A4: Emotion Networking: a Workshop on Heritage Dynamics


Emotion networking is a new perspective on divergent emotions in heritage making, and an alternative to community thinking in heritage work. The latter gives the 'communities' involved energy, but excludes others. Emotion networking focuses on more erratic constellations; on networks of people who all have an emotion about a heritage item - but not all the same. There is no heritage without emotional sharing and clashing. Not just in the here and now, but also in historical perspective. 

In this emotion network workshop Hester Dibbits (Center for Historical Culture, ESHCC (EUR) / Reinwardt Academy (AHK), explored the involvement of diverse emotions in heritage. On the basis of a concrete heritage  item – the traditional arrival of the ‘stoomboot’ (steamer) with Sinterklaas and his Black Petes in the Netherlands - we investigated whether sharing our emotions strengthened insight into each other's positions or changed positions with respect to the item. With the results we created a single-object exhibition.

Lessons learned

  • Within groups of stakeholders ánd within individual stakeholders different positions could be seen. At the start the participants with different nationalities had very different perspectives and points of views on the particularly Dutch heritage item of Sinterklaas and his Black Petes. For example: the first emotion of two southern European participants was recognition of the saint Nicholas from their Roman Catholic or Orthodox traditions, and that Sinterklaas ‘looks like the pope’. As outsiders in this (actual Dutch) social discussion, the foreign (non-Dutch) participants, clearly had less strong emotions on this heritage item, and no special attention for Black Pete. The Dutch participants on the other hand had most of all mixed emotions particularly in relation to the figure of Black Pete, with between those Dutch participants different points of view, and within individuals different roles (parent of children and participant in an actual social discussion on race and discrimination). 
  • Interesting is to see whether the emotion networking discussion about a particular heritage item leads to changing views within participants, and if so, why. 
  • There’s a huge difference between each participants own emotions and between (thinking about) the possible emotions and points of views of other stakeholders; you don’t know all of these stakeholders, and what their emotions and points of view are. So you have to speculate on that.
  • The used mindmap method of emotion networking is a bit static and one dimensional, maybe a more layered didactic method could be useful for the outcomes (examples were discussed in a following session B3, organised by the same research group).
  • According to some participants, a  clear goal of this emotion-networking method could be helpful to put more pressure on the participants, for example working to a decision as a result. According to others, nuances in the conversation would be lost. 
  • There was a call to give not only emotions but also reasoning about this heritage item a clear place in the discussion.

See also session B3