Emotion Networking What, How, and Why?

Save this PDF as:

Size: px
Start display at page:

Download "Emotion Networking What, How, and Why?"


1 Emotion Networking What, How, and Why? An interview with the conceivers, Marlous Willemsen and Hester Dibbits Imagine IC Spring 2017, by Cajune Calmez Cajune is a Marketing and Communications Intern at Imagine IC and a first-year student of this subject at the Johan Cruijff Academy. She takes courses at this institute because she is also a top-class sportsperson, playing handball at VOC Amsterdam.

2 Imagine IC and the Reinwardt Academy are in the process of developing the concept and method of emotion networking. This concept was invented by Hester Dibbits (endowed professor at Erasmus University Rotterdam and lecturer at the Reinwardt Academy) and Marlous Willemsen (director of Imagine IC and lecturer/researcher at the Reinwardt Academy). Emotion networking: what is it about? Emotion networking is an idea, a way of thinking about making heritage that we have been developing since It is a new word we formed out of two existing words. By emotion networks, we mean the fickle configurations or multiform connections of people who all have their own particular feelings about heritage items, and who sometimes clash over that. The term refers not only to a noun ( emotion network ), but also to a verb ( emotion networking ). It is about dealing with these utterly divergent feelings surrounding heritage. An example often mentioned is Black Pete. Why is it important to deal with these divergent feelings surrounding heritage? To answer that question, we should first say a bit more about heritage. Heritage denotes the things we have or do, which, together, we call heritage and are willing to accept as heritage. We highlight them because we feel they are meaningful. We designate them as heritage. In other words, heritage is self-made, by us. This being the case, heritage reflects mainly what we find important now and what we want to preserve for the future. We can label material things as heritage, such as palaces, paintings or diaries, but also immaterial, intangible items, like songs or traditions. Indeed, heritage is never one single item, but rather a set of elements, both tangible and intangible. In order to perform a ritual, you always need things and a space or area to make it happen in. Think, for example, of a baptism, which includes ingredients like a christening gown, a baptismal candle, a baptismal font in a church, a fragrance, a prayer. Or a festival like Sensation, where the components would be the clothing, the music and the Amsterdam ArenA. You might say that wherever there is heritage, there are emotions. People can experience cheerfulness because of the fun they have with a heritage item in the presence of others. At the same time, they can experience fear when imagining the disappearance of the heritage that makes them feel cheerful, and that makes them feel part of a group. With others, the same item might evoke feelings of anger, because it is seen as something out of date or as something hurtful. And yet others might simply find it strange and will therefore experience uneasiness because of it. At present, heritage institutions frequently work with communities, with groups seeking attention and recognition of the things they consider important heritage. Heritage institutions can help these groups, especially when there already is an organisation, with spokespersons who can act as representatives of the group. There is also another side to it, though. In today s society, we live together with a large number of people who know each other less and less or ever more fleetingly and who not only share the now less intensively, but also often do not share each other s past. Our time is full of others and full of changes. The more others and changes you have, the more diverse and layered the ideas and feelings about what should be cherished as heritage will be. We are in the process of researching how to do more justice to that fact, and how to include cultural phenomena that are not linked to some solid group. These too deserve attention. Performance by Denise Jannah, Pop, 20 June 2013 Imagine IC, photo: Jeremy Pasch So emotion networks are a solution to heritage bubbles? With emotion networks, we intend to fight compartmentalisation where heritage is concerned. It is our hope that heritage is not going to find its destination in ever-increasing cases of among us. It should not become the collective property of collectives drifting ever further apart. On the contrary. It is our wish to see heritage items inspire, expand and reinforce new collectives. To see them provide people with insight into each other s positions and promote empathy. It might lead to people changing their position. It happened to us too. During the course of our heritage work, for instance, we got to know many new feelings, like about Black Pete. To tell you the truth, we were not instantly aware of the pain he causes for many black people. When their emotions came close to us and became almost tangible, the following question arose immediately: (how) will I let these feelings get to me? We must be aware of the fact that the response to such emotions could also amount to a rejection, to people not wanting to get closer to each other and becoming all the more vehement. In cooperation with others, we

