Literature review: the impact of Cultural Heritage on Society

In recent decades the academic discourse on cultural heritage has increasingly questioned the very notion of what cultural heritage is, while the heritage discourse in contemporary policies has shifted from a conservation-oriented approach to a value-oriented one, and is being aligned with the overall EU’s strategic goals for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. In academic literature and policy documents cultural heritage has been approached as a complex concept that encompasses the significant experiences of various types of human existence and it has been perceived both, as a common asset and a shared responsibility. Numerous EU policy documents state that the way cultural heritage is preserved and enhanced is a major factor in defining Europe´s identity and its place in the world, putting emphasis on cultural heritage as: a resource for promoting social cohesion, diversity and intercultural dialogue; a resource for innovation, sustainable and inclusive growth; as well as, being related to individual and community well-being. In order to achieve this, a more socially responsible heritage management and heritage literacy have been advocated for, in which civic engagement in heritage management and value assessment emerge as relevant issues. 

Within the SoPHIA project, the broad scope of the academic and policy literature available on social impact assessment of cultural heritage sites have been examined, indicating its relevance, complex character and delicacy. The trends identified in the literature focus on social responsibility and socially responsible heritage management, heritage literacy, as well as the overall well-being of the society. The discussions on social, and also on economic and cultural impacts of different heritage management policies in the surveyed academic literature are conducted across different disciplines, but researchers claim that what is often missing is a joint reference point in discourses across disciplines, nations and languages. The recent academic approach to heritage management is to opt for community-defined values rather than the more usual approach where values are defined through legislation and policy. The available literature emphasises that cultural heritage social management is equally important to economic management and sustainable growth and therefore, striving for partnerships, new management schemes and innovative business models that handle cultural heritage in a holistic manner is essential. 

As heritage derives its meaning through its interaction with people, the available literature acknowledges that a wide range of values needs to be integrated into planning its policy and practice. Heritage researchers emphasise that communities need to maintain a primary role in the preservation of local historical heritage and be better acquainted with it. However, local perspectives often differ from the viewpoints of experts on cultural heritage. In this regard, researchers highlight the need to employ both qualitative and quantitative methodologies in cultural heritage social impact assessment and to help create a dialogue between the community and governmental agencies. Operational practices such as participatory governance and volunteering that support the involvement of civil society in the creation and implementation of development policies could help strengthen integration and social cohesion; distribute positive effects among social classes and stimulate creativity.

SoPHIA’s work has been organized around four main analytical dimensions – social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts – which constitute perspectives to identify the most important challenges and opportunities linked to cultural heritage interventions in Europe. In the process of the literature review that would serve as a ground base for developing a holistic impact assessment meta-model, existing methods for impact assessment encompassing the four main analytical dimensions have been analysed. For the social impact one IA method stands out: SIA – Social Impact Assessment, a method conceived for the process of managing the social issues of development. 

The core concepts SIA deals with are culture, community, power, human rights, gender, justice, place, resilience and sustainable livelihoods. It is essential for SIA practitioners to educate proponents, regulators and colleagues about these concepts, and to entrench them into practice norms. Stronger engagement with the emerging trends of human rights impact assessment; social performance standards; supply chain management; governance; local content and economic development should improve the pertinence and demonstrable value of SIA to all stakeholders. SIA practice has developed, changed and improved over time. Effective project social performance needs to assist individuals and communities to cope with change. However, when it comes to management of the social issues in development projects, there are still a number of complicated issues to assess such as: restoring livelihoods, place attachment, sense of place, maintaining intangible cultural heritage, involuntary resettlement and finding replacement land. Thus, there are many limitations to the effectiveness of SIA and the management of social issues in projects, such as corruption, rent seeking, elite capture, speculation and opportunist behaviour that are difficult to manage. 

A closer examination of current IA methods in the four domains analysed has identified a series of shortcomings among which are the indeterminacy of the concept of value; the imbalance among impact evaluation domains as well as the fact that negative effects are usually underrated. In order to achieve the multiple dimensions of sustainability (economic, social, environmental, cultural and governance) the appropriate balance must be found and thereby impact assessment methods applied in measuring the success of heritage interventions should provide a balanced set of methods and indicators for measuring the success of heritage projects under evaluations.

For more information, please visit the full D1.1 Review of Research Literature, Policy Programmes and (good and bad) Practices (social domain from pages 53 to 88).

[Photo: "Declaration of the festival of Mare de Deu de la Salut in Algemesí as intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO." by Marc Sardon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]

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