Recent acts of defacement of controversial monuments across the globe, coupled with heated discussions on “cancel culture”, have highlighted the politicisation of free speech and expression both in academia and beyond.
The underlying intensification of cultural contestation over issues related to the interpretation of the past can be associated with various social trends. This includes new conceptualizations of global justice and equality and the struggle for inclusion through the coexistence of multiple, often opposing, narratives in a globalized world (Frank & Ristic, 2020). In this context, material and immaterial symbols such as monuments, statues, historical sites, but also language, literature and pieces of art or music become focal points because of their embodiment of controversial pasts. As such, they may express the collective trauma or stigmatisation of a social group which in turn may provoke political tension, polarisation and conflict (Macdonald, 2009). The contestation of historic symbols is an essential element of freedom of expression and democracy in increasingly diverse contemporary societies, particularly by marginalized people (Bouvier & Machin, 2021, Bridges 2022). At the same time, the removal or modification of historic symbols, as well as instances of so-called “cancel culture” may also be interpreted as intolerance or fundamentalism, often by those whose heritage, reputation or privilege is at stake.
Against this background, the Institute for Minority Rights at Eurac Research is looking for a candidate for the Eurac MSC Week (23-27 May 2022 – https://www.eurac.edu/en/research-support/marie-sklodowska-curie-week) to investigate the ambiguous and intertwined roles of “cancel culture”, iconoclastic movements and cultural appropriation with minority rights and cultural heritage. In particular, the candidate for the Eurac MSC Week will look at how issues revolving around “cancel culture”, iconoclastic movements and cultural appropriation interplay with minority rights. Which dynamics trigger processes of fundamentalism and intolerance, particularly with regards to the memorialization of the past? How, if at all, can we balance freedom of expression and legitimate critique and contestation of historical symbols by minority groups with the prevention of conflicts and the promotion of cohesion between majorities and minorities? Which policies should be implemented to achieve this aim?