Heritage as Commons in a Polarising World

Research Theme: Cities, Communities and Contested Urbanism
Supervisors: Dr. Neil Galway (n.galway@qub.ac.uk) and Dr. Brendan Murtagh (b.murtagh@qub.ac.uk)

How nation-states incorporate or exclude the heritage associated with their minority religious, ethnic, regional and other heritage communities and those sites associated with human atrocity and the shameful instances in its past, into its “authorised heritage discourse” (Smith 2006) can illustrate how it sees its future identity. Given the potential for multifarious values associated with contested sites, heritage is now theorised to be a ‘contact zone’ within which different pasts and experiences are negotiated (Stephanides 2003). In an increasingly diverse world where nation-states face greater fragmentation, the potential for heritage dissonance increases, as mismatches between how messages are disseminated and interpreted become more commonplace. For a nation state’s heritage to be valued by its population, a general acceptance of a common and inclusive past is beneficial. This is often not the case in post-conflict nation states that are dealing with the built (and unbuilt) legacies of histories ‘that hurt’ including those sites that are associated with protagonists in the conflict.

When investigating the relationship between heritage and identity, the ubiquitous question of “whose heritage?” (Hall 2008) is central to the philosophical and practical challenges facing heritage decision-makers in contested environments. The prioritisation of the most traumatic events in the cultural memory of the ‘heritage communities’ leads to an affirmation of Hegel’s view that “periods of human happiness and security are the blank pages of history”. In plural societies, how can heritage be utilised as a form of commons to create more inclusive and representative national narratives?

In Northern Ireland, where accommodation of separate cultural traditions rather than reconciliation and integration, has been the main outcome of the power-sharing arrangement, it is important that research is undertaken to assist in developing models where heritage can be valued universally as a resource for the future, without hiding its contested past.

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