Uses of Heritage Part I Chapter 1

Book by Laurajane Smith

Part I: The Idea of Heritage: The Discourse of Heritage

  • There i, really no such thing as heritage
  • Common sense assumption that ‘heritage’ can unproblematically be identified
  • Hegemonic [ruling or dominant] discourse about heritage
  • The ‘heritage’ discourse therefore naturalizes the practice of rounding up the usual suspects to conserve and ‘pass on’ to future generations, and in so doing promotes a certain set of Western elite cultural values as being universally applicable
    • [What is the alternative way to conservation of heritage? Are alternative methods possible?]
  • This discourse validates a set of practices and performances and undermines alternative and subaltern ideas about ‘heritage’. At the same time, the ‘work’ that ‘heritage’ ‘does’ as a social and cultural practice is obscured, as a result of the naturalizing effects of what I call the ‘authorised heritage discourse’.
  • Urry (1990): the discursive nature of heritage… is not so much a ‘thing’ as a set of values and meanings
  • ‘Heritage’ is therefore ultimately a cultural practice, involved in the construction and regulation of a range of values and understandings.
  • There is a hegemonic ‘authorised heritage discourse’, which is reliant on the power/knowledge claims of technical and aesthetic experts, and institutionalised in state cultural agencies and amenity societies.
  • This discourse takes its cues from the grand narratives of nation and class on the one hand, and technical expertise and aesthetic judgement on the other. The ‘authorised heritage discourse’ privileges monumentality and grand scale, innate artefact/site significance tied to time depth, scientific/aesthetic expert judgement, social consensus and nation building. It is a self-referential discourse, which has a particular set of consequences. 
    • The first consequence is the need to construct a material reality for itself – to establish claims about itself that make it real. In this process a number of boundaries are drawn. One boundary disconnects the idea of heritage from the present and present-day values and aspirations so that it becomes something confined to ‘the past’ (Urry 1996). 
      • [In my design – by drawing that boundary am I participating in AHD. By drawing that boundary and enclosure, I, the architect, someone from the outside, is making that conscious, elitist decision to make heritage real. But what does the absence of that boundary do? What is the alternative to AHD? How do we make that conservation possible? Or is there conservation at all? Does that boundary create a different kind of material reality in the urban village? Am I reconnecting heritage to the present using a boundary? Is it really a boundary?]
      • [There is an invisible boundary around the current heritage buildings. The unspoken boundary of material reality. And the actions of conservators is contributing to that boundary. But what am I really doing using that boundary wall – I am introducing the idea of temporariness. What is the starting point? Who has that authority? Me as an outsider? The villagers who own the spaces? They have already identified the space.]
      • [Maybe I should not call it a boundary, because a boundary is a fixated thing. If it is called a skin – because a skin gives the notion that it is very light. A boundary could be very heavy. Maybe it can be called an interface]
      • [Or maybe I should purposely call it a boundary. But change the concept of the boundary to include one that allows for change and flexibility. Is there a term that already represents that? Or a boundary that changes…]
    • Another ensures that heritage becomes the proper subject of analyses and responsibilities for a range of forms of expertise and associated ‘experts’. The power relations underlying the discourse identify those people who have the ability or authority to ‘speak’ about or ‘for’ heritage… and those who do not.
      • [But as an architect, don’t we have to take a stand at authority in order to make decisions? Do architects have the authority? Or do we need to be given authority? Why do we need the authority? Is the concept of authority in the first place necessary?]
      • [Doesn’t this theory then promotes non-action? That there is no way forward because nobody should have the authority? Not even the people who owns it? It traps us to think that everyone should have the same rights to the same buildings]
    • The establishment of this boundary is facilitated by assumptions about the innate value of heritage, which works to obscure the multi-vocality of many heritage values and meanings.
      • [But the word ‘heritage’ itself is a charged word. There is always ‘value’ in ‘heritage’. Is the author proving otherwise? That for some societies, there are no values in heritage?]
      • [In short, what are the alternative discourses?]
  • This discourse also constructs two important sets of heritage practices, those focused on management and conservation of heritage sites, places and objects, and those tied to the visitation of sites and institutions within tourism and leisure activities. However, the broader cultural work that these practices do is often obscured by the way the discourse of heritage constructs not only the idea of heritage, but also its practices. 
    • However, what these practices are involved in are the negotiation and regulation of a range of cultural and social values and meanings. Cultural heritage management and the acts of visiting heritage sites as a tourist or other visitor become acts directly implicated in the occasional construction or reconstruction, but most certainly the maintenance, or more precisely conservation and preservation, of social and cultural meanings.