3 intend to investigate when this happens and why. We will do so by mapping out all of these varying emotions surrounding heritage including any possible changes. These could be changes in the relationships between people, but a heritage item itself can change as well. Think of Black Pete again, who can also be purple nowadays, but remains black (even more explicitly so) to others. Also where emotion networks are concerned, we consider it a sure fact that heritage is common property and that heritage is something that touches a great many people. But this being touched is not necessarily equal in nature, content and intensity for all people. Besides Black Pete, halal slaughter makes for a good example. It is a ritual that many people hold dear. They consider it part of the repertoire of their lives, as their heritage. But is it theirs alone? Exactly because people use it to demarcate their position, it touches others too. The debate about Black Pete, about halal slaughter and about all these other heritage issues takes place in all sorts of locations and in all sorts of ways. It is an ongoing negotiation. What we intend to do is investigate the possibility to turn that negotiation into a (deliberately organised) conversation, whose objective is to gain a better insight into both the negotiation process itself and into each other s lives and positions. In doing so, we will include the question whether this entails mutual empathy. What exactly do you mean by emotions and by networking? The idea of emotion networking is made up of two known concepts: emotions and networking. Together with Jasmijn Rana, we also wrote an article entitled Moved by the Tears of Others: Emotion Networking in the Heritage Sphere about this, which will appear shortly. When investigating from a network perspective, you look at the connection between people AND things, the interaction between people among themselves and between people and things. The idea is that the mutual relations change as much as the people and the things in the network themselves. The network concept can help to make clear how individuals with a diversity of emotions and interests relate to heritage and to each other. Emotions are the feelings you are or will become aware of. This becoming aware of is very important: when you become aware of the fact that people and heritage stir up emotional responses in you which, by the way, you cannot avoid you can also try to not just leave it there. To put your goose bumps under the microscope AND to allow the primary responses of others to get to you. Perhaps their feelings will touch you too their fears, anger, cheerfulness, sorrow, nostalgia, or their pride and, who knows, this might change your attitude towards them. In this way, emotions are not only themselves effects that come about in networks, but they also cause other, new effects to come about in these same networks. The combination of both concepts (emotions and networks) is new. We used the term for the first time in 2014, in our article Stills of Our Liquid Times: An Essay towards Collecting Today s Intangible Cultural Heritage, which appeared in the volume Die Musealisierung der Gegenwart. The article was written in connection with the public and participatory seminar series entitled Intangible Cultural Heritage with Pop. The series was organised by Imagine IC and the Reinwardt Academy. In Pop, heritage professionals, residents of the Bijlmer neighbourhood (in Amsterdam, where Imagine IC is based) and other interested parties sought a way of making heritage that befits the times we live in. We did so because we had noticed that the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which had been ratified by the Netherlands in 2012, was poorly attuned to Imagine IC s metropolitan heritage practice. So emotion networking is the result of a practical need? Entirely so. We noticed that a number of guidelines from the UNESCO Convention were an ill match for the practice of Imagine IC. For example, the Convention presents communities as a means to identify and protect intangible heritage. Communities are asked to describe their rituals on a form in order to be included in an Inventory (i.e. a variation of a collection) and to draw up a heritage care plan for these rituals. In 2012, Imagine IC led the project Pannas and Akkas, about street soccer as a contemporary ritual. The participating youngsters did not come up with a presentation of street soccer for the Inventory. Their internal connections are not fixed enough to meet the requirement of the form and the plan. This made us realise that many cultural expressions that might be labelled as heritage will stay out of sight if only organised communities are included. At the same time, in the particular case of street soccer, it began to dawn on us that not only is there a diversity of feelings among street soccer players about the appreciation of different moves and squares, for instance but that street soccer, as a set of tangible an intangible heritage items, is also shared by people who dislike it. They appreciate street soccer... in a negative way. They protest against the noise in the street, for example. Moreover, street soccer too is subject to change as an urban tradition as a result of redesigned squares and bans.

