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101601: Issues In Contemporary Heritage

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Summarize dierent approaches to heritage in varying geographic and cultural settings

Identify Indigenous Standpoints within contemporary heritage debates.



The author attempts to shade light on the discursive issue of heritage. The author identifies dominant or the authorized discourse which forms the central point of interaction for a range of subaltern and dissenting discourses. The authorized heritage discourse creates specific set of social and cultural practices that contain legacies based on the late modernity context. The heritage discourse establishes who possesses responsibilities or power to speak for and define the past besides being a process that creates and recreates a continued range of social values, relations and meanings about the present and the past (Byrne, 2008). Discourse is considered to be a form of heritage in itself since it defines and legitimizes the identities of a given range of actors who are social. It also mediates about the relations that exist between them socially while still legitimizing and defining the values underpinning the relations. The idea of understanding heritage’s discursive element as well as the way its ideas are legitimated and constructed also helps facilitate the identification of the conceptual and philosophical barriers that exist when trying to recognize or engage with the competing or forms of heritage that get excluded.                                    

The heritage practice can be defined as the conservation and management protocols, procedures and techniques that are undertaken by heritage archaeologists, museum curators, managers, and other relevant experts. David Harvey claims that the heritage concerns or concerns with materials from the past and the past itself have in them history that is much deeper than most debates in the contemporary, than the heritage idea normally allow (Byrne, 2008). He noted that using the past to have the individual ideas and group identities constructed is a human condition. Throughout the history of humans people have been actively managing and treasuring the past material aspects for such a purpose. According to the book, the origins of the heritage discourse that is dominant have been linked to the liberal modernity and nationalism of the 19th century.


While there is the aspect of competing discourses that do occur, this dominant discourse has been intrinsically embedded with a pastoral care sense of material past.  According to literature from different sources, current heritage concepts are said to have emerged in Europe, most particularly France, Germany and Britain. This has been the when aspect of heritage while the where aspect of the discourse is found in Western Europe by the authorial voices of the ruling and upper middle classes of educated elites and professionals from Europe. It is a discourse of patriotism and nationalism as it is of particular class experiences, aesthetic and social values (Byrne, 2008). However, the heritage discourse has experienced some challenges. Globally, the world heritage convention faces criticism especially from the non-western countries and commentators, for its universal outlook of western concepts regarding heritage together with the other values that are inherent from within. In trying to respond to this outcome, UNESCO adopts the convention of 2003 as a way to safeguard the intangible cultural heritage. In the convention, is the attempt to have the new and the non-western perception of heritage recognized.             

Heritage represents the dominant discourse ideology though this ensures it becomes the focus for alternative meaning amongst the dissenting groups. There exists several discourses that dissent or critique about the meaning, use and nature of heritage (Byrne, 2008). Two debate strands have been identified, the first being the expressions of subaltern discourses of heritage management participation of communities and processes of conservation. They are termed subaltern since they stand outside the ideas of the dominant discourse. The other dissent strand involves the critique to the British industry heritage and the heritage tourism. This critique is not viewed as subaltern discourse elements.                

Summary 2

Harvey, D. (2001) ‘Heritage pasts and heritage presents: Temporality, meaning and the scope of heritage studies’, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 7(4): 319–338.

Heritage which is a cultural attribute or a tradition that is passed over generations, is described by the author as the legacy inherited by family, person, society, neighborhood, or a nation over generations and this is considered an utmost responsibility that should be passed on to the generations of the future. However, it should be considered that heritage does not only involve the physical identity but involves both cultural and social actions too. The whole heritage conversation paradigm has materialized and objectified the places of importance historically. This leads to reduced prioritization of the social values of the heritage places (Harvey, 2001). Social and cultural attributes are simply not the accumulation of people and things but should be better perceived in terms of processes whose series involve old and new practices being adapted and adopted within the systems of culture. Such processes have a deep reinforcement such that they bring about cultures through varied work forms.            

When heritage forms the capital of culture and the way through which people get connected with the environment surrounding them as well as with each other, such an involvement in the local heritage could be taken to be some form of a social action. People can refigure and transform the way the society operates by drawing from the past while creating some significance from the memories and traces (Harvey, 2001). The people’s association to their forms of heritage involves the meanings that are assigned to the places that form part of the significance and more precisely, the social significance. For one to get into the social significance depths of any heritage place, it is critical to look to the communities that are locally associated including the world of people who are ordinary.     

It is thus important to understand the fact that the various local landscapes have a meaning significance and such meanings get associated to the ordinary people and their lived world. In the context of today, the cultural landscapes get populated by the local communities and it is the people who give to the historic environment some symbiotic meaning. This symbiotic meaning is not necessarily that it be constant to the local communities themselves. However, it is widely accepted that the stories and meanings behind the heritage give it a collective significance or meaning (Harvey, 2001). The way of perception of the local heritage and the related history stories may even differ from one person to the other. Likewise, what conservationists might perceive about this heritage might be based on pure aspects that are commondified or the tangible aspect of the said heritage.    

It is quite naïve to take a materialistic approach to the practice of conservation which presently considers the material form, being isolated. The deeper historical and social forces are in most cases ignored and not looked along with the attributes that are physical in totality. In the world that is rapidly globalizing, the aspect creates the tendency of commodifying the properties of heritage and thus the development supersedes the conservation. To position the different attributes defining heritage places and the various means local places end up being heritage places not by mere physical identity but by viability and association to the community is important for understanding (Harvey, 2001). The local communities form more cultural compositions that evolve through local identity building and integrity than phenomena that is natural. The struggle that indigenous people make, to have their rights recognized over the traditional lands, needs to have a tangible linkage between the communities and their landscapes locally.  This instigates the merging of the identity building work and that of heritage that is controlled by the fragile and tenacious desire of the people.       



Byrne, D. (2008) ‘Heritage as social action’. In G. Fairclough, J. Jameson and R. Harrison (eds) The Heritage Reader. London, Routledge, pp. 149–174.

Harvey, D. (2001) ‘Heritage pasts and heritage presents: Temporality, meaning and the scope of heritage studies’, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 7(4): 319–338.


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