Intercultural Research Centre Symposium 2019

By Katerina Strani and Chiara Cocco

Photo courtesy of Stefan Schäfer, Lich (], from Wikimedia Commons *

After the successful event in 2016, it was time to hold another Intercultural Research Centre (IRC) Symposium this year, themed “Scotland at a Crossroads – Heritage past and futures”. This was the IRC’s flagship research event, in which we investigated the challenges faced by Scotland in the light of recent political events in the European context, with particular focus on culture, communities and heritage.

The event took place in March 2019 and included presentations by IRC members and guest speakers, a lecture delivered by our keynote speaker Dr. Tuuli Lähdesmäki on cultural heritage in Europe, and a round-table conversation about the implications of Brexit for Scotland. The symposium concluded with a cultural event and performance kindly sponsored by the Confucius Institute, followed by a wine reception.

We started with a multilingual welcome by IRC Director Mairead Nic Craith and Acting Director Ullrich Kockel. One of our Deaf PhD students, Sanchu Iyer kindly showed the rest of the audience the BSL signs for ‘Scotland’, ‘heritage’ and ‘Brexit’. The sign for Scotland definitely had its roots in bagpipes; the one for Heritage reminded us of the act of passing something on, and the one for Brexit gave the impression of a small part breaking out of a larger whole.

First up was IRC member Dr Gina Netto, whose presentation was focused on ‘Heritage, Migration and Brexit’.

Gina argued that the social, political, economic and cultural landscape of the UK has been profoundly shaped by its heritage of colonialism, its involvement in the slave trade, post-war reconstruction and more recently, by its membership of the EU, all of which have contributed to major migratory flows.  Public concerns around levels of immigration have often led politicians to respond with promises to reduce immigration to the ‘hundreds of thousands’ and to ‘take back control’ of its borders. Gina’s presentation considered the central role of race and migration in the events leading up to the 2016 EU referendum, the impacts of the outcome and how the UK may move forward in addressing these heavily contested issues.

Next, IRC member Dr Lina Fadel presented “I belong, I belong not: Brexit, me, and a ‘Boy Named Sue’”.

In this presentation, Lina addressed the question: ‘what does Brexit mean for our cultural and national identity and belonging in Britain?’ Lina explored the portmanteau word ‘Brexit’ and its cultural and spatial implications more closely, particularly its ‘alienating’ stance for people like herself (a naturalised UK citizen) who have ideals drawn from multiple cultures and whose Britishness does not come with the historical and nationalist repertoire that would enable them to identify with ‘the make Britain great again’ and ‘to have our cake and eat it’ discourses or express their Britishness in such linear ways. “We are constantly trying to form new identities in this liminal, in-between (also referred to by post-colonial theorist Homi Bhabha as ‘third’) space where ideologies and cultures continue to collide”, Lina argued. Is Brexit itself a ‘third space’ that allows us to negotiate meaning, representation and identity in a global world? And how can we reconcile our multi-layered identities and cultures, both heritage and host, and move forward when Britain has decided to go back to the ‘good old days’? When asked her how she can belong to Britain as a recently naturalised British citizen, Lina responded that, through her research, she has talked with many British-born citizens who don’t feel they belong to or identify with Britain today. It was a powerful and thought-provoking presentation and argument.

IRC member and Symposium organiser Dr Katerina Strani was next, and she presented some thoughts on “Multicultural citizenship: Challenges and Opportunities”.

Katerina began by exploring the concept of citizenship as commitment to a specific polity and to a set of rights of obligations, which is why it is also connected to legitimacy (Bauboeck, 2010; Kockel, 2010). Such a commitment implies belonging, both in terms of a personal sense of belonging and in terms of ascribed belonging (from the state). Katerina used her own case as an example of a Greek citizen (she never misses an opportunity to talk about her hometown of Thessaloniki) who is also a Scottish citizen, voting for Scottish Parliament elections and for the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014. This citizenship-belonging nexus (Bauboeck, 2010) means that citizenship can never be culture-blind (Nic Craith, 2004; Habermas, 2005), and indeed the connection between culture and citizenship has been studied by sociologists, cultural studies and politics scholars. The profusion of new publics, diasporic and increasingly diverse, led to a reconsideration of citizenship not only from a multilingual, but also from a multicultural perspective. Kymlicka (2010) widely introduced the concept of multicultural citizenship in multination states, initially focusing on Canada. Kymlicka’s multinational and post-national approaches were discussed in Katerina’s talk, which led to a critical consideration of multiculturalism v. interculturalism v. polyculturalism in contemporary societies, where “culture is more important than ever” (Fukuyama, 2017). The Scottish case of civic citizenship was presented, together with the New Scots strategy, before concluding on the main challenges and opportunities of multicultural citizenship. Challenges include the need to recognise and thematise the liminality of migrant publics as part of culturally enriched hybrid publics (Strani, 2020 forthcoming); how to be more inclusive for those who “do not belong”, e.g. asylum seekers, or those participating in informal networks of “uncivil society” (Ruzza, 2009). The opportunities in societies where citizenship is multilingual and multicultural, and therefore people’s existence is legitimised through their commitment to certain values, include flourishing communities, a redefinition of ‘common interests’ and enrichment of public life. 

