Redress, memorials and activism: can heritage be activism?

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The focus of this article is Ireland. Activism has been crucial in exposing historical institutional abuse in different institutions, organisations and contexts. Inquiries set up to investigate abuse have recommended memorials as an element of redress. This article explores what types of memorialisation survivors regard as appropriate, and why. Two responses are considered: (1) state and (2) ‘bottom-up’ unofficial. The article highlights that survivors are rarely active participants in co-creating and implementing state responses. Smith’s (2006) concept of ‘authorised heritage discourse’ (AHD) is used to shed light on whose knowledge is prioritised, who are deemed the experts and who decides what heritage is. The article contributes to this theorisation by proposing a new concept ‘activist heritage’ and examines its potential to create spaces and unlock transformative dynamics that empower survivors. Then, using Justice for Magdalene Research’s (JFMR) virtual memorial museum as a case study of ‘activist heritage’, the article shows that in the absence of state or national forms of recognition, JFMR provides a corrective to AHD. It acts as a counter-narrative in the struggle over memory to state and church ‘forgetting’, ignoring and minimising institutional abuse. The role, benefits and outcomes for survivors of such ‘bottom-up’ memorialisation is assessed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-33
Number of pages33
JournalInternational Journal of Heritage Studies
VolumeSpecial Issues (DTC)
Early online date5 Mar 2024
Publication statusPublished online - 5 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Activist heritage
  • historical institutional abuse
  • contested memory
  • Ireland


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