Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Heritage and Colonialism Revisited

In response to an earlier blog post, from January 18 of this year, "JS" asked "Whose version of 'genuine,' 'relevant,' and 'authentic' do you use? Whose taste, judgment and critical thinking is supported? How is the folklorist reconciled with the ethnomusicologist?"

The short answer is that heritage sites support heritage managers' tastes, judgments, and critical thinking. Such thinking is informed by a critical discourse surrounding the "genuine," the "relevant," and the "authentic," concepts that have been attacked (some would say destroyed) by critical theorists yet that continue to be defended by culture workers. Critical theorists today by and large take the position that such concepts are irrelevant and not helpful in understanding how cultures produce their subjects and objects. Heritage managers continue to use a version of these concepts based in traditional folklore and (to a lesser degree) ethnomusicology. Regina Bendix's book, In Search of Authenticity, is a history of folklore that is useful in this context.

The point I was making in the blog post is that ethnographic research and heritage management both appear as artifacts of the bureaucratic state, which is a handmaiden of colonialism. That is disturbing when the ideology of sustainability is meant to be enabling rather than stifling.

In recent months I've been turning to the writings of Herman Daly, an ecological economist; and to the concept of co-evolution, to see if they present a pathway out of this paradox.


  1. Thanks Jeff. I will have a look for those authors.

  2. Salutations from the Great Lakes region!

    I may be misunderstanding your contention, but I think the following articles may be of use:

    Cultural theory work by Paula Castro (see "Cultural theory meets the community: Worldviews and local issues Maria Luisa Lima , Paula Castro" 2005 in the Journal of Environmental Psychology) may be useful for what you're looking for. In particular, I'm thinking about their description of a grid devised to accommodate egalitarian, individualist, fatalist, and bureaucratic worldviews--despite these differing perspectives, the authors imply that groups can better be worked with by adjusting to their preferred approaches. Granted it's a theoretical construct, but the recommendations and descriptions are reasonable and actionable.