The Politics of World Heritage

2017-2020 Funded by the Swedish Research Council

UNESCO’s World Heritage (WH) are sites of disputed international processes which have emerged from an inconsistency between commitments to the indivisibility of humanity and reproduction of global hierarchies. Irreconcilable political agendas are mobilised in WH contexts, and claims are strategically used for political purposes. 

This project explores the ways in which WH practices are used in conflicts between states and indigenous peoples and within ethnic conflict. The recurrent militarisation of WH in conflict and the attempts to undermine the cultural identity of rivals are suggestive of an unexplored research agenda. To possess and administer a WH site is culturally legitimising, allowing indigenous peoples who possess a WH site to strengthen their quest for autonomy and rights. States, on the other hand, use WH as a recognition of their inclusive, modern and enlightened politics of cultural heritage, even if the rights of minority peoples are being compromised as a result of such practices.

The project identifies two tensions that characterise global modernity and investigates how these can help to explain the contemporary design and pursuit of the politics of WH. Our research purpose is twofold, first to explore how WH--although frequently prescribed as a solution to a range of global problems--is often entwined with national and international conflicts, and, second, how WH nevertheless, in a promising way, allows for a plurality of global imaginaries to be articulated.