The Critical Visitor: Intersectional Approaches for Rethinking & Retooling Accessibility and Inclusivity in Heritage Spaces


The Research Center for Material Culture will work together with Eliza Steinbock on a NWO funded project that will coordinate efforts and initiatives to rethink & remake archives and museums from the perspectives of various "critical visitors" who demand inclusion and accessibility to the scene of cultural heritage. The approach of the project will be intersectional, bringing together the study of how power/knowledge regulate inclusion and exclusion mechanisms from the fields of disability, gender, sexuality, race and coloniality. 

‘The aim of the project is to reduce structural exclusion within cultural institutions. We can achieve this by implementing daily activities - such as selection, collection management and conservation, exhibition design and interaction with the public - in an inclusive way that contributes to reducing structural exclusion,' says Steinbock. ‘We will renew the field of research on critical heritage studies and propose inclusive practices that meet the current ethical standards of government agencies and critical voices. Knowledge will be made accessible to the entire heritage sector and cooperation between researchers and entrepreneurs will be promoted.’

The Dutch heritage sector is currently highly committed to achieving more diverse, inclusive, and accessible cultural institutions, as evidenced by the renewed national “Cultural Diversity Code” and the Museum Association announcement of 2019 as year of “connection and inclusivity” for employees and visitors. The 2018-Roadmap SMART Culture explains this sea-change as partly due to the “critical visitor”, making new demands to present culture through physical, virtual, and interactive means, accessible for all abilities and inclusive of all backgrounds. Although these observations are right, we need to go further than concentrating on empirical research on publics or visitors to fulfill such demands. Neither does an “add-and-stir” identities inclusion model help to transform heritage spaces in a long-term sustainable fashion. Instead we need to develop cohesive strategies, involving different stakeholders pivotal to the Dutch heritage sector.

The proposed research project will take an “intersectional approach” towards inclusivity and accessibility. Consisting of fifteen consortium partners from the heritage sector active in six work-packages we will test and make recommendations to foster such inclusion. Our aim is to enable cultural institutions to implement daily working practices (selection, collection, preservation, display, interaction) that alleviate structures of exclusion. Through the method of triangulating “theory-ethics-practice,” the project will innovate the field of critical heritage studies and propose a palette of inclusive practices that fulfill today’s ethical standards set by governmental bodies and critical voices in heritage spaces. The policy-driven, scholarly, artistic output of enhanced tools and concepts will establish a new benchmark in museological theory and practice.


Image: Eduard Duval-Carrié, Apotheosis Altar, 2004. AM-694-1a


Steinbock will collaborate with Hester Dibbits (Amsterdam School of the Arts and Erasmus University) and Dirk van den Heuvel (TU Delft), among others. A total of fifteen partners are involved in the project, including the Amsterdam Museum, IHLIA LGBT+ Heritage, the Nieuwe Instituut, the Research Centre for Material Culture and izi.travel. Steinbock will also supervise two PhD students, together with Leiden professors Monika Baár and Kitty Zijlmans, and during the project, will ensure that communication between all partners is well organised.

Eliza Steinbock

Eliza Steinbock is Assistant Professor Cultural Analysis, Leiden University. Author of Shimmering Images: Trans Cinema, Embodiment, and the Aesthetics of Change (Duke, 2019), co-editor of Art and Activism in the Age of Systemic Crisis: Aesthetic Resilience (Routledge, 2020), and project-leader of “The Critical Visitor” consortium, developing intersectional approaches for inclusive heritage (2020-2025).


Hester Dibbits

Hester Dibbits is a lector of Cultural Heritage at the Reinwardt Academy (Amsterdam University of the Arts) and endowed professor of Historical Culture and Education at the Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (EUR) and the director of the international master Applied Museum and Heritage Studies at Reinwardt Academy.