PhD Courses in Denmark

Heritage activism, memory politics and the decolonial turn: haunted and haunting bodies, spaces and histories

Graduate School, Arts at Aarhus University


The material and immaterial legacies of colonialism are numerous in former colonized territories as well as in Europe. While formal or external colonialism, defined by the transfer of people from metropole to colony in settlements of overseas territories (Oldfield 2018), has largely come to an end, coloniality persist for example in forms internal colonialisms, within academic disciplines,  and in bordering practices  – the biopolitical and geopolitical management and fencing of people, land, flaura and fauna within a nation actualized by the global Covid-19 virus (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2013 , Yuval-Davis, Wemyss, Cassidy 2019). The persistence of structural inequalities between the Global North and South, as well as the (re)entrenchment of aspects of a colonial imaginary of inferior, backward and disposable others, has lead scholars such as Walter Mignolo and Maria Tlostanova to argue that the decolonial agenda remains relevant in a myriad of cultural, social and political contexts. Decolonizing agendas within contemporary heritage and memory activism, knowledge production, heritage landscapes, cultural institutions, city-spaces, and arts have indeed increasingly come to the fore in recent years. Today the imperative to decolonize not only concerns territories and histories of coloniality, but also the post-colonial entangled afterlives between former colonizers and colonized. It is an agenda present in various societal spheres around the globe fueled by the ambition to oppose structural as well as everyday racism, let silenced actors speak, make ‘invisiblized’ bodies publicly visible, and to critizise the rejection, exclusion or incarceration of bodies and subjects marked by the colonial past – such as those of the migrants and refugees currently pushing against Europe’s increasingly fortified borders. But this colonial imaginary is not restricted to processes and subjects geographically outside Europe or the West, but also emerges in the form of various ‘internal colonizations’ (Etkind 2011, Glowacka-Grajper 2019), in which majority populations believes themselves to be under theat of colonization - e.g. by stronger geopolitical powers (Russia, the US, China or the EU). Likewise the colonial imaginary also emerges internally in the form of what Madina Tlostanova terms the construction of “problem-people” (Tlostanova 2018). While she is primarily thinking of the post-Soviet bodies of Eastern Europeans conceived as ‘problems’ by Western Europe, the same kind of gesture is certainly discernable in the othering and racializing of minority groups such as the Romas, Jews, Muslim immigrants, people of African decent or indigenous minorities within metropoles such as Greenlanders, Sami, Native Americans or Canadians and Aboriginal Australians.  

In this Ph.D course we welcome young scholars studying coloniality and decoloniality in all spheres, as well as studies on the different forms and meanings in particular political and cultural contexts, including strategic uses of the terms to achieve nationalist and other identity political ends.

To decolonize has several meanings. To decolonize can mean to question the hegemony of European knowledge traditions, to criticize the colonial logic of modernity and engage with pluriverse epistemologies in the ambition to perform intersectional analysis and to take into account the embodied place-based ecologies of knowledge and practices emerging from indigenous communities (Mbembe 2001, 2015, Mignolo 2000, 2009, Mignolo and Tlostanova 2009, De Sousa Santos 2014, 2018). Some even mean that only land issues and repatriation can qualify as decolonization, while all the rest is just metaphorical uses of the term (Tuck and Yang 2012). To decolonize also signifies a normative stance which involves an ambition to critically point to the racist-, gender- and class discrimination, that take place as instruments to deprive people of their equality and of their humanity whether this happens in democracies or in authoritarian regimes (Wynter 2019, Tuhiwai Smith 2012). Thus, to decolonize means to learn from and provide public platforms to former unheard and invisible actors. Concretely this can entail many things, but for example might be achieved through the engagement with artists,  curators and looser organized memory and heritage groups in participatory processes around colonial heritage. To decolonize entails to directly support those voices and bodies and intervene in standard procedures in order to walk the decolonial talk and to practice and embody “other” perspectives in our/your heritage and memory agendas. Questions around situated knowledge versus transnational levels of heritage politics;  strategic essentialism versus entangled or hybrid identities, positionality and/in intercultural dialogues and encounters thereby become central – for all citizens but, but perhaps in particular for researchers working on decolonial heritage.

