Whose heritage? : the construction of cultural built heritage in a pluralist, multicultural England
Much recent debate surrounding the conservation of cultural built heritage (CBH) concerns its instrumental role in society. In Britain, the ascendance of openly contested identity politics and New Labour's orthodoxy of socially progressive reform draw attention to particular challenges facing heritage conservation activities in a pluralist, multicultural society. Here, it is argued, ethnic minorities face exclusion from state-defined heritages which they may not share. Yet despite its appropriation to pursue social objectives, the meaning of CBH, in terms of what it is and what it does at local community level, remains little understood. Accordingly, as heritage agencies strive to democratise their activities, the benefits of broadening access to national CBH, while taken as a matter of faith, remain untested and unexplored. This thesis tests the actuality and extent of post-modem notions of CBH in a culturally diverse local community setting. By building on a cross-disciplinary theoretical framework, and using qualitative methods within an in-depth spatially defined case study, the research explores how CBH is defined, given meaning and how and why it is contested. Perceptual dysfunction between producer aims and consumer requirements is identified through critically analysing efforts to re-evaluate and revise existing definitions of national CBH. The research challenges the sustainability of reform directives stemming from the heritage sector and government, which are shown as incompliant with the values and meanings placed on heritage by participants. Reformist intervention in heritage policy must therefore acknowledge and accept the reality that such moves also have the potential to generate new forms of exclusion. The thesis concludes that we should focus less on efforts to (re)define CBH in a way that neutralises difference and more on developing understandings of the processes through which people define their experiences of heritage in their own social contexts. The work provides a platform for critical discourse and reflection on heritage encompassing the key fields of identity, democracy and ownership of the past.