Research themes

Heritage, memory and the recent past

A significant consequence of the rise of a politics of identity is the way in which the past plays an important part in people’s everyday lives. Whether in the shape of a memory boom, Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, claims to heritage based on human rights discourses like those around cultural repatriation or the safeguarding of intangible heritage practices, the past increasingly plays a role in the present. Our focus in this theme is to understand the role that the increasing association of heritage with identity and with memory has played in this phenomenon. It is not uncommon nowadays, for people’s attachments to cultural practices, places and collective memories to become the ground for negotiating political and social self-determination. Consequently, we analyse the various ways in which museums, heritage places and intangible heritage practices have become sites of contestation, negotiation and remembrance for nations as well as specific community groups and individuals.

Our focus is a double one. The first is an exploration of how these places and practices are used to negotiate difficult histories in the present, addressing questions around the need for historical justice, dealing with trauma, reconciliation in post-conflict contexts, human rights and the establishment of cross-cultural forms of engagement. Within the Asia Pacific region such issues take on particular significance, given histories of colonialism, authoritarian states, indigenous populations and ethnic minorities. The second is a concern with understanding the interpretation and curatorial strategies that are used to achieve these ends, from the use of multimedia and immersive forms of interpretation to questions concerning exhibition design, narrative structures and choice of content. We draw from exhibitions and heritage sites dealing with the nature of colonial and post-colonial encounters, conflicts between states over ownership of intangible heritage practices in borderland zones, the heritage of war and genocide as well as the representation of cultural diversity and racism.

 

Conservation and the new culture-natures

The limitations of analysing ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ as separate ontological categories has long been recognised. Yet intellectual and institutional divisions remain persistently embedded in the field of ‘conservation’, as evidenced in the divergent pathways of both academia and professions. In an age of rapid environmental degradation – both cultural and natural – there is a growing recognition of the importance of overcoming such boundaries, and the need to cultivate analytical and methodological frames based around culture-natures, particularly in relation to understanding indigenous values. Such approaches embrace the interconnected discourses of conservation which stem from mutually shared concerns and anxieties. This theme takes up such issues. First, through an understanding of the historical processes through which culture, nature arenas of conservation have become fragmented into specialist fields of expertise, curatorial practice and spheres of governance. Second, by examining the emergence of more recent culture-nature discourses that mobilise new forms of heritage, environmentality and preservation. And third, by seeking to critically reflect upon such hybridities in order to map the ever expanding frontiers of conservation now and in the future.

 

The Future of Heritage Studies

This theme considers the future of heritage studies. There is much debate concerning the ‘coming of age’ of heritage studies as a field of research and teaching. The proliferation of publications and journals, the growing number of conferences and courses around the world, as well as the establishment of international associations and networks all point towards rapid expansion. Today however, a number of key issues have yet to be addressed, including: the institutional positioning of the study of heritage in the academy, the organisation of knowledge production in ways that productively respond to the challenges and issues of the twenty-first century, and the challenge of developing critical theory strands that more successfully account for different national, regional and cultural contexts. Exploring such themes, we seek to understand what a cross-disciplinary and geographically plural understanding of heritage and its pedagogy might look like, and considers the intellectual and programmatic foundations required for understanding the increasingly complex role ‘heritage’ will play within the fast shifting global political and economic conditions of the 21st century.

 

Material culture and knowledge practices

This theme focuses on the knowledge practices that define and articulate discussions about material culture today. Focusing primarily on the Asia Pacific, we are both interested in undertaking material culture studies and analytically situating today’s prevailing knowledge practices within their histories of colonialism, nation-state formation and the encounter between modern/western, orientalist and indigenous approaches to landscape, environment and material culture as deployed to construct histories in text and in practice. The theme explores the different forms of knowledge, and the ways they are institutionally and politically practiced within frameworks of cultural heritage and museology today. It addresses the widespread uneasiness about current approaches to conservation in the region, but moves beyond the analytically stymied accounts of ‘Eurocentrism’ and ‘Asian approaches’ by situating current heritage practices and debates within their histories of traditional, colonial and globalizing practice.

