War museums as agonistic spaces: possibilities, opportunities and constraints



Cento Bull A, Hansen HL, Kansteiner W & Parish N (2019) War museums as agonistic spaces: possibilities, opportunities and constraints. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 25 (6), pp. 611-625.

Following the theorisation of museums as agonistic spaces and drawing on a comparative analysis of war museums located in various European countries, this paper argues that these institutions play complex and multi-layered roles beyond their obvious educational function. These not easily reconcilable roles act as major constraints upon the form and content of exhibitions and work against the adoption of an agonistic approach. However, the paper also argues that war museums are especially apt to become sites of political contestation able to engage with agonistic memory and unsettling counter-narratives. This is due in large part to the nature of the subject matter they deal with, as war and conflict lend themselves to being represented in ways that emphasise patriotic consensus but can also highlight dissent, contestation, multiple perspectives and alternative visions of society. Agonistic practices emerge when windows of opportunity open through a combination of top-down and bottom-up agency able to take advantage of particular socio-political circumstances or cultural developments. The paper also discusses a new exhibition on war memory planned for late 2018 in Essen, Germany and conceived as a strategic political intervention, which aims to communicate in an agonistic fashion with its audiences.

War museums; agonism; multiperspectivity; diplomacy; politics

International Journal of Heritage Studies: Volume 25, Issue 6

FundersEuropean Union Horizon 2020
Publication date31/12/2019
Publication date online08/10/2018
Date accepted by journal26/09/2018
PublisherInforma UK Limited

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Professor Nina Parish

Professor Nina Parish

Professor in French & Francophone, Literature and Languages - Division

Research programmes