Dr Emma Hill from the University of Edinburgh presented her research on ‘New’ Scots?  (Re)Writing Somali Narratives in Scotland.

Emma’s paper offered a critique of the narratives of ‘newness’ applied to people of Somali backgrounds living in contemporary Scotland.  Drawing on research from her PhD thesis and further archival work, Emma’s paper: (1) traced how Somali people are discoursed as ‘New Scots’ and (2) argued that Somali histories in Scotland in fact extend to the twentieth century.  Connecting to ongoing discussions about Scotland’s role in Empire and its mobilisation of race, Emma argued that the erasure of Somali-Scots’ histories obscure Scotland’s colonial legacy, and adversely impact Somali-Scots’ experiences of citizenship in Scotland today.

After a short coffee break, it was time for our keynote lecture by Dr Tuuli Lähdesmäki from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland. The lecture was entitled ’Europe at a Crossroads: Cultural Heritage in the Creation of a European Narrative’

Postmillennial Europe has faced various political, economic, social and humanitarian challenges and crises that influence how Europeans deal with the past, present and future of Europe. These challenges and crises have also shaken the foundations of the EU and strengthened criticism of its legitimacy and integration processes. Simultaneously, the ideas of European cultural roots, memory, history and heritage have gained a new role in European politics and policies. The EU’s increased interest in the European past and shared cultural heritage can be perceived as the EU’s attempt to tackle some of these recent challenges and crises – including identity crises – in Europe. How does the EU utilize the idea of cultural heritage in the creation of a European narrative? How is the idea of Europe constructed in the EU’s heritage policies and initiatives? The lecture discussed these topics by using the most recent EU heritage action, the European Heritage Label, as a case study.

We were honoured to welcome Dr Lähdesmäki as our keynote speaker. Her thought-provoking case-study led to lengthy discussions which went on during lunch.

After lunch, it was time for Dr Jennie Morgan from the University of Stirling to present her talk, entitled “Grappling with ‘Profusion’: A Crossroad for Assembling Alternative Heritage Futures Through Museum Collecting”

Museums, Jennie argued, as with people in their homes, are increasingly faced with the ‘profusion predicament’. That is, the challenge of grappling not only with large quantities of material things, but seemingly infinite possibilities for choosing what might be acquired and retained for the future. Compounded by shrinking space in which to display and store it all, this leaves some collections staff asking if museums simply have ‘too much stuff’ to reasonably handle? This short provocation, grounded in ethnographic research undertaken in collaboration with University of York colleagues Professor Sharon Macdonald (project director) and Harald Fredheim (researcher), introduced key issues to the Symposium’s ‘crossroads’ discussions, including sustainability, collecting-futures, and heritage values. By briefly looking at what fuels the Profusion predicament, and a range of responses from museums (especially those tasked with collecting from the recent past and contemporary everyday life), Jennie’s fascinating paper prompted us to consider both the specific heritage futures that are shaping yet also being made by museum collecting in Scotland and the wider UK.

The heritage theme continued with IRC member Cait McCullagh, whose presentation was entitled “Weathering the storm: Heritage-making as learning for sustainability in uncertain waters”

Orkney and Shetland, Cait argued, were once central in international flows of people, goods and ideas.  Now, their open economies, high youth out-migration, and ecosystems abraded by climate change indicate a precarity only further compounded by Brexit.  Cait’s research explored Northern Isles inhabitants’ concepts of aspects of their heritages as ‘ecosystems of memory’, sustaining situated, resilient responsiveness in the face of such extrinsic uncertainties. The praxis, based on a co-curation mobilising ‘deliberative value formation’, elicits social learning concerning the usefulness of collaboratively, consciously deliberating heritage-making, identity-work and future assembling for learning about the formation of behaviours and decision-making in other socio-political processes. Cait also asked ‘what part does/can/should this sentimentality play within current value judgements?’

