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Heritage movements in Asia

Original contributions invited to be considered for inclusion in an interdisciplinary collection of essays about contemporary heritage movements in Asia.


  • Dr Ali Mozaffari, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Australia-Asia-Pacific Institute, Curtin University (Australia)
  • Dr Tod Jones, Senior Lecturer in Geography, School of Built Environment, Curtin University (Australia)

The Scope of the Volume

This book examines the formation of heritage movements within contemporary Asian societies. Heritage is a social process with linked tangible and intangible aspects. It has been defined as the use of the past for the purposes of the present, which indicates its potential for formation and contestation of collective identities at multiple geographical and hierarchical scales, from neighbourhoods to nation-states and global networks. Heritage processes vary according to cultural, national, geographical, and historical contexts. Heritage politics reveals the variety of responses by public and privately constituted groups to certain global challenges of late modernity including nationalism, pluralism, state-society relations and the influence of a growing middle class. Activists and activist groups have long engaged in the process of heritage production and designation. Their activities, although varying in degrees of organisation, are made possible through the shifting limits of the public sphere. Also, they must be considered in a broader context of evolving discourses of cultural and national identity, cultural policies of the state, and the political opportunities it provides for participation. This book will examine instances collective activism in heritage under the rubric of heritage movements. As a working definition, a heritage movement comprises collective challenges (to elites, authorities, other groups or cultural codes) by people with a common purpose and solidarity to protect and conserve heritage as conveyor and basis for collective identity, through sustained interactions with elites, opponents and authorities.

The book takes a broad interpretation of the geographical expanse of Asia; the boundaries of which may be loosely located in the west in Iran and the Persian Gulf, Central Asia and Afghanistan and in the east and China and Indonesia. Within this broad geographical expanse, various nation-states have witnessed rapid change as a result of economic growth and development, the creation of new states, and variable economic growth.

In speaking of contemporary Asia, we note that the timing of these movements too varies among these countries, although in most instances they seem to have appeared in the past 30 years. For example, the post-Soviet era and subsequent geopolitical transformations in the region (and beyond) have brought a change in the balance of political and cultural power. For instance, recent developments in Central Asia have encouraged expressions of various dormant and re-invented identities. While officially heritage continues to be designated, formed and managed by the state, other citizen groups and societies are forming who engage with the state or even pursue their own alternative heritages. In instances these groups may refer to historical (such as Persian) affiliations or religious (such as Muslim) roots or a combination of the two. The activities of these groups may be designated under the rubric of heritage movements.

This book is premised on three observations. First, contemporary heritage movements in the region occurred within the state defined spectrum of political opportunities and often engaged with state and international heritage projects within their respective countries. Second, many of these movements are recent and may become more prominent as international perspectives on heritage has advocated for the importance of participatory processes. Third, heritage discourses in the region seem to have been influenced by the increasing number of professionals in heritage or related professions (architecture, design, and archaeology) with knowledge of approaches to heritage in Europe in particular.

This book explores state-society relations through heritage, the political opportunities that are presented (or accidentally created) for public participation in heritage and identity making and the reaction and or reception of cultural policies of the state. It also examines relationships between different groups, changing communication technologies, and international networks. As such chapters are inspired by the application (explicitly or implicitly) of concepts articulated in social movements theory in the field of cultural heritage.

Jacqueline Nivard

Jacqueline Nivard, Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine

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