This 5-8 of June 2012 the University of Gothenburg will host the inaugural conference of the Association of Critical Heritage Studies with the theme ”Re-theoretisation of heritage”.
Many interesting papers will be presented, by researchers from all over the world. My paper will be on the Thursday on concepts of ‘The Public’ in heritage, and the abstract follows.
Expanding Definitions: Who Decides the “The Public’s” Visions of Heritage?
Heritage has traditionally been conceptionalised and institutionalised as ‘the best’ buildings and gardens that were once owned by the elite, or fulfilled a particular vision – in the UK – of Britishness; or English, Scottish and Welsh national identity. But over the last decade, or so, in the UK; particularly under the New Labour government, there have been attempts to expand definitions of heritage, to include the more non-traditional, non- elite visions of space and place, and to involve diverse groups considered excluded from such traditional visions, promoting heritage as a tool for social inclusion and regeneration for communities and local areas. For example, the Heritage Lottery Fund, set up in 1994, states that their aim is to involve more and “a wider range” of people in their “diverse heritage”. Museums now consult, to some extent, with local community groups. Even English Heritage and the National Trust nodded in the direction of this agenda.
My paper will assess why and to what extent this expansion – to include those once excluded – has been possible, examining resistance, contestation and contradictions in the process. Questions will concentrate on to what to what extent can this expansion be considered radical? Can it be completed and, in particular, who decides this new vision of the “diverse communities’s heritage” and what drives the attempts to expand such a definition? For “The Public” used in these discourses is a construct which requires critique.