Anthony Hyman Memorial Lecture 2020: Hearts & Minds: Afghanistan's Contested Culture

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6:00 pm to 9:00 pm
Brunei Gallery
Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre
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About this event

Jolyon Leslie (ACHCO)


Through Afghanistan’s modern history, culture has been an element in shaping the notion of national identity. This remains the case to this day, with many Afghans of the view that the traditional practices and values that provide them a sense of collective belonging lie at the core of their culture. Just as there were in the past, however, there are those who see a more progressive role for culture as a force for change and development. These contesting visions arguably places culture on a fault-line within Afghan society - and at times on the front-line of conflict.

With this contest in mind, I shall examine the narrative that Afghan culture has somehow been ‘rescued’ as part of international intervention in the country since 2002. In this period, while the cultural realm has tended to be portrayed as ‘neutral’ – a space in which to foster mutual understanding, or even reconciliation – it has simultaneously been weaponized for political ends by some Afghans and their international sponsors. A number of recent cultural initiatives will serve to illustrate the consequences on the ground of this contradictory strategy. Drawing out some of the lessons to be learned from both the successes and mis-steps, I shall make a case for a better-informed and more inclusive approach in support of cultural activity that might enable Afghans across the country to acknowledge, engage and take pride in what they share - rather than what divides them - at particularly challenging juncture of their history.

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Speaker Biography

An architect by training, Jolyon Leslie has lived and worked in Afghanistan for the past three decades, working for the UN, NGOs and advising the Afghan government on urban development. He currently advises the Afghan Cultural Heritage Consulting Organisation (ACHCO) on conservation initiatives in Parwan and Herat.

Organiser: SOAS Centre of Contemporary Central Asia and the Caucasus

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Contact Tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4893