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Twenty-five years ago, the sociologist David Harvey (1989) predicted that a growing spectacularization of the urban space would accompany the rapid transformation of the modes of representation in Western society and in its areas of cultural influence. His thesis, which is proving more relevant by the day, asserts that there is increasing competition around the production of images making up the daily experience of individuals in neoliberal cities. In the vast forest of signs produced and consumed in urban environments, only the most striking artefacts have any chance of drawing our attention. In this regard, any cultural production promoted under the reign of vision must become a form of spectacle—structured by way of outwardness—thus confirming Guy Debord’s speculations (1967) on the society of spectacle and Jean Baudrillard’s thesis (1995) on the “disappearance of the real.”

The fate of heritage in this mad rush to gain media attention is marked by the fact that it is already being deemed as likely disappear. It is therefore legitimate to wonder how heritage components will manage to emerge from the flux of “spectacular” events if they are already suffering from a certain deficit in interest. Above and beyond the fear of loss, other heritage projects define desires for legitimization, revealed through a focus on practices and objects that have long been recognized and institutionalized, as well as on places of life and conflicted memory, where horror, tragedy, misery, or death are turned into spectacle. In this context, is heritage representation superseding heritage content? Such are the key processes and issues related to heritage that we would like to address in this conference.

The 2015 edition of the International Conference of Young Heritage Researchers will take place in Brazil. The country is known for its urban heritage, which includes no fewer than seven historic centres registered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In this respect, the built landscapes that serve as the image of Brazil on an international scale epitomize the sometimes difficult cohabitation between “spectacularized” heritage representations and local community symbols that define certain urban sites, Brasilia for instance, an icon of modern heritage. Mega-events such as the FIFA World Cup or the Olympic Games are also part and parcel of such “spectacular” dynamics. A web of heritage-linked images is wrapped around these global events and masks, not without irony, the bulldozer work flattening entire neighbourhoods across the country. At the level of local practices, the heritagization of spaces of repression from the dictatorship era or of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas also provide a leg up in the heritage spectacularization game through an attempt to focus attention on controversial heritage.

The conference is designed to provide an opportunity for exchange, reflection, and interrogation on the role of image in heritage transmission and also on the various ways to create, produce, and adapt heritage so as to make it captivating, attractive, and desirable.