Moving on to ‘dark’ heritage and in particular Intangible Cultural Heritage, Prof Alison McCleery from Edinburgh Napier University gave a bold and thought-provoking talk on “Throwing light on a ‘dark’ side of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) and its responsible management

The concept of ‘dark tourism’ is these days increasingly well known, Prof McCleery stated. Less so the notion of dark ICH, with general perceptions of ICH reflecting a particular range of quaint, wholesome and apparently benign folk traditions, often rooted in rural communities. These largely reflect the domains of the UNESCO Convention on the ICH (2003) and are expected to be accessible to the general public, and increasingly also open to the tourist gaze. However, a range of living cultural traditions lies outside this consensual ideal implicit in both the UNESCO framework and its implementation by national and local agencies. Although not signed up to the Convention, and arguably just because of that, Scotland is not exempt from the increasingly challenging but nevertheless imperative responsibility of ‘policing’ its ICH. Prof McCleery’s presentation explored the complex challenges, for both agencies and academics as well as for ICH practitioners and for society at large, of managing often conflicting expectations in respect of examples drawn from this range of ‘controversial’ ICH in Scotland and beyond. The chair had to stop us from discussing Prof McCleery’s presentation because we were pressed for time, but the conversation on this fascinating topic went on during the coffee break.

After a coffee break, it was time for David Francis, Director of Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland (TRACS) to present his paper on “Traditional Music as Heritage”.

David explored a paradox of the heritage discourse – that, on the one hand, the designation of an aspect of nature or culture as ‘heritage’ is a form of ‘enclosure, commodification and colonisation’ (Weber 2015), and, on the other, a means by which access is enlarged. Since the folk revival of the second half of the twentieth century greater access to traditional music in Scotland has seen it become a creative resource and a source of meaning for many, but also a point of tension, in terms of uses of heritage, between those whose main interest is in preservation and authenticity and those whose main interest is its possibilities for personal artistic statement. David also paid tribute to Jimmy McBeath, when reflecting on the conflict between authenticity and cultural appropriation. We listened to a short song by Jimmy McBeath during David’s presentation.

Next up, IRC member Marc Romano presented a paper entitled “Scottish national identity in an era of change, the power of movies and TV shows”

Following the Brexit referendum, the question of national identity and belonging was raised and challenged particularly in Scotland where their origins are strongly aligned with Europe. Marc’s paper explored the redefinition of contemporary Scottish identity through the use of movies and TV shows, using the newest film version of Mary Queen of Scots and Outlander as interesting case studies.

Last, but definitely not least, IRC member Alastair Mackie presented his research on “Becoming a smaller part of a larger whole: new expressions of European identity in the Scottish independence movement”

The EU referendum and the ensuing negotiations on Brexit have resulted in Britain entering a liminal phase of change without a foreseeable ending, Alastair argued. Within this transformational context, European identity is being understood in new ways and with new meanings. For some it is a defiant expression of connection: a root and a route to the rest of Europe; for others it is also an expression of disconnection between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom and is incorporated into the support for Scottish independence. Alastair’s presentation explored results of an ongoing PhD research project on the perception of European identity in post-Brexit Scotland with a particular focus on the relation between European identity and small state vulnerability.

After a short break, it was time for our round table discussion on The Impact of Brexit in Scotland. The Moderator was Mrs Ann Packard FRSA HonFRIAS, Chairman, RSA Fellows (i) Borders and (ii) Media, Creative Industries, Culture & Heritage Networks.

Members of the panel were:

Luke Devlin (Heriot-Watt University)

Anthony Salamone (Scottish Centre of European Relations)

Dr Mairi McFadyen (Local Voices and the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics)

Prof Ullrich Kockel (Heriot-Watt University)

Dr Cristina Clopot (Heriot-Watt University – University of Hull)

Svenja Meyerricks (Centre for Human Ecology)

The round table discussion brought useful insights from a range of disciplines interested in heritage, Scotland and Brexit. There was talk of liminality, uncertainty and loss at all levels. A dynamic redefinition of identity was also explored in the context of vulnerability and division.

After a long day of thought and discussion, it was time for our cultural event, kindly sponsored by the Heriot-Watt Confucius Institute. The event included:

A Chinese zither performance

A traditional tea ceremony

Chinese calligraphy

Whose name is this? Answers on a postcard! 🙂

Chinese paper-cutting

Our talented Confucius Institute colleagues gave our keynote speaker Dr Tuuli Lähdesmäki  a paper-cut portrait to take home with her as a gift.

We tweeted throughout the event using the hashtag #IRC2019 – however we soon noticed that we shared this with the equally successful International Rubber Conference Organisation that was taking place on the same day J

Until our next IRC Symposium in 2021 !