Session Abstract: Heritage is all the rage in Southeast Asia today. The discourse of “heritage” and “preservation” – particularly as expressed through UNESCO – permeates our scholarship, either as contemporary or historical observers. However, the question remains: how can we as scholars of Southeast Asia – and Asia more broadly – use these terms productively, rather than passively transmit neoliberal or functionalist notions of the past and its material remains in the present? Amid an apparent “heritage rush,” the papers on this panel examine the historical and contemporary changes in who gets to decide what counts as heritage, what it means, how to preserve it, and to what end. Pozek begins with a broader view of the ethical and legal context of heritage preservation efforts in the region, along with the tensions between local and transregional stakeholders in the field of heritage preservation, which helps to frame the discussion. Then, Holma examines the role of foreign investment in shaping heritage preservation at Angkor, especially concerning the context of recent transregional Chinese involvement. In the case of Singapore, Lim then seeks to explain the decline of Raffles and rise of the Merlion as statuary representation of Singaporean national identity. Finally, Kaneti engages in a comparative examination of maritime heritage in the cases of Indonesia and Singapore highlighting the multiple meanings associated with maritime interactions. Overall, we are seeing a confluence of local, national, and global stakeholders at times contest and at other times collaborate, on the definitions of heritage in Southeast Asian contexts.
Paper Presenter: Nick Pozek – Columbia University
Paper Presenter: Sarah-Kim Holma – Leiden University
Paper Presenter: Michelle Lim – Nanyang Technological University
Paper Presenter: Marina Kaneti – National University of Singapore