In spite of their similar goals (heritage discourses or processes) and of their astronomical rise in the last number of years, critical heritage studies and les études de la patrimonialisation mostly evolved in separate silos. Centred around distinct paradigms (critical theory/constructivism), these two lines of inquiry have also remained on the margins of the civil society on which their effect is still marginal. The inadaptability of the processes of the production of heritage that they each denounce, thus remains in effect, specifically when taking into account the hegemonic shortcomings to the hierarchic approach, and to the underlying exclusion, of heritage politics. This situation has recently led to the proposal of a theoretical stepping back that permits the identification, in multiple cases, of transversal problem areas that are prone to structure and redeploy research and its academic and social benefits.

On the other hand, precisely within such problem areas, knowledge and the awareness of what signifies heritage in a given environment is an increasing challenge. While the “idea” of heritage, as it appeared in the 18th century, was doomed to replicate concepts and practices originating in western Europe in the world of ideological systems, it was also asked, like any number of concepts, to gear itself, at the minimum, to different languages and to the times. In a postcolonial context, the manifestations (if not the recognition) of such cultural differences, paired with the growing engagement of local communities, fostered an impasse between systems of management that sees those in charge of policies questioning the validity of principals previously considered as universal. Inspired by emerging conceptual histories, researchers are thus noticing that “Heritage studies would do well to engage with some of [heritage] key concepts in a comparative conceptual way” (Berger et al. 2019).

It is to this invitation that we respond, by proposing to unite and mobilize the knowledge scattered around the all-encompassing problem of the identification and the legitimization of the varied and changing notions of heritage, among other notions currently marginalized given the hegemony of Eurocentric and dated conceptions, practices, and policies. It is a matter of, in one way or another, reversing the consolidated and widely circulated approach of the 1980s, to which the foundational work of Babelon and Chastel gave the explicit title, La notion de patrimoine, which transposes itself notably in the schematic hierarchy of heritage recognition, according to which what is recognized at the national level is more important than that which is recognized at the state level (and so on): in this way, all manner of local specificities that would see one form of heritage governed over another are completely eclipsed. How might public policies, in caring for witnesses of memory or collective experience, surpass this principle of exclusion? How can research contribute to the identification of what, in a given community or environment, constitutes heritage (whatever the name that it is given) and the implications of this notion on the heritage practices of conservation and valuation? How do we manage conflicts of values, representations and uses to which this awareness of multiple notions of heritage open the door?

With participants from seven countries, this Thirteenth International Conference of Young Researchers in Heritage probes these questions in order to examine the concept(s) of heritage, its various meanings, interpretations and uses of across the globe. This conference primarily seeks to examine the ontologies of heritage; that is, how the concept of heritage has changed over time, how is it changing presently, and what this might bring for the future.

Since 2005, the International Conference of Young Researchers in Heritage has invited young scholars to present their research on various aspects of heritage, and has been held in Canada, Europe and South America. The conferences are organized under the scientific supervision of the Canada Research Chair on Urban Heritage (Prof. Lucie K. Morisset and Prof. Luc Noppen, Université du Québec à Montréal and its partners. This Thirteenth edition is hosted by the Center for Heritage and Museum Studies at the Australian National University (Prof. Laurajane Smith), under the scientific direction of Dr Jessica Mace (UQAM) and Dr Yujie Zhu (ANU).