Thinking about discourse

  • Foucault (1991), one of the more influential writers on discourse, argues that discourses are forms of expertise, collected into different disciplines, which deal with the construction and representation of knowledge. Discourse not only reflects social meanings, relations and entities, it also constitutes and governs them. The focus of much of Foucault’s work was concerned with the epistemological issues of knowledge construction and practice, in particular the power-knowledge relations underlying forms of expertise and the relations of power underpinning dominant discourses.
  • Although his work was concerned with the contestation of and challenges to the dominant discourse, focus tended to be on the dominant discourse itself and competing and/or everyday or ‘popular’ discourses tend to be overlooked, as are the ways in which they contest and challenge bodies of expertise or dominant discourses (Purvis and Hunt 1993; van Dijk 1998).
  • This is because Foucault was concerned not so much about general political struggles but with identifying techniques of power (Rouse 1987, 1994).
  • [What are techniques of power? Techniques are how power is established over competing discourses]
  • CDA (Critical Discourse Analysis):
    • The philosophy of critical realism underlies CDA, which acknowledges that things exist independently of our knowledge of them, or indeed discourses about them, but that ‘we can only know them under particular descriptions’ (Bhaskar 1978:250). 
    • a central concern of CDA is identifying and understanding how people organize themselves and act through particular discourse (Fairclough et al. 2004:2).
    • Integral to CDA is also an analysis of the social and political context of that discourse and an analysis of the social effects that a discourse has. 
    • Of particular concern is an examination of the way discourses become intertwined with the legitimation and maintenance of power (Marston 2004). In legitimizing and naturalising the ideologies and range of cultural and social assumptions about the way the social world works, discourses can have a persuasive power in maintaining and legitimating hierarchies of social relations (Fairclough 2003). [self-referential]
    • Discourses are also projective given that they may ‘represent possible worlds which are different from the actual world [but are] tied in to projects to changes the world in particular directions’.
    • An important issue here is the idea that discourses are not just about sustaining and legitimizing certain practices and social relations, but may also simultaneously be engaged with social change (Fairclough et al. 2004:2).
    • The idea of discourse used in the rest of this volume incorporates the notion of discourse as advanced by CDA; in short, that discourse is both reflective of and constitutive of social practices.
  • My task is to identify the general characteristics of the dominant discourse in heritage, and the way it both reflects and constitutes a range of social practices – not least the way it organizes social relations and identities around nation, class, culture and ethnicity.

When was heritage?