In this Phd Course we aim to approach the question of colonial heritage, taking into account both its material, epistemological, political and affective dimensions. The immaterial dimension of heritage includes the (political) practices and emotions which either center or marginalize a certain past in the life of communities.

Indeed, all symbolic commemorations of the past work through social actors attempting to govern, control and encourage collective affects (Anderson 2014: 26, Hourcade 2017). Whether it might be anger, national pride, sympathy with victims of historical horrors, or empathy with former generations’ hardship through re-enactment scenarios, theatrical forms and commemorating, they can all be analyzed as media that attune audiences affectively (Massumi 2009). An affective analysis of colonial heritage practices works through investigating the connections between affective life and processes of mediation, representation and performance; by asking how different commemorative media exert affective power over audiences and what kind of bodily capacities emerge from these encounters (Knudsen and Køvraa 2020).

To analyze the heritage and memory practices as intensifying tools we can turn to media theory in general (Erll and Rigney 2009, MacDonald 2013), including digital infrastructures’ more viral and intense forms capable of producing networked affect and affective publics (Papacharizzi 2015, Hillis, Paasonen and Petit 2015). We can equally be inspired by performance arts, sense-based and interactive relational aesthetics as well as various forms of “artivism” (Mignolo 2011, Weibel 2014, Schütz 2019). Finally, we might draw inspiration from the idea that affective relationalities stemming from the encounters with decolonial activism present a change of tone and mood. Former sentiments such as empathy, sympathy, pity and ethics of care (Boltanski. 1999, Weissmann 2004, Chouliaraki 2006, Silverstone 2007) is succeeded by outrage, hope, deep coalitions and lateral forms of solidarity (Castells 2012, Tlostanova 2018, Bachir Diagne and Amselle 2018), but also by an ethics of incommensurability (Tuck and Yang 2012).

In this Phd course we are in particular interested in exploring cases of colonial legacies and decolonial agendas inside and outside of Europe as well as the analytical perspectives and methodological challenges of the decolonial agenda including our positionality as researchers within academic insitutions and discplines.

The questions which fill this agenda are many and various; How are colonial legacies decolonized differently in Europe (if so) and by whom? What  are contemporary forms of the decolonial option in and outside of Europe with several internal colonizations? Who are the agents of nowadays bottom-up decolonial memory activism? What are the ways in which rhetorical uses of coloniality and decoloniality become vehicles for nationalist exclusionary agendas as part of a memory political strategy? What are the political and epistemological agendas that fuel calls to decolonize academic knowledge production across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences in the global South and in the global North? How is decolonial aesthetics practiced differently or alike in various contexts? What does decolonizing feel like? Is decolonization possible within heritage institution such as museums for example and how?  Which alternatives to othering are proposed in decolonial agendas and how is that expressed aesthetically? Which possibilities of thinking a planetary relationship between humans and non-humans and a dialogic new “re-enchanted” humanism that is not universalist but universal do we find? (Diagne & Amselle 2018, Wynter 2019). How to thematize entangled and hybrid identity formations, cultural exchanges and deep coalitions in contemporary societies?  Can terms such as contact zones, interculturality and pluritopic hermeneutics be useful to take up the methodological challenges of positions, positionality and reciprocity on more equal terms?


This international PhD course establishes a dialogue between PhD students and acknowledged keynote speakers in the field such as Madina Tlostanova and Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni as well as to the course conveners who will share their experience of working in the field of colonial legacies and decolonial options from international and collaborative research projects such as ECHOES, European Colonial Heritage Modalities in Entangled Cities (H2020, 2018-2021).  

