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Recognition of this facet of heritage has opened up avenues for critique and reinterpretation of the concept of heritage Lowenthal By making manifest how heritage is used for present purposes, we can identify tacit evaluative assumptions that may have gone unremarked upon in the past. This is the presentation of heritage familiar to us from museums, national monuments, and other institutionally endorsed understandings of heritage, such as the UNESCO World Heritage List.

As Smith summarizes:. Smith Official heritage on the global scale of UNESCO is typically presented as having a universal value that transcends local attachments Cleere ; Omland ; Matthes Heritage… is a cultural process that engages with acts of remembering that work to create ways to understand and engage with the present, and the sites themselves are cultural tools that can facilitate, but are not necessarily vital for, this process.

Examples include local festivals that are not recognised as of interest to the state, or the heritage of migrant groups or the working class. Harrison Though the distinction between official and unofficial heritage is useful both for drawing attention to how heritage is subject to constant reinterpretation and for challenging dominant historical narratives, some might be hesitant about the extent to which certain understandings of heritage that emphasize process do so at the expense of the traditional material concerns of official heritage.

For instance, one might think there is something significant aesthetically, ethically, etc. As noted above, heritage and official heritage in particular tends to be associated with positive evaluations of the past Harrison ; Weiss , though not universally so Smith These tensions can bring to the fore competing conceptions of national identity or historical narrative, especially in the context of regime change or civil war. It is important to note a distinction between cultural heritage and national heritage.

However, it is important not to conflate the idea of a national culture with the empirically false claim that nations are culturally homogeneous: indeed, the intranational diversity of cultures is the fact from which the political problem of multiculturalism arises see entry on multiculturalism. There is of course significant cultural diversity in cultural groupings of many kinds, nationalistic or not.

This topic is discussed further in section 2. Consonant with the idea that heritage is inherently concerned with the use of the past for present purposes, some commentators are at pains to point out the difference between a more political understanding of heritage in contrast with a more scholarly understanding of history e. History seeks to convince by truth and succumbs to falsehood. Heritage exaggerates and omits, candidly inverts and frankly forgets, and thrives on ignorance and terror.

Lowenthal However, one might worry that this statement contrasts an ideal of historical scholarship with a caricature of heritage at its worst. Historians, too, are subject to concerns about how their narratives portray and map onto the record of past events Trouillot ; entry on philosophy of history.

We might think that heritage, too, should be constrained by the truth, even when it operates in the service of nationalism Abizadeh Culture has historically been distinguished from nature, but that dichotomy has come under attack in many disciplines: the study of heritage is no exception Harrison A sharp distinction between the two seems particularly ill-placed in cultural contexts where nature figures prominently, as is the case in many indigenous and aboriginal cultural contexts. Moreover, some endeavor to illuminate theoretical approaches to the value of cultural heritage via conceptual tools from work on the value of nature, arguing that we should treat heritage conservation like nature conservation, importing common thinking about the intrinsic value of nature into our thinking about cultural heritage Harding However, dissolution of the contrast between natural and cultural heritage is also subject to objections.

As a consequence of the collapse between these two domains, some argue. Meskell The concept thus raises a number of difficult philosophical questions concerning cultural groups, the nature of property, and the relation between them. One fundamental question about cultural property concerns who has a reasonable interest in it.


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Only members of a particular culture? Members of a nation that many cultural members call home? All of humanity? Insofar as legal institutions of property are meant to protect our moral property interests, an answer to this question has the potential to in turn shape legal norms governing cultural property see entry on property and ownership. An influential approach in the cultural property literature is to distinguish between cultural nationalist and cultural internationalist positions concerning how broadly a reasonable interest in cultural property should be construed Merryman Proponents of cultural internationalism typically uses claims about the universal value of cultural heritage to argue against nationalist restrictions on its export and sale, as well as against many repatriation claims discussed further in section 3 ; Merryman , ; Appiah These claims about the universal evaluative scope of cultural property are often predicated on a metaphysical claim about the constitutive relationship between particular cultures and Human Culture: that it is precisely because each culture is a component of Human Culture that each individual culture therefore has a universal value in which everyone has a reasonable interest.

