Social innovation and engineering democracy

This summer I’ve been going to too many conferences, but they have all been helpful in challenging my thinking and my research approach. Most recently, I had the opportunity to take part in the 8th World Archaeological Congress in Kyoto, Japan. Here I participated in two sessions, one on Archaeology and Social Innovation and one on moving beyond Heritage Dogma in practice as well as theory. I thought I’d share a couple of things I’ve been thinking about recently that became central to my contributions to these two sessions.

  • Am I promoting social innovation (see the Hesiod Project for a great take on social innovation in heritage) to further heritage conservation, or am I using heritage conservation as an avenue to promote social change through innovation? Like one of my main questions from the #hexpertise event: can heritage projects promote volunteering as a means to save money without exploiting volunteers? I was asking myself whether either social innovation or conservation would ultimately take precedence and whether deciding which is my priority will dramatically impact the approach I take to my work.
  • Drawing on Blaug’s “Engineering Democracy” (apologies for the paywall): what can heritage professionals do to increase the agency of community groups interested in heritage without co-opting their initiative and building dependency rather than capacity? Blaug’s conclusion (with regard to engineering critical democracy) is that they cannot. Back to #hexpertise again and my utopia for heritage conservation: in renegotiating professional and volunteer roles and responsibilities there is still room for professionals, but we must take decentring ourselves seriously. Either we attempt to get volunteers to work towards our priorities for free, sharing responsibility while holding on to power, or we make ourselves and our “expertise” available to local voluntary groups and work toward their agendas. Again, we may think we can do both, but ultimately we must choose one over the other – so we might as well choose one and let that become the foundation of our practice.

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