as the politics of difference and sameness encounter each other under new social and economic circumstances (Fabian 1983, Taussig 1993). 
 
Crises like the one currently unfolding in Europe put pressure on the possibilities for accommodating social and cultural differences and understanding that Europe is not made up of homogeneous, territorially discrete populations, but a dynamically evolving mosaic of immigrant communities, ethnic groups, and new nations living together in a globalized world. In such circumstances heritage itself can be mobilized for multiple purposes – sometimes to shore up older exclusions, or as a vehicle for understanding shared histories (Smith 2006, Lowenthal 1985, Kohl 1998). Historic districts, archaeological sites, religious monuments, ethnic traditions, and traditional customs—once cherished as symbols of collective identity and continuity—have increasingly become targets of violence and a source of discord. Students will investigate competing ways social actors mobilize heritage and culture in contexts of crises. 
 
The Field Supervisor for 2013-2014 will be Prof. Jacqueline Urla, an expert in Basque language revitalization in the broader political context of Spain and the European Union whose latest work directly engages with applied heritage anthropology.
 
                                              Past Research Streams

2012-2013: Space, Place-making and the Politics of the Local
 
In its third year, the project will explore themes related to place-making, broadly and anthropologically defined. Student projects will focus on the varied ways that space, place, and locality are produced and consumed in European settings. European landscapes have been shaped over time by ecological, social, and economic practices. Today, a range of groups across the political spectrum are using concepts of heritage and local tradition strategically to link production firmly to specific places, at a moment characterized by outsourcing and unstable labor markets. Throughout contemporary Europe, civic mobilizations and policies focus on artisanal industries as a form of “place-making”.  At the same time, working-class urbanites' “place-keeping” is threatened by neighborhood gentrification and reshaped in relation to city planning and sustainability policies.  Traditional economic practices produce distinctive landscapes and “moral economies” of place with their own claims to legitimacy.  Transformations in daily life reflect changing family structures, household practices, and local economies, and new policies promoting and protecting local and regional food and products have taken on a new political significance.

Students from the four anthropological subfields as well as other social sciences are encouraged to apply. Participants in this research stream will develop projects related to how people in Europe have used and understood place and space across time and cultural settings. In class readings, students will analyze current research on cultural landscapes, industrial ruins and nostalgia, regional terroir products, spatial and environmental justice in immigrant neighborhoods and ethnic minority communities, and other instances of place-making.

The field supervisor for the 2012-2013 cohort will be Prof. Krista Harper, a cultural anthropologist who studies civic mobilizations for environmental protection and urban sustainability in postsocialist eastern Europe and contemporary Portugal.

2011-2012: Multiculturalism, Migration, and Heritage in Europe

In the past two decades, public officials across Europe have made tremendous investments in scientific and cultural policy at the local, regional, national, and international levels. These initiatives promote different visions of “traditional” culture, “modern” nationalism, and “globalist” multicultural integration, and all represent different interpretations of and responses to Europeanization. “Culture” has become a politically charged keyword in these debates, and concomitantly, “heritage” has become a contested object requiring management. Some scholars argue that the Europeanization process has strengthened the position of traditional minority languages and political movements in contemporary Catalan, Basque, and Gaelic communities.  Concurrently, post-colonial immigration following World War II has had far-reaching cultural effects and stimulated discussion of how to build more inclusive, pluralistic societies as well as nativist backlash.  Members of immigrant groups are now consumers and critical interlocutors of museums holding artifacts from Africa and Latin America.

Students' projects will examine how different policies, sites, and interpretive programs represent (or conceal) the cultural presence of diverse populations in Europe.  Graduate student projects will draw out comparative distinctions in how social exclusion, contestation, and diversity feature in heritage debates. 

The Field Supervisor for 2011-2012 will be Prof. Jacqueline Urla, an expert in Basque language revitalization in the broader political context of Spain and the European Union whose latest work directly engages with applied heritage anthropology.
Click here to view the program for the workshop Uncertainties in the Crisis of Multiculturalism, organized as part of this CHESS research stream at the 2012 meeting of the European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) in Paris. 
Click here to read the press release about the EASA workshop and Prof. Urla's plenary presentation.  
 

2010-2011: Memory, Monuments, and Commemoration

Students participating in this research stream will develop projects investigating contentious politics in heritage narratives and practices related to remembering and marking the past.  Projects may focus on the role of civic organizations, institutions and other actors in setting heritage policy agendas.

Students in this cohort could investigate commemoration and memorialization practices at various sites of “difficult” heritage or “Sites of Conscience.”  Others might study social memory and competing heritage narratives by focusing on a specific community or neighborhood.  These varied contexts reflect negotiations between international, national, and local actors and exemplify how each of anthropology’s four fields can contribute to the development of heritage theory and research.

The field supervisor for 2010-2011 will be Prof. Elizabeth Krause, a cultural anthropologist specializing in memory, life history, and historical anthropology whose latest book analyzes Tuscan women workers' reflections on changing family and work structures.
 
 
Click here for project descriptions from students who conducted research as part of the 2010-2011 research stream Memory, Monuments, and Commemoration.
 
Click here to read an article appearing in the UMass GSS Voice about the experience of the 2010-2011 cohort (written by participant Grace Cleary).
 
Click here for abstracts of student papers presented at the 2011 American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting.