Skip to main content

Staffan Lundén


Department of
Visiting address
Guldhedsgatan 5a
41320 Göteborg
Postal address
Box 130
40530 Göteborg

About Staffan Lundén

  • Ph. D. in Archaeology 2016

Research interests

My research centers on heritage and museums. The two topic which stand in particular focus are the contemporary illicit trade in looted archaeological objects and the right to own and represent contested objects in museum collections. These research interests pertain to a curiosity about the social production of knowledge, materialities, memories, representations and identities at how this production relates to the societal production of class, ethnicity and gender etc. Questions on research ethics, the sociology of knowledge and how historical right (and wrongs) could and should (not) be handled in the present form important themes in my research.

A couple of my articles: "Heritage for sale" (1999), "The scholar and the market" (2004b), "The manuscript collector" (2005), "Perspectives on looting" (2012) deal with the contemporary illicit trade. A theme addressed from different perspectives in these articles is how museums and researchers have helped to legitimate this trade in looted objects in direct and indirect ways. In Lundén 2012, the issue of trade which goes from the poorer to the richer parts of the world, is also put in a broader perspective of global unequal power relations.

My doctoral dissertation Displaying Loot. The Benin objects and the British Museum (2016) took its point of departure in the British Museum and its collection of objects looted in Benin City, present-day Nigeria, in 1897. The aim was to discuss how the museum represents (and, as I argue, “makes”) the objects, as well as Edo/African and British/Western identity through exhibitions and publications. In particular, I was interested in looking at how (if) the representations were influenced by the fact that the museum’s ownership of these objects is disputed. My analysis showed that the ownership conflict had a strong impact on the museum’s representations. To protect itself from restitution claims the museum glorifies and distorts its own dark past. The analysis also showed that the museum’s present exhibition in subtle ways distinguishes between self and other. It portrays Africans as traditional and Westerners as progressive. The study relies and draws inspiration from the postcolonial field (Said), discourse analysis (Foucault), materiality studies (Appadurai, Kopytoff), gender studies (Haraway), and translation studies (Sturge). The analysis of the British Museum's own identity building is inspired by the theories surrounding the creation of national identity (Anderson, Billig, Hobsbawm).

My interest in the relation between the construction of heritage and the construction of identity prompted the article "What does the Acropolis tell?" (2016). It discusses how the Acropolis in Athens has been shaped and reshaped for different purposes throughout the ages, focusing on how the Acropolis was transformed in the 1800s, and the interrelation between this reshaping with ideas about Greek and Western identity. The making of heritage is also explored in the short article ”What created 18th century Gothenburg?” (2013), co-authored with Magnus Berg. The article discusses the "factors" that influenced the making of a museum exhibition (personal background and preferences, institutional traditions, materiality in terms of exhibition space and collections, assumptions about the 18th century, assumptions about the audience's expectations etc).  

At present my resarch focuses on the reprsentation of Benin objects in museums in Nigeria and elsewhere, and on the reprsentation of the Parthenon sculptures in Acropolis museum and the British Museum.