War museums as agonistic spaces: possibilities, opportunities and constraints

Anna Bull, Hans Lauge Hansen, Wulf Kansteiner, Nina Parish

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Following the theorisation of museums as agonistic spaces and drawing on a comparative analysis of war museums located in various European countries, this paper argues that these institutions play complex and multi-layered roles beyond their obvious educational function. These not easily reconcilable roles act as major constraints upon the form and content of exhibitions and work against the adoption of an agonistic approach. However, the paper also argues that war museums are especially apt to become sites of political contestation able to engage with agonistic memory and unsettling counter-narratives. This is due in large part to the nature of the subject matter they deal with, as war and conflict lend themselves to being represented in ways that emphasise patriotic consensus but can also highlight dissent, contestation, multiple perspectives and alternative visions of society. Agonistic practices emerge when windows of opportunity open through a combination of top-down and bottom-up agency able to take advantage of particular socio-political circumstances or cultural developments. The paper also discusses a new exhibition on war memory planned for late 2018 in Essen, Germany and conceived as a strategic political intervention, which aims to communicate in an agonistic fashion with its audiences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)611-625
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Heritage Studies
Issue number6
Early online date8 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2019


  • War museums
  • agonism
  • diplomacy
  • multiperspectivity
  • politics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Conservation
  • Cultural Studies
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management
  • Museology


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