Context 155 - July 2018

C O N T E X T 1 5 5 : J U L Y 2 0 1 8 25 HARALD FREDHEIM Why do you work with volunteers? We face a drive to democratise heritage at a time when limits to professional capacity are exacerbated by austerity. Can democratising heritage and balancing budgets coexist? There is a concerted push in heritage scholarship and professional best practice to increase public participation in caring for heritage. This can be traced to two distinct pressures: the drive to democratise heritage and limits to professional capacity that are exacerbated during austerity. However, little attention has been paid to whether democratising heritage and balancing budgets can comfortably coexist. This lack of attention is the result of uncritically positive sentiments toward heritage and volunteering, the prevalent belief that heritage is ‘endangered’ and an over- simplified understanding of ‘democratisation’. My research involves studying how heritage professionals work together with volunteers to care for heritage during austerity. I analyse what different ways of collaborating reveal about why collaborations were initiated, and connect this analysis to bigger questions about the future of professional labour and public participation in the heritage sector. I use a case study approach that includes both my own participatory project and established programmes in the sector. What I am finding is that how we conceptu- alise heritage drives perceptions of legitimate expertise that in turn dictate how roles and responsibilities are divided when professionals and volunteers collaborate. This leads me to worry that unless we are willing to change our ideas about what heritage is and what it means to care for it, initiatives to increase public participation will result in devaluing professional labour and exploiting volunteers. I begin by questioning the idea that participat- ing in heritage is necessarily beneficial. While research into how participation can benefit participants is important, reports that set out to demonstrate that (rather than whether, when, for whom or in which ways) heritage volunteering is beneficial to participants do us a disservice. They keep us from critically reflecting on how we work with volunteers and condition us to celebrate increased public involvement as a victory of ‘democratising’ the sector, even where this is the result of unpaid volunteers doing work that was previously performed by displaced professional colleagues. This idea of democratisation is significant, because there is a widespread perception that Laurajane Smith’s now infamous ‘authorised heritage discourse’, which identifies heritage as elitist and exclusive, must be countered by democratising heritage, through more inclusive ways of working. I draw on a wide range of social science scholarship to understand how increasing public A pilot project co-designing digital resources with three community heritage groups in Yorkshire set out to design a web-resource to share personal interpretations of local heritage. This mockup was part of a paper prototyping exercise.