The three days of the course addresses theoretical, empirical and methodological aspects of the issue. On the first day the key questions are concerned with the definition, delimination and controversies of the scholarly agenda engaging with issues of decoloniality in the field of heritage and memory studies. Students will be lead to discuss core distinctions such as that between a decolonial and a postcolonial agenda, as well as the epistemological and theoretical challenges posed by works such as those of Mignolo, Tlostanova, Ndlovu-Gatscheni, De Sousa Santos, Smith and Mbembe.

On such foundations the second day engages more directly with the concrete level of exploring specific fields and contexts as well as the role of specific actors through a decolonial lense. Here the student will encounter a selection of analytically unfolding and empirically grounded explorations of the decolonial agenda in different cases, media  and materials.

Finally students will choose between and engage with issues of methodological practice and its entanglement with themed important questions that touch upon core issues  such as positionality , interculturality, post-communism, affective politics, artivism, transeuropeanizing heritage. The questioning of assumptions about legitimate voices, knowledges and experiences as the foundation for articulating a decolonial agenda including its politico-normative horizons is central. Here too, the question of which kind of bodies – excessive, problematic, Invisible, too visible – and which kinds of decolonial relationalities we might imagine and hope for,  is key. 

Course form and student involvement:

The course will present a decolonial city-walk organized by the artist collective FCNNNEWS as part of the curriculum. Such an endeavor invites participants to see a decolonial heritage practice in action as well as it breaks participants expectations of a Ph.D course only being a classroom. Rob Jacobs and Anne Reijniers are decolonial visual artists from Brussels and they will present their latest works on decoloniality.

Students will submit a shorter synopsis or an excerpt  (5-7 pages) of their project, that they wish to discuss at this course in particular. The paper will be presented in smaller assemblies and commented upon by an appointed scholar on the second day of the conference.

On the third day the students will engage in workshops and reflect on their own work in light of the themes treated such as positionality, affective politics, post-communist memory, safe and unsafe museums, intercultural dialogues. The themes will comply to the students’ various topics and interests. Both senior scholars and younger scholars will engage in exchanges around these issues.



Britta Timm Knudsen, Professor, AU

Christoffer Kølvraa, Associate professor, AU

Casper Andersen, Associate professor, AU



Madina Tlostanova, Professor of postcolonial feminism at the Department of Thematic and Gender Studies, at Linköbing University, Sweden.

Sabelo J. Ndlovu-Gatsheni, Professor in the Department of Development Studies, at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, SA.


Other academic contributors:

Joanna Wawrzyniak, associate professor, University of Warsaw

Elvan Zabynuan, Professor, University of Rennes 2

Shawn Sobers, Associate Professor Bristol 

Jan Ifversen, Associate professor, AU

Nick Shepherd, Associate professor, AU

Laura Pozzi, Postdoc, University of Warsaw


Invited artists and artistic collectivities:  

Rob Jacobs & Anne Reijniers, De Imagerie, an audiovisual collective, Het Bos art centre, Brussels.  

Dina El Kaisy Friemuth, Lil.B. Wachmann, Anita Beikpour, FCNNNews, Feminist Collective with No Name (Copenhagen, Berlin)


Practical matters:

There is no fee for participation in the course. Lunches and coffee breaks will be provided by organizers to all participants. In addition, we can cover the cost of accommodation and catering for a limited number of students. If you wish to be considered for this please apply in the application form with a short justification you are unable to cover those costs by yourself or with the help of your institution. We estimate the cost of accommodation in Aarhus to be ca. 220 euro total per person for five nights and costs of additional self-catering to be ca 135 euro in total. 

In the application form you are to include a 300 word abstract of your Ph.D. project. Successful applicants are to submit their synopsis or excerpt from their project (5-7 standard pages) no later than 14 December 2020. Further practical information will be provided to successful applicants after the registration is closed.  


If you are interested in participating, please apply here before October 1 2020.

This PhD-course is part of the ECHOES project funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 770248"