However, even independently of the strength of this claim, one might think that individual cultures can secure a universal value in other ways. For instance, according to one line of argument, there are a diversity of grounds for valuing a particular culture such as ancestry, citizenship, geography, study, etc. Proponents of cultural nationalism typically use claims about the special national character of cultural heritage to argue in favor of nationalist retention policies that restrict or limit the export or sale of cultural heritage discussed further in section 3.

It is worth noting that the dichotomy between cultural nationalists and internationalists faces a significant limitation in that it does not leave an obvious place for the claims of intra-national cultural groups such as Native American tribes Watkins Although cultural nationalism might in principle account for the claims of sovereign indigenous nations, it has in practice focused on the interests of independent nation-states. Moreover, although indigenous cultural property claims have received increasing attention in both policy and scholarship discussed further in sections 2.

One way to read the dispute between cultural nationalists and internationalists is as a dispute over which kind of value-claim should be prioritized: a proponent of each position could recognize the value claims made by both camps, but think that their own should trump the other Thompson Alternatively, one might think that claims about universal human value call into question the applicability of some of the traditional bundle of property rights.

For instance, one might argue that the universal value of cultural heritage entails that it should not be excludable in the manner that property typically is Thompson — Or, in a similar vein, one might argue that we should prioritize the preservation of such objects to the exclusion of any claims to holding them as property Warren If cultural property belongs to a cultural group, then this seems to require some grasp on who constitute the members of the group Young However, defining cultural group membership is a notoriously difficult task Killmister For one, it confronts problems concerning cultural essentialism discussed in section 4.

But moreover and relatedly , it presents questions concerning cultural continuity over time Appiah On what basis, for instance, can the contemporary nation of Egypt claim the art and cultural artifacts of ancient Egypt as their cultural property, given the profound cultural differences between contemporary and ancient Egyptians? The same question can be raised for many of the cultural property claims made by contemporary nations. However, although there may not be strict cultural identity in the sense of sameness between cultural groups over time, due in part to the dynamic nature of culture, one might question why this kind of strict identity should be thought so important.

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For instance, we might instead appeal to cultural lineages, analogous to the links of psychological connectedness that some think can secure a relevant understanding of personal identity over time Parfit ; entry on personal identity. Indeed, one might think that a degree of change is in fact essential for the preservation of cultural identity over time Coleman Granted, this may lead to a plurality of cultural descendants that would make cultural property claims difficult to adjudicate in practice, but it is worth noting that the assumption in favor of a strong understanding of cultural identity over time as a necessary condition for cultural property remains largely undefended in the literature.

That being said, there are additional moral objections to nations in particular making cultural property claims. Nations need not be culturally homogeneous, and thus nationalist cultural property claims might objectionably run roughshod over strong intra-national cultural property claims, for instance, those made by colonized indigenous cultural groups Thompson ; Watkins From the opposite direction, one might worry about how nationalist cultural property claims would restrict the exchange of cultural property around the world, an objectionable consequence if one embraces the influential idea mentioned in 2.


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Property is fixed, possessed, controlled by its owner, and alienable. Culture is none of these things. Thus cultural property claims tend to fix culture, which if anything is unfixed, dynamic, and unstable. Mezey So, not only does the dynamic nature of culture raise metaphysical and epistemological questions about the grounds for cultural property claims, it is moreover inherently at odds with the bonds and boundaries with which the concept of property attempts to saddle it.

