Waterton and Smith (2010) note that community is one of the handful of words within the wider social sciences that that are continually used, abused and reused, so that it is difficult to take issue with. Originally the term was used to describe a collection of people. But since scholars, and most notably Anderson (1983) started to move away from this dominant, nostalgic idea of a community and started to criticize the straightforward and unambiguous use of this term it became clear how difficult it is to identify a community as it is often difficult to label people as part of a group (Crooke 2010). Scholars now note that community is highly contested (e.g. Howarth 2001) and that communities are not very community-like (Brint 2001). Indeed, as Crooke (2010, 16) mentions “community is a multi-layered and politically charged concept that, with a change in context, alters in meaning and consequence”. Crooke (2008) underlines this as she states that the concept community can be whatever is needed or desired at the time and, even when formed, will adapt to the situation. Howarth (2001, 233) adds to this that predetermined ideas of community are often imposed onto groups of people who suffer, as a result, from a lack of self-esteem, self-worth and self-identity. Community best has to be understood the way Waterton and Smith (2010) state it: Communities thus become social creations and experiences that are continuously in motion, rather than fixed entities and descriptions, in flux and constant motion, unstable and uncertain.
This is also particularly relevant for the field of heritage. Here too, community can be defined in various ways. A heritage community can be defined as those groups of, for example citizens or individuals, who value and define material and immaterial heritage in a specific spatial context. A heritage community can at the same time be defined as those being subject to heritage management and preservation. Waterton and Smith (2010, 11) explain this as follow: “community or group identity becomes the object of regulation through the heritage management process, not only reinforcing the power differentials in community–expert relations, but also ensuring the legitimacy of essentialist notions of ‘community’ and their continual misrecognition”. A heritage community is thus also the highly formalised and institutionalized context of government officials and consultants, academic researchers, legal experts and, perhaps more recently, commercials actors who created a specific thinking, speaking and acting about heritage conceptualization and accordingly heritage management practices. These groups not only define heritage, but in a way also impose a conceptualization of heritage on other groups or communities who define heritage. Hence, within the domain of heritage, including communities’ understandings of heritage, has become an integral part of heritage management. This counts for both material and immaterial heritage as Watson and Waterton (2010, 2) state that “community engagement with heritage is more overtly linked with cultural distinctiveness, identity and nationalism, or exists as an articulation of ancestral links with important places, traditions and narratives”. Hence, many scholars in the field of heritage are studying issues of community involvement (e.g. Mydland and Grahn 2012, Parkinson et al. 2016). These scholars note that communities’ understanding of heritage can emphasize a broader range of meanings, including also immaterial aspects. This kind of examples tell us that heritage becomes to be understood as someone’s heritage meaning that heritage becomes a cultural tool that communities, and individuals use to express, facilitate and construct a sense of identity, self and belonging. In fact, this means that there are as many understandings of heritage as there are communities or individuals who express this understanding of heritage. There is also literature to be found about the link on immaterial and material heritage and communities. Murzyn-Kupisz and Działek (2013) for example investigate the importance of heritage (being it material or immaterial) in creating and enhancing social capital, as they call it. Social capital is defined as a concept to define the socio-economic development of particular groups, communities or neighbourhoods. They identify several types of impact and links between heritage and social capital, such as: “heritage objects, sites, or traditions as the main aim and reason for undertaking common actions and community integration around an important goal”; “the role of heritage in attracting new residents and supporting their integration with the local community”; “heritage as a constitutive part and an expression of identity, pride, sense of place and belonging at different spatial scales”; “heritage as the reason for common celebrations and festivities” (Murzyn-Kupisz and Działek 2013).
A heritage community can thus best be defined as those who signify material and immaterial heritage. Having insight in who the community at stake is, is key for the OpenHeritage project as one of the aims of OpenHeritage is to empower the community in the process of adaptive re-use. Moreover, OpenHeritage works with an open definition of heritage, including places that have a symbolic or practical significance for local or trans-local heritage communities. Hence, to understand the links between a heritage community on the one hand and immaterial and material heritage on the other hand, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the heritage community (/-ies) involved in adaptive re-use process.
Anderson. (1983). Immagined communities: reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, . London: Verso.
Crooke. (2010). The politics of community heritage: motivations, authority and control. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 16(1-2), 16-29.
Howarth. (2001). Towards a social psychology of community: A social representations perspective. Journal for the theory of social behaviour, 31(2), 223-238.
Murzyn-Kupisz, & Działek. (2013). Cultural heritage in building and enhancing social capital. Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, 3(1), 35-54.
Waterton, & Smith. (2010). The recognition and misrecognition of community heritage. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 16(1-2), 4-15.
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