Reading: Designing ‘Critical’ Heritage Experiences: Immersion, Enchantment and Autonomy


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Designing ‘Critical’ Heritage Experiences: Immersion, Enchantment and Autonomy


Colin Sterling

UCL Institute of Archaeology, London WC1H 0PY, GB
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This article investigates the critical potential of newly emerging approaches to heritage experience design. Moving away from a familiar critique of heritage experiences as inauthentic or overly commercial, I consider three aspects of the experiential that might (re)shape critical engagements with the past in the present. Building on the work of Kidd (2018), the first engages with the growing trend for ‘immersive’ experiences in museums and heritage sites. The second draws on Perry’s notion of archaeological ‘enchantment’ (2019) as a new ‘moral model’ for the field. The third applies Bishop’s (2012) reading of artistic ‘autonomy’ to specially designed heritage experiences. These concepts are then explored in relation to Critical Heritage Studies and tested against four micro case studies that engage in different ways with the experience of heritage. The theorisation put forward here serves as a point of departure for the two-year research project New Trajectories in Curatorial Experience Design (Feb 19–Jan 21), which aims to document and analyse emerging trends in experiential design within the heritage sector. In particular, this position paper highlights specific points of intervention where new forms of critical-creative practice might open up heritage interpretation to alternative experiential strategies and outcomes.

How to Cite: Sterling, C., 2020. Designing ‘Critical’ Heritage Experiences: Immersion, Enchantment and Autonomy. Archaeology International, 22(1), pp.100–113. DOI:
  Published on 17 Jan 2020

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