I just got back from Copenhagen where I made a brief visit at the university yesterday to participate in the PhD course Cultural Heritage and Identity. It was led by dr. Marie Louise Stig Sørensen from the University of Cambridge, who also gave a keynote lecture. The discussions afterwards, with participants from nine different subject areas and various countries, revolved around complex heritage issues concerning definition, value, destruction, conflict, and other current topics in heritage studies. The position of heritage and identity between materialty and discourse was one main turning point of the debates.
Materiality is a hot topic in the social sciences right now, including in archaeology, though archaeologists have obviously always been concerned with things, such as objects, monuments, find contexts, landscapes, etc. Archaeologists have, however, also been following the same theoretical trend as the humanities in general over the last 30 years or so by focusing on language and text as methaphors for various aspects of (material) culture. This has now turned to a concern with the very specific ways we relate to things (see e.g. B. Olsen 2010: In Defense of Things). In a heritage context “the material turn” entails more focus on the physical and sensory qualities of the monuments, places, and objects of cultural heritage, and how these affect the actions and thoughts of the people around them.
These are not exactly questions that are “solved” in a short afternoon, but yesterday´s course certainly inspired further thinking and writing, both on the materiality aspects of the sites I am studying, and how they are defined, by whom, and why.