Debating Europe: Participation in the EU’s Cultural Heritage Policy

    • Cover Photo
    • Presentation speakers
      • Katja Mäkinen, University of Jyväskylä, Finland


    In the current ‘participatory turn’ (Saurugger 2010), participation is seen as a solution for any problem in any possible sphere of life. The Council conclusions on participatory governance of cultural heritage are a case in point, stressing the role of participation in the EU’s cultural heritage policy. According to it, ‘the adoption of a locally rooted and people-centered approach to cultural heritage [and] participatory approaches’ (Council 2014, 1) are central in several EU initiatives, including the European Heritage Label (EHL), a recent flagship action in the EU’s cultural heritage policy. Interestingly enough, these questions are hardly visible in the official EHL documents themselves. It is thus necessary to take a close look at the empirical realities to see how and to what extent the participatory approach is present in the EHL framework. This paper is therefore based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in 2017-2018 at 11 heritage sites that have received the European Heritage Label. The material includes interviews with EHL actors at different levels of administration, the visitors and the locals. It is analyzed through a conceptual approach, with a theoretical framework drawing on critical heritage studies and participatory governance research. The aim is to explore the conceptions of participation in the discourses of different level EHL actors, the visitors and the locals: who are expected to participate in constructing cultural heritage, how do the EHL actors and sites encourage visitors’ own interpretations on cultural heritage, and how do the visitors and locals themselves see their roles as meaning-makers. In particular, since the ‘European significance’ of heritage and its uses for creating a ‘European identity’ are strongly emphasized in the official EHL documents, the paper investigates these questions as regards participation in giving meanings to Europe: how is Europe understood by different interviewees.