  • David Harvey (2001:320) notes that a concern with ‘heritage’, or at least a concern with ‘the past’ and material items from that past, has a much deeper history than most contemporary debates around the idea of heritage usually allow.
  • Harvey cautions that the tendency to see heritage as largely a modern phenomena works to reduce debates about heritage to specific technical issues over contemporary management and conservation practices, and subsequently any real engagement with debates about how heritage is involved in the production of identity, power and authority are obscures (2001:320).
  • However, my task here is to examine what Harvey (2001:323) himself identifies as a particular ‘strand’, but which is more usefully discussed as a particular discourse, of heritage that emerged in late 19th century Europe and has achieved dominance as a ‘universalizing’ discourse in the 21st century.
  • The European conservation movement and the American preservation movement developed in the context of this change, and what is revealing is what it was that early conservationists and preservation sought to ‘save’ in this context. Almost inevitably it is the grand and great and ‘good’ that were chosen, to ‘remind’ the public about the values and sensibilities that should be saved or preserved as representative of patriotic American and European national identities. Even when it is the ‘bad’t hat is being preserved, it is very often the exceptionally ‘tragic’ event that is commemorated, rather than unpleasantness that is more mundane or reflective of the general inequalities of human experiences.
  • [Can we then sell conservation to urban villagers? Can we sell the club membership? If you build your building this way, you enter upper class]
  • Venice Charter: significance is deemed to be inherent in the fabric of a building. THe Charter incorporates the basic conservation ethic that requires that as little as possible be done to damage or alter a building’s fabric and thus its historic or other values.
    • [What if the value of heritage lies in the ‘change’. What if the value lies in that it is owned by the individual villager, not by the state/developer. What if this private ownership is a relic of the past that should be conserved? And the only way to conserve it is to show its ability to ‘change’ and be interpreted by individual and their needs and that it is adaptable to the current uses of society.]
    • [What if community participation is the heritage?]
  • (talking about the example of Victorian Houses that were saved but tenants driving away) In short, it was the houses that were saved, and saved ultimately for middle class use, and not the sense of community that drove the protest for many local residents. The other point this example reveals about the nature of authorized heritage and monumentality is that it is inherently material, and that Victoria Street could be seen as a conservation victory rather than the local community defeat that it was, becasue the building stock, and not the community, had been saved.
  • [Could I possibly put this also in the context of Western heritage? What doesn’t work in Western heritage that could possibly be applied in China as a preventive measure?]
  • Archaeologists and conservation architects inevitably dominate these processes. This is because, on a practical level, it is members of these disciplines that have lobbied for the legislation, worked within government heritage bureaucracies and amenity societies, and had a significant presence in UNESCO and ICOMOS. On a philosophical level, it is the ability of both disciplines to claim expert authority over material culture (whether as artefacts, sites or structures).
  • The year 1972 is another noteworthy milestone in the development and institutionalization of the heritage discourse. In that year, UNESCO adopted the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, which established an international agenda for the protection and conservation of sites of universal significance, and importantly confirmed the presence of ‘heritage’ as an international issue. In addition, the World Heritage Convention further institutionalized the 19th century conservation ethic and the ‘conserve as found’ ethos. As Choay (2001:140) has argued, the European sense of the historical monument as universally significant underwrites this Convention, which inevitably universalizes Western values and systems of thought (see also Byrne 1991). … Under this convention, heritage is not only monumental, it is universally significant with universal meaning, and it is, ultimately, physically tangible and imposing. The idea of ‘authenticity’ is also significant in this convention, and in many ICOMOS charters. … As Colin Graham (2001:63) notes: ‘authenticity tends to a monologic unquestioning discourse concurrent with the idea of the ‘nation’, it arises also out of contexts in which the nation becomes an active arbiter between the past and a ‘people’… (it) combines the prioritisation of ‘origins’ with the ‘pathos of incessant change’.
    • [Does authenticity necessarily talk about origins? Something is authentic because it speaks true. Of what? Of material? That ‘even a brick wants to become something’? Why is authenticity something good? Why is there a value judgement on something based on how ‘authentic’ it is? Even when authenticity is a matter of discourse?]
    • [The case of the brick and mortar line work. Why is there a negative value judgement on drawing a line on the mortar to show tidiness? Why is exposed bricks and concrete considered authentic? But having a wallpaper, even made with fabric to cover the structural materials of walls in medieval palaces is also considered authentic to the style. Is authenticity a technique of power?]
    • [Recall the use of tiles in shrines in Pearl Village – there is no concern for authenticity. Is that an issue at all?]
  • Internationally, the World Heritage Convention has been criticised, in particular by non-Western nations and commentators, for universalizing Western concepts of heritage and the values inherent within that (see, for instance, Blake 2001; Cleere 2001). In response to this, UNESCO adopted the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural HeritageThis convention attempts to recognize new and non-Western ways of understanding heritage – how successful this is in challenging the dominant discourse…

