Heritage as social action – a review

Heritage as social action – a review

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photographs: Sairam Thiagarajan

‘This World Environment day, let’s not only appreciate the natural environment, but also take a step forward to realise that ‘Environment’ comprises of various systems, of which heritage or the historic environment is an essential system, and it takes huge social responsibility to preserve it for posterity to cherish and learn from’, says Prathyaksha Krishna Prasad

Heritage, a cultural attribute or a tradition that has been passed down through generations and is the legacy that a person, a family, a neighbourhood, a society or a nation inherits over generations. It is the utmost responsibility of the society to pass this on to the future generations. Environment on the other hand is an entity which we are in constant association in order to exist or rather operate. In the context of heritage and conservation, historic environment is one of our most precious assets. It is a part of ours lives and to some extent our way of living too.

This World Environment day, let’s not only appreciate the natural environment, but also take a step forward to realise that ‘Environment’ comprises of various systems, of which heritage or the historic environment is an essential system, and it takes huge social responsibility to preserve it for posterity to cherish and learn from.

photographs: Sairam Thiagarajan

One has to realise that heritage is not only a physical entity, but also the social and cultural actions. The whole paradigm of heritage conservation has revelled around the objectification and materilization of places of historic importance – This has led to social values of these historic places take a back seat in terms of importance and prioritization. Cultures and social attributes are not merely an accumulation of things and people associated, but are better understood in terms of a series of processes by which new and old practices are adapted and adopted within a cultural system. These processes have been reinforced deeply such that they produce cultures through different forms of ‘work’.

Considering heritage to form the cultural capital and a way of connecting people with each other and with the environment that surrounds them, their involvement in local heritage can be considered as a form of social action. By drawing on the past and creating a new significance from its traces and memories, people can transform and refigure the ways of the society’s operation. The association of people to their heritage includes the meanings assigned to these places that become a part of the significance, particularly the social significance. To get into the depths of the social significance of a heritage place, it is important to look at the associated local communities and the worlds of ordinary people.

It is crucial to understand that all these local landscapes are signified with a meaning and these meanings are associated to the ‘lived world’ of ordinary people. In today’s context such cultural landscapes are populated by local communities and it is these people that give the symbiotic meaning to the historic environment. These symbiotic meanings can never be constant among the local community itself. It is however widely accepted that these meanings and the stories behind the heritage, give a collective meaning or significance to the heritage. The perception of local heritage and the story of the related to it may even differ from person to person, and likewise what a conservationist perceives of the same heritage might be purely based on the commodified aspects or the tangible aspects of the heritage in question.

It is very naive to have a solely materialistic approach to the conservation practice, which at present largely looks at the material form in isolation. The deeper social and historical forces are often ignored or not looked at in totality along with the physical attributes. In a rapidly globalizing world, this offers a tendency to commodify heritage properties, and thus development in the form of real estate supersedes conservation.

Positioning the various attributes that define heritage places and the way local places become heritage places not merely by thephysical identity, but by the association and viability to the community is very crucial to be understood. Local communities are more of a cultural composition that has evolved through integrity and local identity building, than a natural phenomenon. The struggle of indigenous people for recognition of their rights over traditional land calls for a demonstration of a tangible linkage between the community and their local landscape. This has instigated the idea of merging the heritage work with the work of identity building, thus heritage work being driven by the tenacious and fragile desire of people. It is this link that can aid in conservation of not just the physical form, but the sense of place, community, belonging and all the intangible aspects that constitute the attributes of social significance.

Original Paper- Heritage as Social Action by Denis Byrne

https://www.academia.edu/7311227/Heritage_Conservation_as_Social_Action?auto=download

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