The Roots of Repair: Critical Heritage as Planetary Praxis

Invited contribution to seminar series at University of Heidelberg on ‘Itinerant Heritage: Tracing Transcultural Dynamics and Mobilities’ (December 2021)

I’ll be speaking on questions of repair and the planetary in relation to critical heritage as part of a new seminar series hosted by the Heidelberg Center for Transcultural Studies. You can register to join the series here.


In response to the unfolding environmental crisis, recent years have witnessed a significant upsurge in calls for different forms of climate repair and planetary stewardship. Such appeals cut across climate activism, Earth System Science, philosophy, policy making and the environmental humanities, exposing stark differences in opinion around questions of scale, responsibility and the use (or misuse) of certain technologies. While the very notion of ‘repairing’ the climate or ‘stewarding’ the planet clearly resonates with the idea of heritage in thought-provoking ways, different modes of praxis in this field also intersect with such thinking in a more grounded fashion, not least around issues of forest conservation, Indigenous land management, rewilding and the embodied carbon of historic buildings. Heritage agencies have begun to shift their attention to these concerns in an attempt to show how ‘the past’ might help to shape more sustainable futures. Often missing from such initiatives however is an engagement with the critical dimensions of heritage, by which I mean the socio-political tensions and contestations that unsettle any claims to heritage as an intrinsic ‘good’. This talk will begin to sketch out some of the different ways in which critical thinking and practice in heritage might contribute to emerging debates around planetary repair and stewardship. Building on recent scholarship on these themes across a broad range of disciplinary fields and sites of praxis, the lecture ultimately aims to (re)situate critical heritage as a vital interlocutor in the politics of climate action.

Other speakers include Wayne Modest, Kavita Singh, Paul Basu and Haidy Geismar. Full details below.