Research Seminar: Cultural Landscapes, cultural policy and the politics of identity

University of Leicester

School of Museum Studies Brown Bag Seminar 25th November, 2009

Dr Lisanne Gibson
School of Museum Studies

Abstract: Cultural landscapes, cultural policy and the politics of identity

This paper will discuss the ways in which outdoor cultural objects construct and assert particular forms of identity. I will consider a broad range of outdoor cultural objects which refer to a selection of identity formations. Traditionally, the consideration of the significance of outdoor cultural objects, including memorials and public art, has valorised particular modes for understanding the significance of objects. In relation to public art, for instance, art and architectural theories have judged the aesthetic or design qualities of an object to be the aspect of most importance. However, many outdoor cultural objects do not fit into the canons of traditional art or architectural history. Does this mean that these objects are of little or no value or significance?

A second and seemingly more democratic mode for the designation of an objects' significance is based on the importance of the historical story it represents in relation to dominant historical frameworks, such as national history. However, despite the hegemony of particular historical frameworks, and certain constructions of national identity and citizenship which travel hand in hand with these, history is not a single story but consists of 'histories' or 'layers' of history. It follows that the designation of significance too, is constructed and ever changing. The process of designating significance must be developmental rather than static if heritage policies and practice are to be democratic. The evaluation of significance is not a simple matter of recognition but an active designation, which has cultural, political and social effects.

This paper will explore the ways in which outdoor cultural objects can be articulated to powerful assertions of identity and memory either intentionally, by their creator, or subsequently, by a community's superimposing of meaning onto the object. Detailed research of outdoor cultural objects in the cultural landscapes of the State of Queensland, Australia has demonstrated that the affectivity of an object's functioning in this respect has little to do with the aesthetic significance of its appearance. Following from this, the paper will discuss the issues at stake in the protection and management of outdoor cultural objects. In particular I argue that heritage programs and organisations must actively take seriously pluralistic interpretations of categories of social and cultural significance, and that currently, despite the rhetoric to the contrary, they are not yet doing so. This is important because the protection and management of outdoor cultural objects is a matter, which has political and cultural consequences, and is thus of great significance, not least to the empowering of diverse cultural identities and the persistence of plural social memory.


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