Current projects

Decay without mourning

“Decay without mourning: Future thinking heritage practices” is an international research project with three teams based in Sweden, South Africa and Brazil. The project is funded by the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond. 

This project proposes foregrounding decay as a central concern of heritage studies globally. We suggest that decay would allow heritage to be understood not as a rearguard action against loss but rather as a creative and generative process. We propose to link heritage studies to broader concerns of ecological and environmental sustainability where interventions against loss may be less powerful than cultivating a sensibility for the precariousness of the present. 

We draw on a wide variety of expertise in geographical areas often neglected in English-language research, each with unique socio-political and socio- environmental conditions making them rich sites to study decay: South Africa, Japan, Brazil, and Antarctica. We investigate different domains including archives and museums, heritage practices, landscapes, indigenous knowledge, food heritage, environmental history and nature conservation. Far from being incommensurable, we argue that this multifaceted understanding of heritage will lead to more robust and generative understandings of decay in a globalised, yet also localised world. 

The South African team is hosted at the Africa Open Institute, Stellenbosch University. They are working on two sites, namely the Hidden Years Music Archive (Stellenbosch) and the Kaapse Bossiedokters (Cape Bush Doctors) community in Cape Town, to study competing value constructs that impacts the preservation of heritage. While the bossiedokters, referring to indigenous healers claiming Khoisan ancestry, gathers plants with medicinal properties as part of their cultural practice, they are arrested and criminalised if they do so in protected nature reserves. Nature is being preserved at the cost of culture, and the question is, how do we think of heritage in this moment in such a way that it will serve the community, while also protecting the environment.  

In contrast, in the music archive, culture is effectively recognised as the object or frame of preservation. But in the Hidden Years Music Archive decay has redefined aspects of the archive into something different and unique, so we are asking if this could be a creative part of the preservation enterprise. 

Team: Lizabé Lambrechts (Director Research: DECAY), Leif Petersen (Researcher), Nicola Deane (Post Doctoral Research Fellow)