May
26
2016

Conference

Heritage as Aid and Diplomacy in Asia

Conference dates: 26 - 28 May 2016

Please have a look at the (updated) programme for more information on  the presenters and their presentations. 

Organizers

Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan
Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore
International Institute for Asian Studies, the Netherlands

Keynote speakers

Lynn Meskell Director, Stanford Archaeology Center and Professor of Anthropology, Stanford University, USA Maris Diokno Professor of History, University of the Philippines / Chairperson, National Historical Commission of the Philippines Tim Winter Research Chair of Cultural Heritage at the Pacific and Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University, Australia / President of Association of Critical Heritage Studies

The conference

In spite of a growing academic interest in the politics of heritage in Asia, few studies have directly questioned the role of international and transnational cooperation in the field of heritage conservation. First, even though the literature has widely addressed the role of UNESCO as a powerful disseminator of international standards of conservation (e.g. Askew 2010; Daly and Winter 2012), it has not yet tackled UNESCO’s sociological and institutional complexity, and the full history of the organisation. Secondly, the social sciences have largely neglected other international structures -- such as the World Bank, the European Union, USAid, the Asian Development Bank and many others – that have their own engagements in the conservation of heritage in Asia. These organisations often collaborate with UNESCO or participate in bilateral or multilateral initiatives. Many of these initiatives are carried out by states (or regions or cities). Cultural (heritage) diplomacy is a well thought strategy carried out by some states. Pioneer countries in cultural diplomacy include France, Italy, the Netherlands but also India and Japan. Today, most Asian states are following on that path: in the past years, China, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have considerably strengthened their investment in regional “heritage cooperation”. Some of them, like India or Japan, have had a long history of cultural international intervention. Thirdly, private ‘philanthropic’ programs like the Agha Khan Foundation, the World Monuments Fund and the Getty Trust have long had a major impact in the management of heritage in Asia. They are now joined by newly established Asia-based foundations, such as Korea’s Samsung Foundation, to mention just one.  Finally, new connections have recently been drawn between market-driven ‘development’ schemes explicitly linking ‘culture’ and ‘economic opportunities’, as part of the global capital-driven developmentalist discourse, as when World Heritage sites become objects of mass tourism and urban areas are labelled as ‘creative’.  This new model of ‘culturo-capitalism’ is fast becoming prominent, as is the global campaign of systematic digitisation of library collections by the multinational Google, ‘responsible capitalism’, or micro-credit schemes. These essentially capitalist constructions now co-exist with the more traditional state-sponsored heritage practices and with elite-originated private cultural philanthropy. 

The relative shortage of historical, sociological, political, and ethnographic researches on these multiple incarnations of ‘Heritage As Aid or as Diplomacy’ is all the more surprising when we consider how cultural and heritage management represents a major area of international cooperation as well as a powerful instrument of ‘soft’ influence by states, corporate forces and social elites on Asia-based heritage practices. This conference will address the relevant international and transnational actors as objects of study and will engage in a threefold exploration:

1. Knowledge production

International and transnational agents are prolific producers of knowledge on heritage. Often following the theoretical (and sometimes ideological) avenues set by UNESCO and its different state proponents, they provide thoughtful historical and philosophical legitimating arguments in favour of the idea of heritage as aid. Yet, when confronted with local situations, they may offer alternative approaches to the dominant discourses. Their interactions with local educational institutions, especially universities, are another aspect of their capacity to produce normative knowledge on heritage that are worth reflecting upon. 

2. Geopolitics of heritage as diplomacy 

The instrumentalisation of heritage as aid in the service of social, economic and geo-political strategies is another aspect the conference seeks to address: behind the rhetoric of philanthropy and development, we invite contributions that will seek to describe how international heritage programs and campaigns are used as tools for negotiating broader political agendas, economic interests, strengthening transnational diplomacies and even de-legitimising ‘adversaries’.

3. Ethnographies of international agents and ‘cultural experts’

Far from the impersonal monolithic structures often described in literatures on heritage, international organisations like UNESCO are made up of individuals, interest groups and cultural segments pursuing their own strategies. The conference seeks to address the rarely acknowledged diversity of socio-cultural backgrounds, ideological perspectives, and personal career trajectories at play within international organisations. This ‘human’ reality from within populates the daily functioning and the panoply of events that constitute the work of international heritage organisations.  

The three themes outlined above chart the area we wish to call Heritage as Aid and Diplomacy. Papers will explore the following topics:

  • Sociological and geopolitical institutional history of heritage organisations
  • Profiling the international heritage ‘expert’ since the post WW2
  • Critical assessment of institutional discourses promoted by these organisations - analysis of their heritage philosophies and theories, past and present
  • Impact of these international / national heritage actors (private and public) on local situations – interactions with local authorities, grass-root associations, and various other forms of community bodies
  • Competition or collusion between international and national state actors involved in heritage sites or projects
  • Determination of the geopolitical arena within which sponsoring states and international organisations support international assistance in cultural heritage management
  • The ‘business’ of post-conflict heritage aid
  • International heritage agents in post-war, post-disaster contexts
  • Impact of the neo-liberal market-driven tropes in cultural heritage development practices
  • Case studies providing accounts of local forms of resistance, negotiations, and contestation with regard to projects initiated/led by international agents
  • Intercultural encounters between various agents working together on cultural heritage projects
  • International Heritage in higher education

Conveners

  • Dr Philippe Peycam, Director, International Institute for Asian Studies, The Netherlands
  • Professor Michael Hsiao, Distinguished Research Fellow, Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan
  • Dr Hui Yew-Foong, Senior Fellow, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore

Conference series

Since David Lowenthal first noted the acute ascendancy of heritage as a discourse and, indeed, likened it to religion, the cult of heritage has spread beyond the Euro-American world to win adherents in the further reaches of Asia. This is in no small way due to the rise of the modern nation-state, and the formulation of heritage as a given, constitutive part of nations. However, what constitutes heritage is never a given, and it is commonly "made" through a process embedded in an evolving cultural politics involving actors such as the state, local communities and civil society organisations, and international institutions or activists. While these actors are not always distinct, a series of three conferences have been planned to highlight the role of each in turn without neglecting their inter-relationships. The first conference has taken place in Singapore in January 2014, focusing on the role of the state. The second conference in the series, held in Taiwan in December 2014, focused on the role of citizens, local communities and civil society organisations in heritage-making. The third conference will take place in the Netherlands in 2016, and will focus on international and transnational actors.

Contact and Registration

For enquires about the conference, please contact Ms. Martina van den Haak at m.c.van.den.haak@iias.nl

Registration is required before Wednesday 25 May via the form below. Registration for the conference lunches has already been closed. Inline photo: UNESCO