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Challenging the problem of un-democratic participation: from destruction to re-construction of heritage

Ina-Maria Jansson (Department of ALM, Uppsala Universitet, Uppsala, Sweden)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 23 August 2022

Issue publication date: 6 March 2023




The present study aims to contribute to the understanding of digital participation in heritage collections as a democratizing practice by identifying and challenging silent assumptions concerning how the insufficient influence of participants is conceived of as a problem.


Three carefully selected scholarly texts incorporating problematizations of insufficient participatory agency were analyzed in detail using a method inspired by Carol Bacchi's approach “what's the problem represented to be?” (WPR), with special emphasis on analysis of ontological elements of the problematizations.


Participation is problematized based on the assumption that participatory agency risks jeopardizing the protection of heritage and leads to parts of the public memory being forgotten. To challenge the idea that participatory agency is destructive, the present article argues for elaborating an understanding of what forgetting entails for heritage. Framing forgetting as a potentially both harmful and generative concept enables a separation of destructive forgetting (e.g. destruction of historical evidence) and constructive forgetting (re-contextualization).

Research limitations/implications

The study is based on a limited number of texts, and problematizations are investigated in relation to a specific perspective on participatory agency.

Practical implications

By understanding forgetting as a potentially beneficial activity for representation and heritage construction, the article provides a conceptual rationale for facilitating re-contextualization in the design of multi-layered information structures for heritage collections.


There is little earlier research on the silent assumptions that affect how participation is understood and implemented.



The author remains grateful to Professor Isto Huvila and Docent Reine Rydén, both at the Department of ALM, Uppsala University, for valuable discussions of this text. The author also would like to express gratitude to the anonymous reviewers whose insightful comments helped to improve this work.


Jansson, I.-M. (2023), "Challenging the problem of un-democratic participation: from destruction to re-construction of heritage", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 79 No. 2, pp. 509-526.



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