Department of Critical Heritage Studies

Department of Critical Heritage Studies

The processes of globalization, cultural unification, and increasingly drastic modernization, which are connected with the disappearance of many cultural and biocultural phenomena, processes, and concrete artifacts, have since the 1980s caused conspicuous growth in “heritage”, broadly defined. The material and immaterial cultural heritage and other forms of heritage of communities, countries, nations, and even humanity as a whole in Europe is often, if not mainly, built upon elements of traditional folk culture or pre-industrial ways of utilizing the environment. Not only are material objects and structures considered to be part of heritage, but so too are various habits, rituals, ways of behaving and acting, narratives, and so forth. Sometimes, however, these cultural phenomena are problematic because they are poorly understood from a scholarly perspective. On one hand, there is a lack of understanding of their historical forms and values. On the other hand, their contemporary, often transformed, forms, reverberations, meanings, and contexts are not taken into account.

The research and publication activities of the department as well as its work focused on applied research and popularization are therefore aimed at the critical study of cultural and biocultural heritage with an emphasis on the application of ethnological theories and methods and other closely related theories while taking into account the epistemological perspectives of the field of critical heritage studies. The department’s objective is to collect and evaluate empirical knowledge and then, based on it, produce theoretically founded conclusions that lead to, among other things, the reorientation of current research on cultural and biocultural heritage, especially in terms of reevaluating the prevailing perspectives of methodological elitism, nationalism, and ethnocentrism, which reproduce various inequalities at different levels. We focus on three main issues in heritage studies: (1) Following long-term research trends, the department works on describing, analyzing, and interpreting material and immaterial cultural and biocultural heritage with an emphasis on understanding its historical forms; (2) The department’s research also focuses on contemporary cultural phenomena and processes that are either implicitly or explicitly related to historically grounded (i.e., “traditional”) forms of cultural heritage but which are still living and have been appropriated, transformed, and dynamically modernized; (3) The department also critically studies processes, discourses, and the policies of the archivization, museumization, interpretation, and presentation of cultural heritage, including the process of “heritagization” and the construction and invention of tradition.


The department’s current research is focused on

  • The study of European cultural and biocultural heritage in its various forms, its historical development, its current state, and its future in local, regional, and global contexts from the Early Modern period to the twenty-first century;
  • The critical reflection of modern ways of conceptualizing, documenting, protecting, and exploiting European cultural and biocultural heritage in various sociopolitical contexts, including in the context of the formation of economic and power structures, processes, and conflicts;
  • The department’s researchers also collaborate with government authorities and local governments, the public sector, and other partners on projects for documenting folk culture, especially as part of implementing the governmental Strategy for More Effective Management of Traditional Folk Culture in the Czech Republic, and provides these partners with critical feedback.