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Beyond lifetimes: who do we exclude when we keep things for the future?

Henderson, Jane ORCID: 2020. Beyond lifetimes: who do we exclude when we keep things for the future? Journal of the Institute of Conservation 43 (3) , pp. 195-212. 10.1080/19455224.2020.1810729

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This article challenges a dominant narrative of conservation: that keeping things for longer is better. Approaches common in the heritage sector, such as risk management, support cautious patterns of behaviour that generate unintended consequences that can create further barriers to already excluded groups. Museums control and shape how present-day users engage with each other through their collections, but conservators can become disconnected from this process because of our concern about protecting value for future unspecified users. Conservators cannot opt out of taking sides when faced with cultural inequality, and must either accept or challenge it. Predicating actions for unknown future beneficiaries is neither always necessary nor positive and unless we change our practices and acknowledge past inequalities, users of the future will look a lot like users of today, with the current exclusions as described by the ‘decolonise the museum movement’ remaining endorsed. Creating a positive goal for conservation by creating connections with and via collections enables conservation to contribute to current participatory museum practices. If conservators re-position their perspective from a commitment to extending the lifetimes of objects to extending the life-experiences generated by them, they can offer a focus in which past inequality rather than future beneficiaries becomes a determining criterion of how long we keep things. By way of a brief overview of relevant theory, the article is intended as a call-to-action for conservators to join debates about cultural rights, oppression and privilege raging in and around the heritage sector.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Published Online
Status: Published
Schools: History, Archaeology and Religion
Additional Information: This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (
Publisher: Routledge
ISSN: 1945-5224
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 19 August 2021
Date of Acceptance: 11 August 2020
Last Modified: 02 May 2023 11:06

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