One way to resolve the paradox is to challenge the interpretations of the core concepts that appear to set them at odds. As introduced in the previous two sections, one might think that the concept of cultural property places an emphasis on ownership where what is really required is stewardship. This kind of view might be shared by those who aim to prioritize the preservation of cultural property Warren ; Merryman or those who think we have special duties to cultural heritage grounded either in the virtues James or an inter-generational social contract Thompson a; though stewardship should not necessarily be equated with preservation Harding While the concept of stewardship might solve certain problems concerning cultural property by uniting contestants over ownership around a common aim, it is also liable to inherit transposed versions of some of the same problems.

For instance, advocates of stewardship must contend with what and whose values will guide stewardship efforts. What exactly should be stewarded, why, and for the sake of whom? If, for instance, scientific or world heritage values take the lead, stewardship models can invite the same kinds of objections as universalist notions of cultural property that leave inadequate room for the purportedly special relationship between particular cultural groups and objects, or crowd out alternative value systems or sources of knowledge Wylie While the cultural property discourse began with a focus on material heritage buildings, artifacts, etc.

Centrally, while we have a straightforward grasp on what it means to own an artwork or artifact, the idea of owning a story or style can seem relatively obscure, at least in a broadly Western context. However, the application of an intellectual property framework to intangible cultural property has also generated objections. Second, general objections to the suitability of legal property protections for cultural heritage, whether tangible or intangible discussed in 2.

Third, the pull towards thinking of cultural heritage as universally valuable discussed in 2. For example, if knowledge aspires to be free to all, then is it acceptable to restrict its flow, even for the sake of guarding against the exploitation of vulnerable indigenous communities Brown ? As discussed in section 2. Indeed, many objections to the use of intangible heritage move beyond the discourse of cultural property altogether, as discussed in section 4 on cultural appropriation.

For instance, when a museum displays the cultural artifacts of a particular group, the cultural origins of the artifacts are often not controversial though they of course can be : rather, controversy might surround ownership of the artifact predicated on a clear understanding of the culture of origin. In contrast, it can be relatively harder to trace the lineages of practices and stories, and superficial similarities in cultural traditions may lead to claims of intangible cultural property that are more difficult to justify Brown Repatriation concerns the return of material heritage or human remains from museums, universities, or other institutions to their culture, nation, or owner of origin.

If an object was clearly stolen or otherwise unjustly acquired from an identifiable group, then repatriation can seem uncontroversial at least from a moral perspective on the basis of standard norms of reparative justice, as would apply to any other stolen item. However, claims for repatriation can become controversial in cases where 1 the justice of acquisition is unclear, 2 the source cultural group is unclear or not clearly contiguous with a contemporary group, or 3 the value of institutional retention of disputed objects is thought to outweigh competing claims, especially if these are weakened by the aforementioned concerns.

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Arguments that aim to overcome these potential objections are generally couched in terms of either cultural property 3. The general tenor of this approach is to claim that certain objects qualify as cultural property, and then to argue based on a particular feature of cultural property that the relevant object should be returned to a designated group. Given the basic notion that cultural property is just the property of a cultural group Thompson ; Appiah , the concept is not necessarily incompatible with the alienation of particular items under appropriately authorized conditions of sale or transfer.

However, one might appeal to cultural property as the basis for a repatriation claim if one thinks that the very concept of cultural property in fact precludes such transfers 3. For further discussion of the concept of cultural property, see section 2. According to some understandings of cultural property, the tight link between cultural property and cultural identity renders such property inalienable. This is one of the categories of objects, for instance, subject to the U. If cultural property is inalienable, then holdings in cultural property by those outside the cultural group are ipso facto illegitimate.

The idea of inalienable property is familiar from the individual context, and the link between external objects and identity often arises in discussion of moral limits on the market distribution of things such as body parts or surrogacy Harding ; Satz ; Anderson ; Sandel On the other hand, Appiah's "peacemaking" account can veer toward stretching the concept of individuality to its breaking point in order to make it an inclusive club. For instance, Appiah introduces Kazuo Ishiguro's character of Mr. Stevens the butler as an example of an unsung individuality simply because the man upholds received standards of professional dignity.

