Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Archaeology Division
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Students
Primary Theme: The Political
“Cultural heritage” has variously been understood as bequests and legacies from the past that are selected for use in the present and passed on to future generations (Ashworth and Graham 2005); as the technocratic frameworks and institutions built to manage such selections (Smith 2006); and as a mirror that society holds up to itself to understand or explain social change (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1998, 2004). In this session we consider an additional rubric through which to understand and approach cultural heritage: through its indissoluble bonds with "rights". To speak of cultural heritage is to enter a field of relationships forged between past and present. These relationships can be characterized as an intersecting network of rights, claims, and obligations, binding the present and past together. Exploring cultural heritage through the lens of rights recognizes the importance of the past on current claims, as well as the centrality of rights to defining heritage in our globalizing present.
Certainly, cultural heritage claims/practices and broader human rights claims/practices have increasingly intersected. Papers in this session, however, will focus on these intersections in the realm of contemporary heritage work that operates within democratic contexts. In these settings heritage rights are often invoked vis-à-vis democratic political institutions (such as liberal democratic states and state-supported agencies or bureaucracies), and are supported through democratic practices (such as participatory, collaborative, and deliberative approaches to cultural heritage). Therefore, papers in our session will interrogate the character—both necessary and unexpected—of the relationship between rights, democratic practice and heritage. This will include exploration of the ways that democratic principles and institutions might foster rights through the opportunities of participatory and deliberative heritage practice. Our session will also, however, address the challenges that democratic approaches to heritage and rights present, especially in settings where democratic processes work to equate and accommodate multiple heritage claims that may, in reality, be neither equal nor able to co-exist.