Representation and Conflict: Reconciling the Philosophy and Practice of Heritage Values

Posted on December 27, 2019


This is a session we filmed at the TAG conference a few years ago. I hope you enjoy the videos.

Session Details

Values associated with heritage are multiple at any given moment. This challenge for heritage professions is made a moving target as values also change over time. Critical heritage discourse has long debated the valuesbased agenda, and acknowledged the impact of many factors including age, ethnicity, experience and environment. Its’ inevitable conclusions – questioning the principle of universal values, and the potentiality for conflicting perspectives – are well known, but still far from resolved in practice. These studies go hand in hand with those on diverse society. Meanwhile the language to describe society has moved from multiculturalism towards integration. Alongside the theory and politics sits practical heritage management and conservation practice, requiring real decisions based on interpretation at every level. Four factors relevant to the debate are: (1) the presence of multiple values and its complexity in a post-modern society is indisputable; responding to values as they shift in four dimensions is a major challenge. (2) As all heritage is someone’s heritage, it potentially excludes someone else, leading to contested values. (3) Government advocates the transformative qualities of culture, heritage, and the arts, particularly in addressing inequalities (especially social and health related). (4) There is a risk of disinheritance from heritage creation and given its relationship to belonging and identity (and associated perceived links to social cohesion) addressing this remains a priority. This session will explore how these four factors relate in an attempt to have an inclusive debate on the relationship between theory and practice. Under-pinned by the current agenda (cultural and political) of the accessibility of heritage in all its forms, it will use a combination of case studies and theoretical work to explore the issues, consider the potential of heritage to address social inequalities, and speculate on what this means for organisations that ‘decide’ (or advise on) heritage.

Organisers: Linda Monckton (Historic England) and David McOmish (Historic England)

Heritage Values, Where are we Now? An institutional perspective

This paper will briefly introduce the session and set out the context at Historic England that means this debate is warranted. It will do this with reference to project work with both a conscious and sub-conscious relationship with contested and multiple values. It will introduce the structure of the session covering the areas of language, identity, inequality, social values and policy application.

Linda Monckton (Historic England)

EVERYTHING IS AWESOME: How the LEGO movie helps me reconcile heritage practice, philosophy & theory

Ever wondered what the LEGO Movie and Heritage Management have in common? Are you Emmet Brickowski or a Master Builder? Can you survive in a world of multiple values and contested heritage? Or are you one for the rule book and the comfort zone of working within a clear authorised heritage? Exploring the language of heritage management, I will consider how we have given ourselves a philosophical straightjacket based on preservation, protection and heritage audits. I will explore how we can challenge this approach and create a more dynamic and engaging vision of heritage management based on the understanding and creation of cultural value. I will actively embrace the creative qualities of culture and heritage and the conflicts and challenges it can bring. I will challenge why we try to seek the ‘right’ answer with our interventions/engagement when the ‘best’ may actually be the best outcome. To help me navigate these issues, I have created my own sort of theory/philosophy drawn from the LEGO movie. Through it I will show how theory and the philosophy behind what we do can actually help us map a route through these complex issues and leave a more lasting legacy from our interventions.

Neil Redfern (Historic England)

Using Archaeology to Understand Inequality in England Over the Last Millennium

Inequality is one of Britain’s most serious and pressing problems. The long history of inequality is poorly understood and archaeology can throw light on the changing nature of social difference over the long term. In this paper we will sketch out an approach to inequality in England since the Domesday Book (AD 1086). We will start by examining how to think about inequality in a cultural manner which will have empirical consequences. The research will use three broad datasets: 1) Historic Landscape Characterization data together with that on buildings to look both at the enclosure of the landscape and patterns of investment in it, which influenced who had access to land and under what circumstances; 2) differential access to artefacts using the Portable Antiquities Scheme information; and 3) biological measures of health and well-being, including height, skeletal evidence of work and trauma, as well as information from tooth plaque on disease and diet. Using these sets of information we will start to contrast feudal and capitalist modes of inequality, throwing new light on each. We shall argue that existing ‘heritage’ datasets can be used to inform on historical issues of considerable current interest – in this case concerning social tension and conflict around class, gender, and other modes of social distinction.

Chris Gosden (Oxford University) and Chris Green (Oxford University)

From Grateful Memories to Eloquent Witnesses; War memorials in the heritage process

As part of the commemorations for the centenary of the First World War, Historic England is working with partners across the UK to repair and protect the nation’s First World War memorials. The programme has facilitated much needed repair work to memorials, many of which are now almost 100 years old, and afforded them protection through the planning process. Yet, by carrying out the programme, Historic England is inscribing distinct values on these objects by emphasising their role as ‘eloquent witnesses to the tragic impact of world events on local communities during the First World War.’ However, for many, war memorials are still viewed as active objects of remembrance: ones which are available for both physical and symbolic appropriation as their meaning shifts. Drawing on a series of case studies and on personal experiences, this paper will examine the tensions which can exist between war memorials as historical witnesses and active sites of memory.

Emma Login (Historic England)

From Place to Landscape in Heritage Discourse

Much recent and extremely welcome work on minority heritage has emphasised issues of identity associated with particular historic places. However, as the session abstract indicates, linking heritage to identity can lead to exclusion and contested values. This paper argues for a complementary approach to shared heritage that lays greater emphasis on larger scales of space and time. Proceeding from a critique of some of the terms used in heritage discourse, especially the identity-laden concept of ‘place’, and of the emphasis on relatively recent history, I suggest we also need to attend to ideas of ‘landscape’ and ‘deep time’, which foreground archaeological narratives and can be presented more accessibly, in terms of environmental and social issues that are common to us all.

Jonathan Last (Historic England)

Theorising Value: Not for the faint-hearted!

Statements about the values of heritage abound: in terms of lists of what they are; of how values can be measured; of their nature (e.g. ‘multiple’, ‘contested’); how they can be used; etc. Many are discipline-specific (e.g. statements about the economic value of heritage), others simplistic (e.g. reducing heritage values to those of tourism), others simply arcane. The professional ‘values-based’ approach to management of heritage draws upon much of this literature and discussion, at the service of the work of official agencies. In doing so it reflects agendas set outside the realm where heritage operates – which is in reflecting and constructing how individuals and communities identify their own sense of identity. The ‘values-based’ approach makes multiple assumptions about the nature of heritage, about who can make claims upon it, and at whose service it exists. Drawing upon 25 years of engagement with trying to understand heritage as a phenomenon and the values it holds, represents, or are ascribed to it, this paper will outline the dangers of attempting to theorise heritage and heritage value within a framework of official policy. It is an area fraught with problems and difficulties that can undermine the very reason for attempting to theorise value in the first instance. It is definitely NOT for the faint of heart!

John Carman (University of Birmingham)

Posted in: Videos