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Patrimonialities: Heritage vs. Property, edited by Valdimar Tr. Hafstein and Martin Skrydstrup. Cambridge University Press, 2020. 112pp. $20.00. ISBN: 9781108928380

This fine book begins with a speech from French President Emmanuel Macron, who appeals for the returning of Africa cultural heritage from European museums to their places of origin, posing the long-standing question of who owns heritage. This is the tip of the iceberg of a broader discussion about the role of museums in critical heritage studies, which suggests to reflect on their new definition, bringing together a number of issues such as culture identity, cultural amnesia, cultural alienation and culture discourses for political goals. Against this backdrop, the five chapters in this book address the distinction between cultural heritage and cultural property, illustrating different rationalities of government mobilising a number of global cases. The authors' argument is based on ‘contrasts between cultural property and cultural heritage and between distinct technologies of governmentality.’ (p. 9). Based on discourse analysis and a comparative approach, the book offers an invaluable survey of cases, and a theoretical contribution to reframing the conceptual differences in which national and indigenous claims and discourses are shaped and legitimated. Cultural property is here conceived as a technology of sovereignty and cultural heritage as a technology of reformation, and, in particular cases, ‘the trajectories may shift back and forth with the sign of rights-based claims and resolutions under the sign of cultural property to ethical claims and solutions under the sign of cultural heritage.’(p. 13). The merit of the book is to focus on the shifting governmentality between culture property and culture heritage, relying on an interdisciplinary perspective among specialists from folklore studies, anthropology, cultural management and law, with constant reference to cases.

The book is divided into five, rather overlapping sections: Section 1:‘The Patrimonial Field’, 2: ‘Cultural Property as a Technology of Sovereignty’, 3: ‘Cultural Heritage as a Technology of Reformation’, 4: ‘Different Patrimonialities’, and 5: ‘Trajectories’. The introduction part ‘Debates and Debacles’ of Section 1 sets the tone of the book focusing on the critical notion of ‘universal museums’ which has shaped for decades the ‘who owns heritage debate’, linking this to the controversial relationship between what is local and what is global, and the uneasy state formation processes in different parts of the world. This is supported by a number of cases discussed in the book. As a matter of fact, behind Macron’s arguments for returning cultural goods, there are specific technologies of governmentality, sovereignty and reformation, which produce different sets of cultural property and cultural heritage claims. Based on these arguments, the authors locate the concept of the two terms into a global patrimonial field where various cultural actors and heritage regimes are involved. Therefore, ‘the patrimonial field is governed by national and international regimes, some of which gravitate toward a rights-based approach to protection and dispute management under the sign of cultural property, while others gravitate toward an ethical approach to conservation and safeguarding under the sign of cultural heritage.’ (p. 10). Referring to the historical evolution of legal documents on cultural properties, from the Hague Convention in 1954, to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in 1990, Section 2 and 3 present global cases from Europe, North America, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific, illustrating how ‘culture property denotes ownership and exclusivity’, and how ‘cultural heritage denotes a relationship of responsibility, custodianship and sharing.’ (p. 9). Specifically, in section 2, the dispute around the location of the Scottish Lewis Chessmen between the British Museum and Scotland exemplifies the conflicting political discourses between the concept of ‘universal museum’ and of an independent Scotland. Similarly, the argument to retain the Parthenon sculptures and a Kwakwaka’wakw ceremonial mask in London, hold by the British Museum, as universal properties of humankind have been used to reframe the discourse to counter the repatriation claims by Greece. Section 2 closes with the return of a ki’i la’au (wooden figure) to Hawaii and reveals how NAGPRA serves as sovereignty producing machine at subnational level.

In Session 3, in contrast to cases of session 2 where rights and sovereignty are emphasised, the ethical aspects of cultural heritage as responsibilities are employed as collective and inclusive reformation approach, reporting two management approaches of participation and ‘conduct of conduct’. As the governmentalisation of the state, the ‘conduct of conduct’ happens at thousands of scattered points and requires proliferation of programs and techniques for connecting political agendas and power operation with customs, beliefs, health, hygiene, security and prosperity (p. 45). Expertise, training and cooperation from heritage regimes tend to reshape the essence of heritage. For instance, in the case of Vimbuza, Malawi, the relationship among practitioners, patients and critics to practice has been reshaped towards a display of featured heritage. In this case, treating Vimbuza as a heritage reduces the healing ritual to only dancing display, safeguarding has been the greatest threat for sustained vitality of Vimbuza. Similarly, through creating a new cultural management agency, Kutiyattam Sanskrit Theater in Kerala, India, is testimony of a process of heritagisation with uneven effect on artists. At the same time, the case of the traditional marketplace of Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech, was protected from demolishment only by gaining UNESCO’s recognition of intangible heritage. It is a process of heritagisation, which, nevertheless, implies forms of transformation and can ultimately alter the original function and the authenticity of the place. This case shows the limits of reformation and responsibility discourses when it comes to immovable cultural properties, and there are additional risks to take into account.

