The Rhetoric of Heritage

Organisers Kathryn Lafrenz Samuels (North Dakota State University) and Trinidad Rico (Stanford University)
Emails Kathryn.Lafrenz.Samuels@ndsu.edu, Trico@stanford.edu

This session explores the key concepts and rhetorical strategies that mobilize the past in the present. Archaeology and heritage are implicated in a wide range of social, political, and economic struggles in our contemporary world, so that increasingly the past becomes a standpoint for strategic engagement in larger issues. This session proposes to examine the rhetorical role of heritage through a range of terms that tap into broadly circulating strategic vocabularies: e.g. sustainability, rights, risk, selection, character, reparation, public heritage, intangible heritage, and cultural property.

Contributors to this session will open up and reclaim one such component of the rhetorical repertoire within the specific contexts of their work. While rhetoric has variously borne either positive or pejorative connotations since the time of Plato and Aristotle, in this session participants are encouraged to consider how rhetoric could provide a powerful tool for more just and liberatory approaches to cultural heritage.

Participatory, collaborative, and emancipatory approaches signal a shift toward more equitable, inclusive, and ‘democratic’ research programs. This session suggests that attention to deliberative practices complements these democratic aims. Further, democratic theorists increasingly turn to rhetoric as a counter-ballast to previous approaches, elegant but unworkable, that focused on discussion as being a venue of reasoned deliberation set in ideal situations where the most rational arguments and outcomes prevail. Rhetoric introduces the positionality and affective states – both of which are integral to heritage – of those participating in discussion and broader public debate. The unique rhetorical plays afforded by heritage also construct new possibilities and articulations of democratic practice, denaturalizing monolithic constructs of democracy while also breaking beyond purely discursive rhetoric to introduce material culture and daily practices as a complementary rhetorical ‘language.’

 

Introduction: Heritage as Rhetoric with Optative Potential

Speakers: Kathryn Lafrenz Samuels (North Dakota State University) & Trinidad Rico (Asian University for Women)

Participatory, collaborative, and emancipatory approaches signal a shift toward more equitable, inclusive, and ‘democratic’ research programs. We argue that attention to deliberative practices complements these democratic aims. Further, democratic theorists increasingly turn to rhetoric as a counter-ballast to previous approaches, elegant but unworkable, that focused on discussion as being a venue of reasoned deliberation set in ideal situations where the most rational arguments and outcomes prevail. Rhetoric introduces the positionality and affective states – both integral to understanding heritage – of those participating in discussion and broader public debate. We contend that the unique rhetorical plays afforded by heritage also construct new possibilities and articulations of democratic practice, denaturalizing monolithic constructs of democracy while also breaking beyond purely discursive rhetoric to introduce material culture and daily practices as a complementary rhetorical ‘language.’

 

Bad Language: Losing the Arguments for Cultural Resource Management in Britain

Speaker: Malcolm Cooper (The Malcolm A Cooper Consultancy)

A rationalist view of the historic environment tends to see cultural resource management (CRM) as dependent on five key elements: (1) surviving entities, e.g. the historic environment assets; (2) databases, which locate and describe these assets; (3) legislative and policy frameworks, which define value systems to give significance and protection to those assets; (4) organisations, which are given or carry out specific roles in relation to the legislative and policy framework; and (5) experts, who populate such organisations and who, through their actions, bring together the first four elements into a dynamic and effective system of protection and management.

This type of description is non-problematic for many for whom CRM is a purely practical activity involving little or no theoretical basis. Adopt a social-constructivist perspective however and this model rapidly dissolves. ‘Experts‘ and ‘authorised heritage discourse’ are under attack from within and without the sector. There is strong disagreement over which value-system should be applied, and whether the focus should be international, national, regional or local. The application of legislation and policy are culturally conditioned and far from straightforward in practice. This paper argues that an understanding of language and discourse is as crucial to successful CRM as are the five key elements identified above.

 

Civil Society: Civil Society in the Field of Cultural Property Protection during Armed Conflict

Speaker: Sigrid Van der Auwera (University of Antwerp)

The concept of civil society is on the rise in the field of heritage. Appeals to civil society are made in multiple ways, from its engagement in promoting and safeguarding cultural heritage, to the rehabilitation of historic buildings as community resources, and volunteer projects uncovering local history. Moreover, current international heritage policies invoke the value of heritage for society and the need to engage civil society, e.g. in the concept of ‘heritage communities’ articulated in the 2005 FARO Convention of the Council of Europe. This paper frames the concept of civil society by defining its scope and outlining the use of the term, focusing specifically on the role of civil society in the protection of cultural property during armed conflict. The phenomenon of intentional cultural property destruction is framed in a rhetoric of contemporary identity-bound conflicts and the politics of nationalism, in which heritage is misused in the process of ethnic cleansing. Prevention is sought through a bottom-up approach, with communities enlisted as the heirs of cultural heritage, thereby initiating a call for civil society. While civil society is a well-established entity in the protection of cultural property during armed conflict, a critical evaluation of its meaning in practice is lacking.

