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Posted by on Oct 7, 2017

Critical perspectives on mobilities, mobile technology, and heritage futures: notes from a recent presentation on futures in heritage studies

Jen Ross and I presented the other day at a two day event for AHRC, the first day being critical futures in heritage studies and the second being a GCRF Heritage and Global Challenges Workshop, both days held at the British Academy in London. Jen and I were presenting on critical perspectives on mobilities, mobile technology, and heritage futures. We were building on Jen’s Artcasting project and exploring how mobilities theory can provide a vantage point from which to explore how heritage sits and moves within a system of mobility, a collection of human and non-human actors. Big picture stuff, for sure, but ultimately a picture that suggests that there are methodologies out there that can be used to explore heritage in a broader context, to evaluate engagement, and more.

Since sharing is caring, I am providing the slides as a PDF as well as individual images with captions below (in case you don’t want to download the PDF and to provide the notes).

Slide 1: Introduction

Thank you. Dr Ross and I will be speaking on Critical Perspectives on Mobilities, Mobile Technology, and heritage futures. We want to suggest the role mobilities have in this discussion, how they might impact the future of heritage studies. We will cover a lot of ground, and hopefully we will engage some points that might help us all going forward. We are both based at the Centre for Research in Digital Education. The Centre is based in the Moray House School of Education at the University of Edinburgh, and conducts research, knowledge exchange and consultancy in key areas including digital education pedagogy and policy, open education, children and technology, learning analytics and museum learning.

Slide 2: Mobilities Theory

So what is mobilities theory and how can it help us in heritage? Mobilities research encompasses research on the spatial mobility of humans, nonhumans and objects; the circulation of information, images and capital; as well as the study of the physical means for movement such as infrastructures, vehicles and software systems that enable travel and communication to take place (Sheller, 2011, p. 1-2). Mobility is, however paradoxically, a constant in our lives and how, more specifically we interact with heritage.  It is not, however, equitable nor a positive. Think of the range between refugees and cosmopolitan expats and the systems of mobility in which they travel. Think of the mobilities of the heritage in our collections and the systems that make this mobility possible, digital or otherwise. These are not valueless or neutral systems; but they are systems of human and nonhuman actors. Edwards et al. (2011) point out, ‘mobility is neither inherently emancipatory nor positive and relies upon its own immobilities and moorings’ Edwards et al. (2011).

Slide 3: Mappings

So there is a different cartography at work here, one that directly affects our heritage space. Multiple mappings and movements of place and meaning, including “social, emotional, psychological, and aesthetic” (Hjorth and Pink 2014, 42), emerge from digital mobile practices and artefacts. These are layered together and intersect routinely, and occasionally conflict. Imagine your mobile messaging application and how that frames your intimate, professional, social, and academic engagements. Imagine how content flows through that system and how it is consumed, interacted with, and remade. All of this directly effects what we do here. But we should view this as cartography, Star Maps maybe, but larger systems of place and meaning. We cannot nor should we silo the aesthetic from the intellectual, the emotional from the psychological. There is a growing body of work here, including some of Dr Ross’s and I own work, that might inform how we approach understanding these mappings and how they might intersect the person and the museum.

Slide 4: Mobilities and the Museum

Moving from stimulating engagement within the space to taking that engagement beyond. From a learning and engagement perspective, interpretation and inspiration move. Koula Charitonos and colleagues talk about ‘interconnected opinion space’ and ‘archival space’, and this seems like a useful framing for what we might think about.‘the potentials of social and mobile technologies exist in the “interconnected opinion space” and “archival space” created by their use in the museum’ (Charitonos et al 2012, p.817).

Slide 5: Mobilities and the museum

Devices and mobile approaches make new arrangements between cultural heritage, movement, and public and private spaces. People use technology to “mobilize place and memory together to create new forms of digital network memory” (Frith and Kalin 2016, 44). We start to move freely between inside and outside, between museum space and space

Slide 6: Artcasting

I (Jen Ross) recently led a project that took mobilities theory as a starting point for trying to rethink how we capture and evaluate people’s articulation of their engagement – beyond the evaluation form, and beyond the time and space of the gallery. The Artcasting project tested these ideas out through building a mobile app that invited visitors to choose an artwork from one of the two ARTIST ROOMS exhibitions in the pilot and relocate it at a place and time of their choice, with a story about why it was sent, or cast, there.

Slide 7: Findings

With more time there would be more to say about this, but here are some of the key findings from the use of mobile and mobilities approaches in cultural heritage engagement and evaluation. We’re going to spend the last couple of minutes talking about some other possible directions for mobilities thinking in critical heritage studies.

Slide 8: Topologies and trajectories

So how do we extend or consider extending this museum experience? How do we follow ‘them’ out ‘there, beyond these walls? We need to begin to think of the social topologies of people, how they experience the heritage and the trajectories that are taking shape as a result of this experience (Bayne et al, 2014;  Wenger 1998). Returning to cartography, a social topology is the spatial relations generated by the continuous change of shape or size of figures, or the way in which constituent parts are interrelated or arranged. What about a network topology? As regards our past research, “a network topology might be read as being enacted for the institution, in which proximity is not measurable in terms of geographical distance, or authenticity indicated by the immanence of the institution, but space is rather to do with ‘the network elements and the way they hang together’ (Mol and Law 1994: 649). ‘The university’ here is proximate, because its ‘network elements’—students, teachers, texts, technological infrastructures and regulatory frameworks—are in intimate relation with each other as the work of the institution is maintained. How do we enact or witness a network topology? Methodologies for this are elusive but drawing on mobilities theory, and these topologies and trajectories, and what we know about the role mobile technology plays in this process, we begin to map what is needed. Speculative methods: we need speculative methods. We need to be daring but rigorous. We don’t have the entire playbook here to work from. It is still being written.

Slide 9: New avenues for engaging

These new methods, or the possibly for new methods, allow us to increasingly engage people around some of the following:

  • Urban experience and stimulating appetites for heritage: How can we generate appetites for heritage, not necessarily to consume as it were a podcast (although that shouldn’t be the worst case scenario) but rather interact with it, place it in space, in their own topology. Remake it in their own image.
  • Surfacing hidden memory: how can mobilities and mobile technology help surface heritage amidst the rhetoric of smart cities, progress, and sanitisation of heritage? How do we embed the memory in the place? From GPS to geocaching to augmented reality, there are increasingly methods to do so.
  • Re-encountering heritage: how does this focus on mobilities and mobile technology allow us to re-encounter heritage and mark shifts in our perception, our understanding of what it is and how to informs our future? A check in leading to a Facebook memory leading to a reflection and a re-engagement, in its most simplistic sense. How do we do this with a  reluctant public, wade through the legacy of colonialism with the public revival of memory, how do we deal with a difficult heritage?

Slide 10: Evaluation

Returning to ideas about evaluation, we think there is still much more to say and do in the context of rethinking evaluation metrics and what and how we measure engagement; in evaluating mediated encounters outside the museum; and thinking about engagement in terms other than that of individual experience.

Slide 11: Privacy, anonymity, surveillance

Last and not least, there are a lot of really fascinating and urgent questions about privacy, anonymity, surveillance and movement that critical heritage studies scholars might want to engage with – not only in relation to institutional practices around metrics and data, but also in the context of shifting, data intensive relationships with culture and cultural heritage.

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