Session 4 deals with the overlaps and overflows between cultural property and cultural heritage, arguing for a process of shifting governmentality. In the case of the return of Medieval Manuscripts from Denmark to Iceland, instead of the restitution of culture property as a sign of sovereign, the new Iceland builds a partnership with the two sister institutions in two countries through sharing the manuscripts. As an extension of Iceland’s cooperation, the UTIMUT project (1984–2001), which comprised the transfer of more than 35,000 ethnographic and archaeological objects from the National Museum of Denmark to the National Museum of Greenland, adopts similar sharing approach to transfer part of ethnographic and archaeological pieces from Denmark to Greenland through new museum construction (p. 58). The continuing discussion of Kwakwaka’wakw mask demonstrates the loan of mask turns the sovereignty into an engagement discourse. To conclude the book, in Session 5, clear distinctions between culture property and culture heritage are proposed (p. 77, p. 78). Tracing back to the cases of the return of Medieval Manuscripts from Denmark to Iceland and the case of loaning sculptures of Acropolis from British Museum to Greece, it adds global nuance to the shifting dynamic of back and forth from cultural property to cultural heritage with a sign of sharing and engagement, purposing for different interests and transforming stages. To close the book, the trajectories of cases reveal ‘by the extent to which the discourses of cultural heritage and cultural property both deploy a rhetoric of integrity.’ (p. 84) and importantly, how the universal museum embedded the discourses of unity, integrity and wholeness.

Through the comparison of diverse cases and discourses, the book points out that the political economy and technologies of governmentality have changed the trajectories from cultural property to cultural heritage. The historical distinction of the two terms is significant to better understand the politic background of what is happening in the heritage field. Furthermore, the new ways of thinking about the heritage governmentality changes the static concept of culture property and cultural heritage. Instead, the overlaps and overflows of how different culture and social actors manipulate and create cultural climate for sovereignty or reformation naturally flows in each cases presented. ‘Social actors… pulling or pushing objects back and forth between the signs of cultural heritage and cultural property and subjects between reformation and sovereignty.’(p. 78). Lastly, the long-term effects and multidisciplinary perspective lay the basis for wider discussion of conflicts, culture institutions, experts, third party organisations and its inner relationships at national and global scales.

The issues touched in this book of cultural return, heritagisation, political fragmentation, and heritage participation could enhance East-West dialogues in critical heritage studies, through strengthening the politic, cultural and social connections in current conservation processes. The new types of heritage alliance or heritage regime with combination of state and local political machine have been the driving force to current heritagisation. Although the modern conservation movements mostly point to western contexts, the long-term investigation of different discourses from various cultural and social institutions contributes to understand how culture heritage is subtler in its perpetuation and its disruptions of state hegemony through technologies of governmentalities (p. 41). Therefore, drawing on the discussion of heritage regimes could assemble different perspectives on the materiality, classification, and recognition of heritage in both global and comparative contexts (Geismar 2015; Smith 2006). Moreover, the overlap and overflow between culture property and cultural heritage breaks the barriers between East and West critical heritage studies. The book mentions a Ca trù poetry heritage case in Vietnam (p. 48) and expands the global understanding of the institutionalisation of social relations and how cultural heritage stands for responsibilities. The argument of how social actors draw strategically on culture property and cultural heritage or both provided a dynamic perspective for current cultural heritage movement of geographic, national or civilisational difference. Lastly, the case of Vimbuza, Malawi, presents an interesting dialogue with what is happening in Global South as well. That is, ‘when Vimbuza is treated as heritage that it becomes endangered; its heritagization seems to prefigure and perhaps to hasten its obsolescence.’ (p. 50). As practices in China show, for example in Lijiang Old Town, there is always ironic demonstration on ‘how the regime of heritage reforms people’s relationship with their practices, their relationship with one another through their practices, and ultimately the practices themselves.’ (p. 50) (Su 2010).

In sum, there are some issues that might have been discussed more comprehensively in this book. Firstly, the contents intend to clarity the global cases into a framework of patrimonial field, however, as the book shows ‘there are certainly overlaps and overflows between cultural property and cultural heritage.’ (p. 57). Although the case of the Lewis Chessmen tells a story of Cultural Property as a technology of sovereignty, a turn to cultural heritage as a sign of responsibility also parallels with the narrative path of the case. The overlaps also emerged in the case of Parthenon Sculptures and the Kwakwaka’wakw Transformation Mask, which were also clarified in other chapters. Moreover, the book’s fundamental contribution is to clarify the distinction of the two ambiguous heritage terms through linking them to empirical cases and technologies of governmentalities. There is very little direct comparison with other parts of the world. For example, the cases mentioned in the book, range from cultural property return to intangible cultural heritage and transforming urban heritage. There are many excellent examples can be used to further narrow the gap between eastern and western discourses, for instance, the different politic machine of heritage-based state hegemony. ‘Cultural heritage is subtler in its perpetuation and its disruptions of state hegemony.’ (p. 41). Will these hegemony supplement global comparative heritage issues through discourses of responsibilities for humanities or right of sovereignty? Or will heritage remain a tool of government to selectively reconstruct a shared inheritance vision? As the conclusion of the book reveals that heritage is perceived as an assemblage of subjects, objects, processes, and practices (Geismar 2015).

To conclude the book review, there is one question requiring further discussion: Do architects and planners benefit from it? The merit of this book is undoubtable the various global cases to build a discourses comparative on Patrimonialities Heritage filed, in particular, the shifting governmentality of cultural property and culture heritage. However, the book does not fully explore the implication on urban heritage and heritage places. Although the only case of Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech presents a heritagisation process on how transformation alters the original function and challenges the authenticity of place, the case does not fully explore the potential risks of reformation and responsibility when it comes to immovable cultural properties. As heritage has been increasingly engaged with intangible aspects of people’s associations with places and objects, in historic centres of major cities, cultural heritage places are reinvented and transformed, and the intangible assets are utilised in innovative and creative way. How tangible and intangible resources are reshaping the current cultural territorial capital of places and challenging their authenticity need to be further explored.

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The Author would like to thank Giulio Verdini for his support.


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Zhao, Y. Patrimonialities: Heritage vs. Property, edited by Valdimar Tr. Hafstein and Martin Skrydstrup. Cambridge University Press, 2020. 112pp. $20.00. ISBN: 9781108928380. Built Heritage 6, 18 (2022).

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