The authorized heritage discourse and its use

  • Some of the key consequences of this discourse in constituting and legitimizing what heritage is, and in defining who has the ability to speak for and about the nature and meaning of heritage.
  • One of the consequences of the AHD is that it defines who the legitimate spokespersons for the past are. One of the ways the AHD does this is through the rhetorical device of ‘the past’, which is used as a shorthand or an alternative to ‘heritage’. ‘The past’ is vague, though the use of the definite article also identifies something both singular and concrete. The vagueness of ‘the past’, its mystery and ‘hard to pin downness’, immediately works to render it subject to the judgements of experts such as archaeologists and historians. It is part of the discourse that maps out what it is archaeologists and other areas of expertise may have domain over – the vagueness being particularly useful here.
  • The important point here is that terms like ‘the past’, when used to discuss and define heritage, disengage us from the very real emotional and cultural work that the past does as heritage for individuals and communities. The past is not abstract; it has material reality as heritage, which in turn has material consequences for community identity and belonging. The past cannot simply be reduced to archaeological data or historical texts – it is someone’s heritage. 
    • [Does heritage always belong to someone? Who does the heritage belong to? What are the criteria to judge the ownership of heritage? Time? Legal ownership?]
    • [If we refer to the dictionary definition of heritage, we cannot move away from the idea of ‘the past’ because heritage is ‘something that is handed down from the past, as a tradition’. Unless the author is here talking about the description of ‘the past’ as something that has been edited by experts to create a specific version of it – i.e. the middle man between heritage and communities/people. So is the author then speaking against that middle man? That outsider who will provide a certain sense of intervention in the current, ongoing processes of heritage in the community? But at what point do we then say that there needs to be intervention? How do we make an excuse for intervention without making a value judgement on heritage and its assumed importance? If we need to speak against authority and expertise, then what can we do? Or are we not going against authority? Is the author suggesting that we recognise the alternative authorities on heritage, given the basis that they have an existing system of heritage valuing. But is that not based on the assumption that these communities are 1) concerned about heritage in the first place; 2) they are concerned about the uniqueness of their own culture. Because we can say that accepting their value of heritage is important, but that conversation begins with that there are alternative valuing of heritage. If the culture itself is not concerned, at the very least, heritage as something that is valuable, do we then step in to impose a different set of rules to the game? Or do we just let the culture do its thing?]
  • One of the other ways the AHD maps out the authority of expertise is through the idea of ‘inheritance’ and patrimony. The current generation, best represented by ‘experts’, are seen as stewards or caretakers of the past, thus working to disengage the present (or at least certain social actors in the present) from an active use of heritage. Heritage, according to the AHD, is inevitably saved ‘for future generations’ a rhetoric that undermines the ability of the present, unless under the professional guidance of heritage professionals, to alter or change the meaning and value of heritage sites or places.
    • [On the other hand, if we take into consideration everything from the present, how do we intervene? What actions can we take?]
    • In disempowering the present from actively rewriting the meaning of the past, the use of the past to challenge and rewrite cultural and social meaning in the present becomes more difficult. 
  • Another crucial theme of this discourse is the idea that ‘heritage’ is innately valuable. This is because ‘heritage’ is seen to represent all that is good and important about the past, which has contributed to the development of hte cultural character of the present. Moreover, embedded within this discourse is the idea that the proper care of heritage, and its associated values, lies with the experts, as it is only they who have the abilities, knowledge and understanding to identify the innate value and knowledge contained at and within historically important sites and places.
  • This is an embedded assumption within the discourse that has a legacy in antiquarian understandings of knowledge and material culture. Principally, it is architects, historians and archaeologists who act as stewards for the past, so that present and future public may be properly educated and informed about its significance.
  • The heritage literature maintains that heritage is a symbolic representation of identity. [Recall conversation with Pearl Villager]. Material or tangible heritage provides a physical representation of those things from ‘the past’ that speak to a sense of place, a sense of self, of belonging and community. The emergence of the heritage discourse within the context of 19th century nationalism has meant that the primary form identity often associated with heritage is that of the nation (see Macdonald 2003; Graham et al. 2005).