At other points, Appiah is at pains to convince us that the stories of collectives like ethnic groups provide narrative models for us to enhance our individuality or that social opprobrium can lead us toward individuality. Even received wisdom is occasionally touted as superior to reasoning! Will Kymlicka tried to provide a similar "win-win" solution to the liberal-communitarian dilemma by suggesting that cultures provide contexts whose options enhance rather than restrict individual choice.

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I am convinced by neither Kymlicka nor Appiah on this. Though one may agree with Appiah's ontology, it may be more useful to work with a narrower definition of individuality and accept that there are real tradeoffs between individuality and community which individuals need to make.

Appiah's work moves on to navigate the choppier waters of identity and here are some of the best chapters of the book. He argues that identities matter, but endorses what he calls "neutrality as equal respect" in which the state accommodates difference where it can, but is not bound to preserve particular cultures. Appiah takes Charles Taylor to task for his insistence that groups like the Quebecois need to be able to violate the individual rights of non-French Quebeckers in order to preserve the French language.

For Appiah, Taylor's politics of recognition "gets things the wrong way round" and fails to appreciate the constructed and fluid nature of ethnic identity. Appiah's next chapter on culture provides a much-needed corrective to the literature: for too long, normative political theory has conflated "culture" as a set of symbols, beliefs and practices with ethnic group--an identity which uses culture but is largely independent of it.

This sleight-of-hand allows many multicultural theorists to weave liberalism into their arguments. Appiah neatly separates these two usages, drawing on an impressive array of cases from Africa to North America to illustrate his point that multiculturalists reify culture.

At times, the tone is uncompromising, as with "you may indeed ensure that the dispossessed enjoy a stable and distinctive cultural community The text then returns to questions of individuality which Mill mulled over in the mid-nineteenth century. In what promises to be a contentious chapter on "soul-making," Appiah proffers his view that the state has a role to play in shaping the "souls" of its population.

This may sound like a libertarian's nightmare, but much of it goes on already under the guise of liberal education or safety guidelines which aim to make us think and behave more rationally and independently. Appiah suggests that illiberal groups should reform their practices to conform to liberal standards and individuals should be exposed to the virtues of autonomy, i. Certainly the state must respect people as they are, but it can legitimately try and improve them through a non-intrusive civic education.

The book concludes with a call for a "rooted" cosmopolitanism, based on a common humanity which we express through shared understandings of narrative, local attachments and experience as much as through the universal reason highlighted by Stoic or Enlightenment cosmopolitans. Even so, Appiah correctly argues that most critiques of the Enlightenment i.

Overall, Appiah's work is impressive in the way it digests competing authors and debates to produce a streamlined defense of individuality which in turn exposes many of the fallacies of liberal multiculturalism. On the other hand, Appiah fails to lock horns with some of the thornier issues of affirmative action, assimilation, ethnic conflict regulation and civic nationalism. To excuse oneself from this charge, as Appiah does, by claiming the role of explorer, does not make the task any less urgent.

There is also room for a legitimate communitarian counterattack. Appiah's cosmopolitan background and easy acceptance of constructivist theories of ethnicity can blind him to the fact that many people are strongly attached to concrete ethnic boundary markers like language. They gain a measure of existential stability by believing in the intergenerational continuity of these symbols. This, much more than a hazy attachment to an ethnic proper name, is what underpins identity.

It seems to me that any philosophy of individuality which takes community seriously needs to accept that the desire to preserve particular symbols in perpetuity need not be an illiberal illusion. Whether you agree with Appiah or not, his work will stand as a magisterial contribution to political theory. Globalization, it seems, either holds the promise of new horizons and new worlds, or trammels local cultures and produces uniformity. Here, Maria Koundoura strikes a singular path between these divergent views and maps the full terrain of our contemporary culture landscape.

Reading world literature and engaging with contemporary critical methodologies, she explores what she calls transnational visions of language and culture, and analyses the politics of identity, representation and cultural expression.