Call for Papers – AKTLD Annual Conference: Heritage and Democracy

Submission of Abstracts: 24th March 2024

Democracy is a fragile creature. As a political system, it is characterized by citizens’ participation in the government’s decision-making processes, either directly or through elected representatives. Democracy can take various forms, but the common thread is the emphasis on the people’s empowerment in shaping the state’s policies and direction. 

Cultural heritage, its designation, interpretation and management are always affected by political circumstances. Whatever the approach taken towards heritage in democratic societies, it has to be subjected to the public’s scrutiny, including a dialogue and discourse beyond heritage professionals. There is an assumption that cultural heritage in democratic societies and the proponents of its state-driven management are acting in the interest of the public good. It is an assumption underpinned by the notion of culture as embracing a social value. This can be challenged not only by different kinds of public, but also by different state representatives. But what happens when democratic governments start to influence investigative and diverse narratives, undermining values of heritage and culture that heritage professionals have taken for granted? Where should the sovereignty of interpretation lie when populism is on the rise? Who defines, interprets, uses or instrumentalizes heritage and for what purposes? 

After the euphoria that greeted the fall of the Iron Curtain, a consensus developed that democracy is inevitable as a progressive trajectory of history. The following years were accompanied by a sense of optimism, endurance and superiority, which was pervasive across Europe and the broader democratic world. Over the last decade or so, this consensus has been shaken as we have seen resurging authoritarian tendencies and an undermining of civil liberties. Such tendencies are often based on the most simplistic understanding of democracy, the so-called ‘will of the people’, neglecting its other qualifying characteristics. In the current climate, we are sharply reminded that democracy is not a static condition, but a constant process of negotiation, and that the ‘will of the people’ can go in different ways – as illustrated by the appearance of the same slogan in connection with the fall of the Iron Curtain and the rise of new authoritarian rule. 

Democratic processes are more and more distinguished between top-down and bottom-up decision-making. There are many perceptions, not to say prejudices, of how this differs in various national contexts, specifically about cultural heritage. We aim to explore the reality behind these perceptions to gain a more nuanced picture that includes national contexts beyond those in which most experts operate in, we aim to explore the reality behind these perceptions. We thereby recognize that the notion of civil society is also embedded in democracy; for example, in the UK, civil society is embodied by the charitable and community sector, which is generally upheld as one of the great traditional pillars of British society. 

This conference will look at heritage processes that operate in conjunction with the notion of democracy. This includes heritage in democratic processes and heritage as democratic processes. It seeks to uncover the Nation State’s role in forcing heritage protection and (and defying it. The protection of heritage can happen despite the state or – under certain circumstances – against the state. However, to a large extent, heritage practices deal with the care for listed buildings, conservation areas, and other (physical) entities, supporting them in their survival and thriving. To this extent, they are not bound to democratic 2 

Institutions, as has happened and continues to happen, whether or not democratic structures are in place. What does this mean for heritage management processes within democratic structures? 

We are approaching this discourse from a perspective of the canon of cultural heritage and its protection and conservation. It has been developed over more than 200 years, initially in the context of the European Enlightenment and, more recently, of Globalisation. That perspective is generally represented by experts whose participation in decision-making processes is founded on a legal mandate. This is usually communicated based on a shared understanding of values among those experts, and is justified as being in the public’s interest. Who this public is, and how it is constituted, needs to be further explored about the various heritage processes. 

This is an international conference organized in Coventry by the AKTLD Arbeitskreis für Theorie und Lehre der Denkmalpflege e.V. [Working Group on Theory and Education in Heritage Conservation]. It will explore questions of Heritage and Democracy in national comparison, including, but not restricted to, Germany and the United Kingdom. Coventry provides the venue and the conceptual framework. As the city of peace and reconciliation, it has promoted mutual understanding, human rights, peace and security as pillars of democracy ever since it was bombed in 1940. Its iconic treatment of how to deal with the destruction of its cathedral in terms of architecture and heritage is also testimony to these ideals. 

Key questions:

  1. Notwithstanding the assumed consensus on the superiority of democracy as the least objectionable of all state models, is there an indication that heritage discourses and protection practices serve democratic societies (more so than autocratic ones)? 
  2. How can discourses and practices of heritage uphold and develop democracy? And to what extent do they depend on it? 
  3. What are the different heritage management practices of top-down/ bottom-up decision-making in national comparisons? 
  4. What roles do heritage processes play in contemporary societies – both in support of state narratives and as oppositional and alternative practices? 

Potential Sections:

▪ Heritage and the public good 

▪ Heritage interpretation as an instrument of nation-building, of creating, stabilizing or questioning democratic (or other) societies 

▪ The professional heritage community and civil society 

▪ State heritage structures, the law and democratic processes


We look forward to receiving your proposals for a 20-25 min talk. Although we envision the conference to be predominantly conducted in English, we will also accept German proposals and talks. 

Please send a substantial abstract of maximum 200 word together with a short CV by the 24 March 2024. Please indicate in which sections you wish to position 


The ICCROM Classifieds are a service to the professional institutions of our Member States. The Classifieds list announcements on conservation-related topics and events from around the world. They are made available to ICCROM’s public solely for informational purposes. Posting of items in the Classifieds does not imply endorsement by ICCROM.

ICCROM reserves the right to moderate content posted to the Classifieds and may remove or edit any Content for any or no reason, including, but not limited to, that which is deemed out of scope or inconsistent with ICCROM’s intergovernmental status.

For information about ICCROM’s Privacy Policy, please consult the following link