Panel V: Heritage, Memory and the Political 

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Dr. Raquel Campos (London)


The distortion of reality and facts in the public sphere is not a novel practice in Spain’s history. The ‘Pact of Forgetting’ and the Amnesty Law of 1977 became the milestones for Spanish democratic governments to legitimate the oblivion of Franco’s coup and the dictatorial past, and to enforce a particular version of history over society (Preston 2012). This old regime of post-truth was bolstered by a restrictive legal framework on political expression before and after the internet. Exceptional laws that limit criticism of the post-Franco establishment such as the Ley Mordaza (“Gag law”) are enforced on citizens that question the official narrative on the grounds of freedom of speech, both limiting and boosting considerably the dissemination and audience of alternative media texts. Based on case studies from my ethnographic research among Spanish migrants in London, and data collected during interviews and participant observation online and offline, this paper investigates how new media allows contradictory postmemory dynamics of meaning-making to develop in the Spanish digital sphere. Spaniards use new media to relive and relate to past conflicts within a ritualised democratic liminality (Desfor Edles 1998) where survivors, activists, and politicians, repeatedly discuss political concepts and historical episodes. New media also provide an arena for public sphere participation and for the contestation of Francoist narratives by new generations. However, they also expose citizens to law enforcement and to new forms of repression, simultaneously providing an algorithmically optimised platform for hate speech and revisionist ‘alternative’ history. This complex context of old regime of post-truth, coerced freedom of speech, and ritualistic political discussion, limits the informational possibilities of new media in postmemory processes, in detriment of a knowledgeable citizenry and informed democratic participation.


Dr. Katja Müller (Halle)


Digital archives are by now a common phenomenon; they enable access to the past through defining
and representing cultural heritage. Euro-American museums understand the digitization of stored collections and its online dissemination as a form of digital return, and museums in the post-colony follow suit in stressing the democratizing effects of the internet as regards access and circulation. However, the pace and partiality of those digitization efforts and the inherent re-definition of the past through established actors induces critique, provoking a digital postcolonial theory (see Risam 2018, Geismar and Müller forthcoming). At the same time and in relation to that thinking, rogue and community-based digital archives put postcolonial critique into digital practice. Driven by a feeling of void and necessity, they set out to create their own archives in digital form, employing the dispersion mechanisms of SNS (especially Facebook and Instagram) to tell their own versions of the past. They become novel actors of cultural production, stressing their contrasting practices of crowdsourcing, unrestricted access and independence from ministerial politics when setting up archives that aim at defining or contributing to (aspects of) the past.
My ethnographic research on online archives in/on India, conducted over the last five years,
evidences – based on digital anthropology in the sense of tracing and analyzing online activities – that community-based archives are ‘successful’ in engaging people in memory-making across borders and creating empathy at a distance. Access to the internet and the digital gap seem to be the only restricting factors in otherwise horizontally structured ventures. Combining this method with participant observation in form of internships with the same digital archives reveals the continuance of vertical structures. Top-down decision making and ordering determines in particular content editing and curation. Community-based online archives thus contribute to a different but continuous partiality of online publication. They partake in constructing a truth based on grass-roots history, but
at the same time reiterate criticized norms of defining the past.


Dr. Alan Prohm (Berlin)


In this talk I would like to address some possible roles digital concept design, as a new, emerging professionalization at the intersection of scholarly humanities and media-technical specializations, can or should play in projects of cultural production in the digital age.
The digitization, digitalization and online presentation of the ethnographic and world art collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in the Humboldt Forum, complemented by the collections of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the Stadtmuseum Berlin and the new Museum des Ortes, represents a significant moment in the history of cultural enterprises in Europe. Typical of the cultural digitalization moment in general, but exceptional in its scale and scope, the Humboldt Forum project provides an important case study for how digital means can be and are being applied to projects of cultural heritage mediation, knowledge production and truth-making today.
Drawing on 5 years experience behind the development of digital content strategy, infrastructure and media offering for the Humboldt Forum, I will focus in on 5 possible formulations of the task this cultural project has posed and is posing to the new art/science/business and politics of digitalization. 5 possible machines of ethnographic truth and knowledge digitalization could/should build, capable of mediating this material and immaterial cultural heritage in new ways to new local and worldwide publics. 5 new chances/risks of fulfilling (digitally) unrealized knowledge-producing and truth-making projects of the (analog) past.
The projects described and imagined involve creating the infrastructures, algorithms and affordances for taking on some of the „hard challenges“ of the Humboldt Forum – including the mediation of vast, complex, contested and elusive immaterial cultural heritage in ways „true“ to the principles and precedents of this multi-polar and unprecedented project.


Prof. Marie Sandberg, Dr. Nina Grønlykke Mollerup (Copenhagen)


Despite a digital ‘turn’ in migration research, there have been limited studies on migrants’ use of ICT for navigating during and after flight (e.g. Charmarkeh 2013; van Liempt & Zijlstra 2017). Most studies conceptualize ICT as add-ons to migrants’ everyday practice, rather than seeing ICT as co-constituting migration. ICT co-constitutes the very migration routes and the ways migrants enter border struggles, also far away from geographical borders; ICT becomes a lens and a tool for shared decision-making and navigation among migrants. Crucially, the ways in which migrants repurpose, rather than simply use these technologies, have received no attention. Hence there is a need for research that simultaneously examines how migrants use ICT and focuses on how their usage affects and repurpose journeys and digital platforms themselves.
This paper investigates migrants’ digital practices in and of the European border regime based on ethnographic fieldwork with irregularised migrants and solidarity workers carried out in 2018-19 in the Danish-Swedish borderland. We explore how irregularised migrants’ digital practices with a focus on how trust and knowledge is established in dangerous and unstable circumstances during their journeys. During these perilous journeys, knowing and trusting are not only made difficult by the precarious situations of the migrants, but also by the continuously shifting circumstances of changes in reception policy, border closings, weather conditions and more. That is, the migrants navigate in at once social and natural environments that engage and move them as they navigate during flight; they are moving in a moving environment (Vigh 2009). Seeing ICT as co-constitutive for establishing trust in a moving environment opens up for an understanding of digital practices as paths to both life-saving knowledge and heightened uncertainty.