Are critical understandings of the social practice of heritage useful?

I was reading a rather short article which argues for Critical Discourse Analysis of documents which guide the protection of heritage sites, such as the Burra Charter.

The authors suggest that,

‘… the ways by which we create, discuss, talk about and assess heritage issues do matter. As such, the development of rigorous and usable strategies to understand the concept of discourse and the role it plays in the social practice of managing heritage needs to be attempted.’ (Waterton, Smith & Campbell 2006: 342)

They are critical of the way that documents such as the Burra Charter define what heritage is and suggest that experts can implement the plan while general community members need to learn from it. The authors have an agenda and they describe it as,

‘Clearly, our agenda is one of promoting community participation that does more than simply let community groups share existing conservation and heritage practices. In our view, community participation must hinge on the concept of negotiation, not only over conservation and heritage values but also over the very meaning and nature of heritage, so that the conservation ethic itself is open to renegotiation and redefinition.’ (Waterton, Smith & Campbell 2006: 350-351)

Do you think people in the wider community should play a role in negotiating and defining what counts as heritage and how it should be conserved? Is this an area to be left up to experts?



Waterton, E., L. Smith & G. Campbell. (2006). “The Utility of Discourse Analysis to Heritage Studies: The Burra Charter and Social Inclusion.” International Journal of Heritage Studies 12(4): 339-335.

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