 

Difficult Heritage: Re-functionalizing Sicily’s Fascist Past

Speaker: Joshua Samuels (Stanford University)

A number of terms have emerged over the past 15 years to describe how people deal with a problematic past, including dissonant, negative, undesirable, difficult, and ambivalent heritage.  In this paper I will critically engage these terms by exploring the extent to which they are an analytical construct, divorced from the sentiment of people on the ground, and how they may even hinder the kinds of post-conflict reconstruction that they often hope to help mobilize. My case-study involves a series of villages in Sicily built from scratch in the early 1940s as part of a Fascist ruralization campaign, and I examine a recent plan to incorporate several of them into a touristic route for bicyclists and trekkers. What can we learn when what may appear to be a difficult heritage turns out to be fairly uncontentious? Is this a failure of “coming to terms with the past,” or are there lessons here about how relict material can be used in productive ways, regardless of its historical baggage?

 

Authenticity: Rhetorics of Preservation and the Experience of the Original

Speaker: Anna Karlström (University of Queensland)

Most scholars agree that authenticity is an important quality attached to cultural heritage. Its meaning as the origin or the authorship of remains from the past is mainly connected to form and fabric, and authenticity is often seen in opposition to fake and the artificial. Material authenticity is ascribed to objects that are true and in their original state. This concept of authenticity privileges mainly unchanged conditions and the idea that appreciation and value grow the closer we come to the original state, which also presupposes that heritage values are universal and should be preserved for the future and preferably forever. Even though the concept of authenticity has expanded within current heritage debates, and even if we agree that authenticity is not an essence of a thing (and accordingly agree that the materiality of a thing is not its essential property), the focus of the concept of authenticity is still on form and fabric and the material, and its meaning is more or less taken for granted. This paper explores authenticity on the basis of a different conceptualisation, namely authenticity through performance. From fieldwork experience in Southeast Asia, examples will illustrate how authenticity is involved in religious practice and contribute to challenging preservationist ideals that dominate within contemporary heritage discourse.

 

Sustainability: Primordial Conservationists, Environmental Sustainability & the Rhetoric of Pastoralist Cultural Heritage in East Africa

Speaker: Paul Lane (University of York)

The importance of conserving East Africa’s wildlife populations has been a significant narrative trope, at both regional and international scales, for over a century. More recently, conservation efforts have been linked to the concept of ‘sustainability’, and local communities have been persuaded to play a more active role in wildlife conservation in the region. Coincident with these changes in conservation practice, range ecologists and anthropologists began to emphasise the ‘domesticated’ nature of the savannah environments that support many of the more iconic East African wildlife species, emphasising in particular the ecological mutualism that exists between pastoralist settlement and grazing patterns and the species diversity of the landscapes they occupy. Understandably, many of East Africa’s pastoralist communities have been quick to identify themselves as ‘indigenous’ conservationists, partly to gain access to a more equitable share of the region’s lucrative tourist economy, and partly to position themselves in contradistinction to the region’s non-pastoralist, majority populations. This paper explores how the emergent associated rhetoric of ‘sustainability’ is expressed through public performances and displays of ‘pastoralist heritage’ in the region. It also examines some of the inherent contradictions to this rhetoric as revealed through an archaeological understanding of the human histories of these landscapes.

 

Resilience: The Persistence of Place in Theory & Practice

Speaker: John Schofield (University of York)

Resilience is not the first word that comes to mind in creating a ‘rhetoric of heritage’, but the concept is I believe key in a world in which the management of change, and sustainability, should be prioritised over measures that merely fossilise the past, effectively removing it from the present. Places persist in a changing landscape, while character persists within the grain of the landscape itself. In this way the past will remain present as well as being more than just a collection of museum pieces celebrating particular histories. For resilient places are typically relevant places, places which have shaped subsequent actions and experience. Resilient places are also widespread. This is not really about the persistence of Stonehenge several thousand years after it was built; rather it is about the quotidian: hidden alleyways, unspectacular architecture and routes through the landscape that have remained, as markers, as traces and as the basis of peoples’ memories. Such places have proved to be resilient over time. Much of our heritage survives in this way, without formal protection (or even recognition) and for the benefit of all. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s