What sustaining heritage really does

John Carman

Abstract

Increasingly across the globe, heritage agencies have taken on board the critique of heritage management enshrined in Smith’s (2006) argument about the dominance of an ‘authorised heritage discourse’ and the way this has been developed by other writers in the field. To this end, they are increasingly engaged in extending their work towards working with communities. This is highly commendable and contributes towards the sustainability of heritage as a category.

What gets lost in the debates about community engagement and involvement, however, is any consideration of the nature or role of the heritage agency as a type of institution; and yet an understanding of the role of these institutions in the process is essential if we are truly to break away from limited, top-down, highly managerial conceptions of what heritage is for. It is not just a matter of organisations doing what they do in a more inclusive manner; it is more than them moving from positions of authority to acting as facilitators. There needs to be a clear understanding by all involved in the heritage process – including those who work for institutions – of how institutions function in relation to the object of their attention and others who have an interest in that object.


Keywords

Heritage; Sustainability; Bureaucracy; Value

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