The ascendency of key knowledge fields – architecture, archaeology, history, art history and anthropology – as fields of expertise are traced to interpret the intellectual and governmental structures that constitute cultural heritage management today. There is an emphasis on how the production of truths and ways of knowing heritage has created particular kinds of social actors – experts, policy, governmental and non-governmental institutions and advisory agencies – which fashion those truths and methods into new instruments of cultural and social governance.

 

Heritage Diplomacy

In the long history of diplomacy, culture has continually mediated and lubricated relations between nations, between cities and between institutions. There is growing evidence today however to suggest the cultural sector and its institutions are now playing an increasingly pivotal role in the language and politics of diplomacy. As cities around the world are twinned, Confucius Institutes continue to open and museums of world culture appear, culture is increasingly cited and recognised as a form of ‘soft power’. But with the intersections between culture and diplomacy yet to receive sustained critical scrutiny, important work needs to be done to better understand this complex and fast growing phenomena. CHCAP addresses two of the key arenas through which cultural diplomacy is now being both mobilised and challenged: museums and cultural heritage.

Analyses of the globalisation of heritage governance in the mid-late twentieth century have focused primarily on intergovernmental bodies such as UNESCO, at the expense of critically reading the role nation-states continue to play in international conservation and governance policy. Drawing on examples from across the region, this theme sets out to examine the intersections between state based, non-governmental and intergovernmental forms of heritage aid, and the ways in which cultural heritage is entangled in the diplomatic relations and conflicts between countries.

 

Cultural institutions and their histories

Cultural institutions have long been associated with the governance of culture, the shaping of citizens and processes of social and cultural differentiation. However, while these processes have been studied within national contexts, the analysis of the increasingly important role of international agencies in the governance of ‘culture’ is comparatively under researched. With the history of international cultural policy and their institutions featuring lightly within stories of twentieth century globalism and international relations, little or no research has been done to understand the collective impact organisations like UNESCO, the International Council of Museums (ICOM), International Council for Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), or Aga Khan Trust for Culture have had on countries around the world. Yet these bodies, together with a range of domestic cultural sector institutions, play a significant role in shaping narratives of citizenship and identity, as well as regimes of taste, tolerance and cosmopolitanism.

In exploring such themes we seek to critically understand the intersections between global regimes and their local, national and regional counterparts, teasing out their different roles within specific national contexts and the nature of their encounters with each other. We focus on specific genres – national trusts, historic houses, museums as well as global organisations such as UNESCO, ICOM and ICOMOS. Of particular interest are the histories of cultural sector institutions in developing economy countries as well as in settler nations such as Australia where understandings of heritage are significantly different from those emanating from Europe. Thus we also look forward, considering the degree to which global economic shifts will deliver non-Western cultural sector institutions the political platform to influence cultural policy at the international level. (Asia focus).

 

Urban Heritage in Times of Rapid Transformation

For states across the world, heritage plays a significant economic, social and political role in nation, city and community construction and transformation. In the twenty-first century it is accepted that cities around the world seek to attract globalised functions that act as world status markers—international banks and stock exchanges, telecommunications, air transport hubs, global organisations in the UN system—and offer to host major international events, such as the Olympic or Asian Games. In this, there is a very strong element of image-making at work—of public relations, of using major projects and events to win media attention in order to gain a favourable place in a perceived global hierarchy of states and cities. Such image-making particularly concerns capital cities but extends to other major metropolises and, beyond the city, to the nation as a whole where it plays an important role in nation-building.

More broadly, this theme considers the various economic, social and political roles that heritage plays in times of rapid transformation. It seeks to identify the ways in which heritage is a resource for communities undergoing extensive forms of transformation such as modernisation, the rise of democracy in formerly authoritarian societies, post-war reconstruction, the development of multicultural societies under the impact of globalisation and consequent mass migration, urban development pressures and changing economic structures.

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