CfP—Conference on “Meaningful destruction, Contingent Preservation”

Place: Heidelberg University, Germany
Time: Friday, July 4th – Saturday, July 5th
Organisers: Prof. Dr. Diamantis Panagiotopoulos (Institute of Archaeology) Prof. Dr. Guido Sprenger (Institute of Anthropology)

CfP: Cultural heritage, in particular tangible heritage, is one of the most salient values in global cultural issues today. It is based on the notion of preservation, a notion also fundamental for
many humanities, including archaeology, history, art history and, to a degree, anthropology.
Destruction, in this value configuration, is considered primarily as the negative of preservation, a force of history or ignorance that needs to be opposed and stalled. The willful destruction of cultural artifacts is usually not considered as a culturally valued act itself or as an expression of values.
This conference seeks for new ways of looking at the dichotomy of preservation and destruction from the point of view of destruction as a value. Historically and ethnographically, there are
numerous examples in which destruction is considered legitimate, even necessary, to realize important cultural and social processes. The range of phenomena is large: The destruction of
symbols of (perceived) antagonists ranges from the morally acceptable like the toppling of statues of Saddam Hussein and the razing of the Bastille to the morally condemned like the burning of synagogues during the Third Reich and the shelling of the Buddha statues of Bamiyan by the Taliban. In other cases, destruction establishes proper relations with the cosmos: Objects placed in graves or otherwise used during funerals are willfully broken or burned in order to fulfill their destination, other ritual items are supposed to deteriorate and wither away in order to be effective.
In all these cases, destruction is a locally valorized act, and preservation becomes less self-explanatory when viewed from the angle of meaningful destruction. In specific cases, destruction might be even seen as a condition for preservation, when objects that need to be destroyed are complemented in value by objects that need to be preserved. In other cases, like academic enquiry, destruction is a necessity for analysis and research – when, for example, more recent layers of an archaeological site need to be removed in order to get to the earlier layers. We want to pursue the question: How do such valorizations of destruction and preservation come about? How do we analyze contradictory attitudes to particular acts of destruction and preservation across cultural, political, or religious boundaries? How do we situate ourselves in regard to the tension between cultural diversity on the one hand and claims for universal or global values, as embodied by the notion of World Heritage?
Such considerations also question the definition of destruction in particular contexts: Events need to be recognized as destruction. When is the removal of parts or the taking apart of an object understood as destruction and when not? How is the integrity of an object (or site) defined, so that a measure for destruction, a standard for defining the notion, can emerge? Is an act recognized as destruction if it is, at the same time, understood to be reversible?
The cultural ideas and practices employed to address these questions indicate different ways of engaging with things, with their position in ongoing social processes and interactions.
This conference seeks to explore neglected aspects in the current debates about cultural heritage, materiality and non-human actors. It points at the politics of managing things and the cultural concepts of transience.
We call for interdisciplinary contributions which question conventional thought on the value of preservation and destruction.
We are applying for full funding for the conference.

Comments and discussions are welcome. Be sure you are making a point and contributing to the discussion.

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