  • The heritage discourse, in providing a sense of national community, must, by definition, ignore a diversity of sub-national cultural and social experiences. Ultimately, the discourse draws on too narrow a sense of experience of what heritage is and what it may mean to readily incorporate sub-national identities.
    • [There are multiple layers of experiences – city, village, migrant. Which experience of heritage are we then addressing or intervening with? To what extent does heritage belong to the people? Which people?]
  • While the AHD may work to exclude the historical, cultural and social experiences of a range of groups, it also works to constrain and limit their critique. It does this on a broad level by privileging the expert and their values over those of the non-expert, and by the self-referential nature of the discourse, which continually legitimizes itself and the values and ideologies on which it is based. However, the emphasis on materialism in this discourse also helps constrain critique.
    • [But is there a way to get away from materialism? If we map this only to the idea that materials are ultimately ephemeral, that materials die and change, could we then be able to address the materiality in heritage?]
    • Linked to the idea of the materiality of heritage is the idea of its ‘boundedness’. Heritage has traditionally been conceived within the AHD as a discrete ‘site’, ‘object’, building or other structure with identifiable boundaries that can be mapped, surveyed, recorded, and placed on national or international site registers. This ability to reduce the concept of heritage to ‘manageable’ and discrete locales helps to reduce the social cultural or historical conflicts about the meaning, value or nature of heritage, or more broadly the past, into discrete and specific conflicts over individual sites and/or technical issues of site management. 
    • Over the last decade, however, and as disciplines such as geography start to consider heritage issues, greater attention has focused on the idea of cultural landscapes and their heritage values. As Head (2000b) has demonstrated, the philosophical separation of concepts of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ during the Enlightenment has lead to an assumption that landscape is inherently a natural rather than a cultural phenomena. Waterton (2005a) and Titchen (1996) have argued that this has affected the ability of heritage organizations to embrace the idea of cultural landscape as heritage. However, this ability is also hindered by the discursive construction of heritage that naturalizes it as a discrete ‘spot’ or locale within a landscape. This conceptualization helps to obfuscate wider cultural and historical debates about the meaning of the past, and works to draw tight conceptual and knowledge boundaries around the meanings and values given to these locales. The idea of a cultural landscape as heritage makes both conceptual and physical space for a wider range and layering of competing values and meanings than does the idea of ‘site.
      • [landscape conservation has allowed for the expansion on the discussion of heritage and the definition of heritage.]
      • [this is because it is difficult to put a boundary on landscape and to identify specific material representations that could be pinned down.]
    • Another aspect of the AHD’s obfuscation of, and attempts to exclude, competing discourses is the way it constructs heritage as something that is engaged with passively – while it may be the subject of popular ‘gaze’, that gaze is a passive one in which the audience will uncritically consume the message of heritage constructed by heritage experts. Heritage is not defined in the AHD as an active process or experience [but the management of heritage? and can heritage actually be an active process?], but rather it is something visitors are led to, are instructed about, but are then not invited to engage with more actively.
    • Hewison (1987) scornfully identifies a ‘heritage industry’, which commodifies, sanitizes and creates a false past and stifles cultural development and creativity.
    • The idea that most visitors and users of heritage sites are ‘tourists’ has now become a pervasive motif in the AHD
      • [What about the tourists in Xiaozhou Village?]
      • In this construction, ‘heritage’ is conflated with mass tourism and the processes of engagement with heritage are reduced to simple consumption.
      • [Is this true of what is happening with people renting historic buildings as a resource? As part of the business.]
    • Subsequently, what is absent in the AHD is a sense of ‘action’ or critical engagement on the part of non-expert users of heritage, as heritage is about receiving the wisdom and knowledge of historians, archaeologists and other experts. This obscures the sense of memory work, performativity and acts of remembrance that commentators such as Nora (1989), Urry (1996) and Bagnall (2003) identify as occurring at heritage sites.

