Heritage and the Politics of Culture
Postcolonial and Postmodern understanding of heritage challenges the official meaning of heritage (Harrison 2013), and goes beyond the discourse of Authorized Heritage Discourse (Smith 2006). Critical Heritage scholars contend that heritage is a process, and that what is defined as official heritage is structured in the existing political, economic and social context. This new understanding leads us to reconsider various heritage practices at defined heritage sites in Asia. By speaking of heritage, we take a plural understanding of heritage to emphasize the fluidity of the complex whole. First of all, the state is no longer the key actor in the heritage regime. Secondly, what is defined as a “real” heritage varies. Thirdly, heritage can be remembered, memorialized and conserved in different forms by various heritage caretakers. Moreover, the significance of heterogeneous agencies including nonhuman actors are also re-evaluated, breaking the existing boundaries. Case studies in this panel have been drawn from local religious practices at an archaeological site in China, the conflict of conserving urban heritage in Cambodia, the designation of religious sites as heritage in China's Maritime Silk-road, economic activities in Macao heritage city, and the competing state-sanctioned heritage practices in a Malaysian World Heritage city. These sites have been preserved and defined as “heritage” by authorities adopting the European authorized heritage discourse. Surprisingly, however, the manner in which they are cared for, managed and conserved clashes with local realities. In this panel, we intend to tackle the issues of the present situation of heritage, and offer alternative visions for the future of heritage practices in Asia.