Literature review: the impact of Cultural Heritage on Culture

The aim of the SoPHIA project is to develop a holistic impact assessment model for cultural heritage interventions. But what does holistic mean? What areas need to be considered when potential impacts are being assessed holistically?

The project started with four, very general domains – the cultural, economic, social and environmental domain – in which impacts of interventions in cultural heritage can be recognized, keeping in mind that many potential impacts are cross-cutting by nature. This division allowed the project partners, in the first stage of research, to structure relevant sources and define points of connection between the domains. The partners divided the work along the domains, with IADT, EMA and EDUCULT reviewing relevant literature on the potential impact (and their assessment) of cultural heritage on culture. 

And here the challenge of the tasks becomes obvious. When attempting to grasp the impact OF culture ON culture, the understanding of what cultural heritage is and how it is defined culturally lies at the heart of the task. 

The analysis shows that in the last decades, discourse on cultural heritage has increasingly questioned the very notion of what cultural heritage is. In a social science tradition that emphasises the construction of memory, identity and its relations to history (by important authors such as Nora, Halbwachs or Anderson), current academic discussion emphasizes cultural heritage as a social construct that is defined by political, economic and social interests. Critical heritage studies, as one of the most prominent strands of this debate, must be mentioned here. This school of thought highlights how hierarchies and authority contribute to defining the cultural heritage of a culture. 

Departing from this acknowledgment that different interests, perspectives and power structures influence what is understood as cultural heritage, the literature review showed various contemporary trends and debates in academia. Amongst others, these include relevant studies on the role of cultural heritage in conflict (resolution), as well as debates on access to, participation in and exclusion from culture and cultural heritage. 

The broad range of debates and discussion that are sketched in the academic literature review emphasizes the necessity of a holistic approach. Because when applying a broad understanding of culture, the impacts that interventions in cultural heritage can have are also very broad. 

This is also affirmed by the review of current European policies on cultural heritage. It shows that cultural heritage is perceived as an integral part of the European identity, with new models of bottom-up participation and democratic governance being encouraged through various EU flagship initiatives, programmes and financial tools. The EU thereby leans on UNESCO and Council of Europe principles of value-based cultural heritage while, at the same time, programmes like COSME, which help develop small and medium size businesses, are dedicated to the perspective of cultural heritage as capital.

So again, such broad policy perspectives ask for the elaboration of quality principles and a corresponding holistic assessment of the “mutual” impact culture has on society and vice versa. Therefore, the review of relevant academic literature and policies on the impact of cultural heritage in the cultural field represents an important introduction, showing the actual entanglement of culture with social, economic and environmental questions and the need to consider all domains when attempting to assess the impact of cultural heritage.

For more information, please visit the presentation “Main gaps identified in the cultural domain in relation to cultural heritage impact assessment”, delivered during The Athens Virtual Workshop, and the full D1.1 Review of Research Literature, Policy Programmes and (good and bad) Practices (cultural domain from pages 23 to 51).


[Image: "Museum Quartier" by Daniel Villar-Onrubia is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

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