4 Marvin Hokstam and Suze de Lang contributing to the seminar series Stadsgevoel ( The Feel of the City ), 20 June 2017 Imagine IC, photo: Les Adu Could you give some more examples? In Pop, over a periode of two years, we programmed ten rituals, songs and sounds as cases to explore per episode. And in every episode, we perceived quite a variety of emotional involvement in relation to the programmed practices. What is more, both the practices and the emotions evoked new emotions on the spot, emotions that people may never have had before. The practices and emotions around it touched others and made them feel more involved. The very first episode, about the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery by the Netherlands, already gave us an excellent example. We focused on three memorial practices and were perhaps given a fourth unintendedly! To start with, Denise Jannah sang the songs I Rise and Strange Fruit. She had chosen the songs in response to our question which songs she uses to commemorate slavery. Host Joseph Jordan thanked her for her performance and said: I was moved to tears. We did not feel the same way ourselves, but we were touched by all those others in the room who felt just like Joseph. The guest of honour that day was Saidiya Hartman of Columbia University. She read a passage from her book Lose Your Mother. By the use of fiction, she tried to fill the gaps, the blind spots in history and in the archives, by creating personal stories of the enslaved, whose stories had of course never actually been recorded and preserved. Saidiya s voice was mesmerising, but also, or at least that is what it sounded like to us, almost emotionless. After she had called up the horrible story of a young woman on a slave ship, someone from the audience asked if this was a way of commemorating. Saidiya s response was a very emotional: No! Most definitely not! Commemoration cannot take place as long as the battle of emancipation has not been fought. Then a second voice from the audience made itself heard. The stories of the enslaved must have been unspeakably gruesome, but where in Saidiya s story are the accounts of the captains? Some may have been more struck than others, but the room appeared unanimously shocked. In a nutshell, many different people take part in the commemoration of the slavery past. And these people respond to each other in an emotional way during the negotiation of the appreciation of this story. Meanwhile, Pop has been followed up by a new series: The Feel of the City. In the episode of June 2017, the National Slavery Monument was our case. How national is it? Who may stake a claim in it and with which emotions? And who is granted such a claim? Besides participants who called on everyone black and white in particular to take part in the commemoration of the slavery past at the monument, there was Marvin Hokstam who said that he, though of Afro-Caribbean descent Afro-Caribbeans tending to be very involved with the monument has never visited the monument and does not take part in the festivities of 1 July. He compared those to an annual celebration for a bicycle thief on the day he returned your bike. The thief committed a crime and is rewarded for undoing it. All participants appreciated the irony and felt that staking a claim in the slavery monument or not, is not a simple question of black and white. Aren t you afraid that emotion networking may cause friction? Not afraid, no. We have been practising emotion networking for a while without ever having been involved in any serious argument. But it is something to be aware of. It is important to figure out how heritage workers, people who manage the process of heritagemaking, should go about so as to avoid possible explosions or their fuelling and channel any such explosions in a possibly fruitful way. Emotion networking is a new way of looking at heritage creation. It is our intention to develop that way into a method, a concrete procedure, a kind of manual describing how to do it. To be able to realise this, we must also explore the risk areas (like conflict) instead of just aiming for empathy. We followed up on these explorations after Pop. In Feel of the City, to begin with. In this series, we have added some new questions: How does one get people with highly divergent feelings around the table to discuss and negotiate heritage destination? How does one document the appreciation of heritage when increasingly varying emotions are involved? How can one make participants aware of this in such a way that they may be affected by the multitude of emotions presented? And what exactly is gained by this? How does one measure an empathic effect? How does one evaluate whether this contributes to a better world? Our first experiences have taught us that if we as heritage workers make clear why people are invited into each other s company, a variety of feelings is less likely to be the cause of conflicts than if we were to say: we are about to have a debate and we want to end up with one conclusion only. People are working towards a shared goal: making heritage. A diversity of feelings is an integral element in that process. All feelings are okay. For the time being, at least, for we are also still investigating if, in the appreciation of heritage with varying emotions, all emotions can be considered as equally valuable.

5 In the meantime, we also assess the method in workshops with heritage professionals and other interested parties. To this end, our colleagues Mila Ernst and Jacquelien Vroemen selected several appealing heritage issues that evoke varying emotions, like the question what to do with Pim Fortuyn s house, the debate about Jamie Oliver s paella without fish and the attraction Monsieur Cannibale at the Efteling amusement park. Participants of the workshops together record the varying emotions and interests on a mind map. Then we enter into a discussion with them: what happens to your view of heritage in general, to the heritage item in question and, last but not least, to the internal dynamics? Our hypothesis is that this method makes people heritage-wise similar to methods that make people media-wise by holding up a mirror (i.e. their own mind map) to people s faces and by talking about it. This gives them a feeling for the dynamics of culture. Students of the Reinwardt Academy can now choose the optional course Heritage Wisdom, and many Reinwardt students have already graduated with a thesis related to the concepts of emotion networking and heritage wisdom. These are both students of the Bachelor s Degree Programme in Cultural Heritage and of the International Master s Degree Programme in Museology. Education and Amateur Arts (LKCA), the CED-Group, and the main applicant, the Erasmus School for Culture and Communication of Erasmus University Rotterdam. All partners are involved in the project weeks from start to finish and analyse the results in interim meetings (stepping stone seminars) with peers from academia and the fields of heritage and education. At the beginning, during the progress and at the end of the project weeks, it is observed how those (students and teachers) involved look at heritage, at themselves and at others. The project will kick off in January We are looking forward to it, and in the meanwhile, we spend time on all our other plans related to the idea of emotion networking. And there are quite a lot of them! Imagine IC, the author and the interviewees, Translated from Dutch by Mereie de Jong, Medea Translations. And now there is also a new research project, called EmErEd. EmErEd? That s a strange title It is an abbreviation of Emotion Networking around Heritage in Educational Settings (the Er being short for erfgoed, the Dutch word for heritage). Its particular focus is the effect of emotion networking as a method for heritage education. Heritage education along the lines of emotion networking is what we call heritage wisdom. It teaches students that heritage takes shape, is created (rather than is ), and that in this process, they can or perhaps must claim their roles as cultural citizens. Our project tests the method of emotion networking in a series of educational project weeks with school kids, followed each time by a knowledge seminar. The focus in the project weeks lies on the theme of religion and religious heritage. Religious ensembles with connected tangible, immovable, and movable heritage items are charged with emotions of security and comfort, but also with social tension. During the project weeks, the students set out to record all the emotions and interests involved, using mind mapping and other visualisation methods. Apart from Imagine IC and the Reinwardt Academy, the partners in this project are Museum Gouda, Waag Society, the National Centre of Expertise for Cultural