Challenging a Discourse of Difference: Heritage in Asia and Europe
As the interface between past and present, heritage is deeply involved in articulations of personal and group identity, working to unite and harmonize group relations, and, simultaneously causing frictions, fractions, and violence. Critical heritage theory reveals that values and approaches to heritage are articulated both within and across regions (such as Asia, or Europe). A vital, and as yet unanswered, question centres on the degree to which heritage in Asia fundamentally differs from those conservation regulations and practices based on European notions of time, materiality and aesthetics, which have been internationalised as a set of ‘standards’. Attempts to challenge the European hegemony in global heritage practice has led to an overly simplistic dichotomization between ‘Asian’ and ‘Western’, where Europe is reduced to linearity, rigidity and permanence, and Asia spirituality and impermanence. With little serious, long-term humanistic and social science research undertaken on the complexities of Asian approaches to heritage in relation to European ones, policy-makers and international heritage programmes too often resort to this East-West dichotomy and re-establish these socially constructed (or imagined) communities in attempts to express multicultural sensitivity. Critically, a paradigm of difference and opposition undermines more robust understandings of shared approaches and inter-regional dialogue, and risks contributing to situations of conflict or violence. Securing grounded, nuanced understandings of the complex entanglements and inter-connections between heritage, its care, and its governance in Asia and Europe is therefore an urgent task. The widespread politicisation of heritage today, both at the local and national level means a more open, intra-regional, cross-cultural dialogue around the cultural past, and its links to identity is of global concern.
This session includes papers that challenge this discourse of difference. It proposes research and debates that move beyond statements of essential difference, transcend nationalism, flesh out the complexities of regional heritage, and unpack ideas of Asian-European dichotomy. It also includes contributions that examine, through a comparative lens, the actual foundations for valuing and approaching heritage in Asia and Europe.