Heritage and Power

Another stab at thesis outline/abstract

Built Heritage as an Enabler of Urban Power (change title)

A Study into Defining Heritage in Materiality

A Study into the Causal Relationship between Built Heritage and Power, Using Urban Villages in Southern Chinese Cities as Examples.

  • Built heritage is increasingly being identified and listed in Chinese cities.
  • However, the direct consequences of this identification process are often commercial redevelopments following a theme park-like model and the exclusion and ultimately displacement of existing communities. (assumption here is that these are seen as consequences, what if in some situations, they are actually used as methods to get rid of people?). These consequences are well documented in Chinese urban literature and can be understood (situations where urban heritage areas are redeveloped) from three scales of exclusion: city-scale (lack of representation), neighbourhood-scale (lack of community), individual scale (lack of identity).
  • The reasons given for these consequences vary from Chinese people generally having a different take on authenticity (think of Cheng Huang Miao) to unregulated heritage management practices in China. However, these reasons give little indication as to how to avoid the problem.
  • This thesis argues that the underlying problem lies with the definition of built heritage as material objects, which results in the creation of concentrated and exclusive political and social power within large corporations and governments (but this is not to say that there is an intention to centralise power, or is there proof for that? in that case, doesn’t that intention drive the definition of built heritage as material objects?). The thesis uses the example of Xiaozhou Village in Guangzhou, an urban area that only recently entered into the category of ‘heritage’, to analyse three characteristics of materiality used to define built heritage and hence create concentrated power: objectivity (product-oriented, scientific), permanence (creating value in the past) and exclusivity (boundaries and ownership).
  • The thesis suggests that built heritage need to be redefined as cultural processes, to enable a decentralised power structure inclusive of urban communities. The difference between materiality and process is analysed using three corresponding characteristics of the latter: subjectivity (human capital-oriented, expressive), changing (creating value in the present) and inclusivity (passing down knowledge and apprenticeship). This is analysed using the example of building craft guilds in medieval Italy.
  • The appropriateness of this method is then analysed in relation to the contemporary Chinese context, in three aspects: political, social/cultural and economical. (shouldn’t this be part of essay 4?)
  • The thesis combines theoretical research from critical heritage studies and (what is the category for power) and draws a causal link between heritage and power. It uses a period of ethnographic research in Xiaozhou Village in Guangzhou as a case study.


  • What about the common desire to save heritage?