Heritage research as improvisation: an exploration of urban space

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Traditionally, heritage research has emphasized problem solving and object-led scientific thinking – that is, thinking that is kind of detached from the researcher’s everyday life. In contrast, this article calls for the improvisational approach of non-representational theory to be applied within heritage research. Non-representational theory renders the liveliness of everyday improvisational performance and the temporary, affective, spontaneous, and relational aspects of the world and the academic work. In my empirical investigation, improvisation occurred through my random and spontaneous conversations with the visual artist Munch Malo and the ‘Hotel Havana’ urban space in Oslo, Norway. Drawing on non-representational theory – and the messiness of improvisational everyday practice – the research decodes my experiences with Munch Malo and the urban space, which led me to better understand not only Munch Malo’s artistic practices, but also movement, change, affective atmospheres, materiality and encounters, more generally. Furthermore, situated in my own experience of the urban space, this research article illustrates that improvisational everyday practice can, in itself, function as a performative method as it can engender creativity, experimentation and new theoretical and practical knowledge about mundane life. The purpose of this article is two-fold: first, to illustrate the spontaneous and creative nature of heritage research and second, to highlight the improvisational everyday practice as a performative urban heritage methodology. Underpinning the performative heritage methodology is the idea that everyday improvisational practices may generate a stronger understanding of urban cultures, material and the social world.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationImprovisasjon : byliv mellom plan og planløshet
EditorsJohn Pløger, Anniken Førde, Anne-Lene Sand
Number of pages23
Place of PublicationOslo
PublisherSpartacus forlag
Publication date2021
ISBN (Print)978-82-304-0255-9, 978-82-304-0300-6
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • improvisation
  • heritage research
  • Street art
  • urban art
  • urban space
  • non-representational theory

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