Subaltern and dissenting heritage discourses

  • Two broad strands of debate are identified here.
  • The first concerns the expression of subaltern discourses of community participation in heritage management and conservation processes. These are ‘subaltern’ in that they stand outside of the dominant discourse, and this section outlines the development of this broad area of dissent and examines the responses of both heritage institutions and the heritage literature to it.
  • The second strand of dissent outlined is that developed around the critique of the British ‘heritage industry’ and heritage tourism more broadly.
  • Yet another issue is that the ‘conserve as found’ mentality means that more active interactions and engagements with heritage become problematic as community groups attempt to step out of the passive role of the heritage ‘visitor’ defined within the AHD.
    • [Similar to owners of buildings trying to actively participate in the heritage process. There is no category for them and so they are categorized as visitors, with no ability to step out of the passive role of the heritage ‘visitor’.
  • The overt political nature of supporting (or otherwise) community an other interests is viewed as particularly problematic within the bureaucratic processes of heritage management and conservation, based as they are on the ideologies of the impartiality of expertise.
  • Subsequently, the issue of community participation in framing and implementing heritage practices teeters between a desire to include and a hesitancy to surrender or reduce the authority of both the AHD and the heritage practitioners to wield it, and to recognize the inherently political and discordant nature of heritage.
  • The other strand of critique… is that centred on the advent of mass tourism…
    • Hewison (1987) identified what he called a heritage industry, which he argued offered sanitized, false and inauthentic history to a gullible audience of heritage tourists.
    • One symptom of the retarding gaze of heritage he identified was the post-war increase in the mobilization of public interest in country houses, alongside the growth of country house visiting. This phenomenon was an expression of the degree to which certain versions of the past were being reinforced and propagated. 
    • Urry (1996:52) is correct in observing that the dominant trend in BRitish heritage is to make history ‘safe, sterile and shorn of danger, subversion and seduction’.
    • [Think about the urban village heritage – that the heritage of the urban villages have been recognized but also used to represent Guangzhou on the national stage. It is almost a want to take the heritage away from villagers to create a sanitized, idealised, to a certain extent a disneyficated version of village. There is a clear break away from recognising the current relevance urban villages play in the history of migrants and urbanisation in Guangzhou.]
    • [Thinking about ownership – it is not about making a migrant’s museum, which recognises and to a certain extent displays their lives and histories. How is ownership created in the first place? Can we say that we want to create this ownership in the urban village?]
    • The concern that ‘heritage’, and/or its commodification as an economic and cultural resource, inherently stifles cultural creativity, encourages reactionary nolstalgia and a consensual view of history while focusing public cultural attention backward is conspicuous in the international literature (see, for instance, Bickford 1981, 1983; Beckman 1993, cited in Hjemdahl 2002:106; McCrone et al. 1995; Schouten 1995; Brett 1996; Lowenthal 1998; Choay 2001; Knecht and Niedermuller 2002; Gable and Handler 2003; Debary 2004).
    • [In contrast, I am proposing a heritage that looks at, instead of nolstagia, the inevitability of decline and impermanence. But what I am actually proposing in my design is a way of looking at impermanence. How am I addressing the issue of decline? Or am I addressing that? Maybe I am looking at the immateriality of heritage…]
    • Commentators within tourism studies have suggested that tourists may understand authenticity entirely differently than it is traditionally defined and understood within the AHD, with its emphasis on inherent material qualities. Instead, they have begun to stress the idea of emotional and experiential authenticity (Pretice 1998, 2001; McIntosh and Prentice 1999, 2004).
    • Heritage industry tends to assume that all ‘heritage’ innately invokes a sense of nostalgia. ‘Nostalgia’ is commonly assumed to be intrinsically conservative, and is seen as synonymous with a plea for social continuity, often in the face of change or in response to a sense of social loss (Grainge 1999:623).
  • The authorized discourse is itself a form of ‘heritage’ in that it legitimizes and defines the identities of a range of social actors and mediates the social relations between them, while also defining and legitimizing values that underpin those relations.