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Erfgoedconstructies in landschapspraktijken van burgers

  • Braaksma, Patricia
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2017
Wageningen University and Researchcenter Publications
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Decisions to cut down monumental trees or demolish historic buildings can always count on civilian protests. Every year, the Dutch tradition of Zwarte Piet (‘Black Pete’) is heavily debated, the protests almost a tradition themselves. There are regular reports about concerned people protesting the disappearance of heritage or the damage about to be done to it. People value traditions, narratives or historic objects, and these are called heritage. Not everyone values these in the same way, though. Where to one person Zwarte Piet is inextricably bound up with the Sinterklaas festivities, to another he is nothing less than an expression of racism. What constitutes heritage depends on the meaning people assign to objects, events, stories and traditions. In the past, experts usually decided what was considered to be heritage. The examples show that civilians also assign heritage meaning and thus construct heritage as well. Policy-makers have expressed a wish to cooperate with citizens to come to a concerted and widely supported valuation of heritage. Since heritage is not an objective and static given, but a product of dynamic assignment of meaning, groups of people can produce multiform heritage values. Insights into what meanings people assign to heritage in their everyday environments could on the one hand help preserve the existing values regarding heritage, sites and landscapes and respect these. On the other hand they can be helpful in the development of policies for heritage and the efforts of the government for more cooperation with citizens. The aim of this study is to obtain these insights. Theoretical perspective and research questions In science, the concept of heritage is the subject of lively discussions. Traditionally, heritage was presented as a collection of artefacts, of which the historic characteristics and the ways in which they could be shown were studied. Later, the attention shifted to heritage as a construction of meaning. The study focused primarily on representations; the way old things were linguistically represented by different groups of people. The material artefacts thus disappeared from view. More recently, heritage researchers propose an integrated approach: no longer an exclusive focus on either the artefacts or the representations thereof, but rather the relations between these should be the object of study. This study is consistent with the latter conceptualisation, and departs from the matching theoretical perspective of landscape practices. These are routines shared by groups of interacting people who are involved with landscapes. In these landscape practices, motives, actions, material objects and the meanings assigned to them form a coherent whole. This theoretical approach is ideally suited to study heritage as meaning construction on a micro-level (the level of people's daily lives), and to understand this assignment of meaning against the background of routines in which actions and material objects are also important. In addition to the characterisation of different landscape practices in which heritage is constructed, this research is meant to make four additional contributions to heritage literature. First, heritage studies so far focused on explicit meanings, i.e. meanings in which historical artefacts are explicitly presented as heritage. From practice theory, however, it follows that there can also be implied meanings and that these can be just as relevant. These are meanings assigned to historical artefacts, without presenting these as heritage. Secondly, I focused on the ways experts and people in practices exchange knowledge. In literature, this exchange has mostly been studied as a conflict, but other forms, such as cooperation, are equally conceivable. Thirdly, I looked for changes in heritage constructions resulting from recent or upcoming spatial changes in the surroundings. Studies on the assignment of meaning to places show that these meanings may shift when change is about to come to a place; whether and how this is the case for heritage meanings is still a largely open question. Fourthly, I looked at the willingness of people to cooperate in heritage management. It is because of this perspective of practice theory that this study can add to the studies on representations of heritage, in which the emphasis is often on conflicts between governments and citizens. On the basis of these considerations, the following research questions were leading for the empirical research: Which motives, activities, and scenic elements play a role in landscape practices, and what meanings do people in these practices assign to historic artefacts? To what extent is the distinction between implicit and explicit meanings relevant for understanding the construction of heritage in landscape practices? What are the roles of external expert knowledge in the construction of scenic heritage in landscape practices? To what extent do spatial changes influence the heritage constructions in landscape practices? To what extent are citizens in landscape practices willing to participate with the government in taking care of heritage? Research design To answer the research questions, a qualitative research design was chosen. I have collected information about motives, activities and meanings by conducting [aantal] semi-structured interviews with people who are active in landscape practices. These interviews were conducted in four study areas: the Tjongervallei, the Roerstreek, the Amstelland and the IJsselvallei. In two of these areas spatial changes play a prominent role (Amstelland and IJsselvallei), and in the other two they do not. Moreover, historical experts highly value two of these areas (Roerstreek and Amstelland) and not the other two. This combination of study areas was chosen with the research questions about the influence of spatial changes and the roles of expert knowledge in mind. In the phase of qualitative data analysis, the information from the interviews was processed by systematically coding quotes from the interviews, based on similarities and differences in these quotes, and on the concepts that gave direction to the research. Findings Seven distinctive types of landscape practices were found in the different study areas. In practices centring around the collection of historical information, the activities for the most part consist of visiting archives and libraries, and organising the obtained information. The focus is on the social aspects of history, what the life of our ancestors was like. Within these practices, historic landscape features are assigned meaning as signs of this social history. An old turf hut, for instance, reflects the hard life of peat workers in the past. Within practices focused on the education of local history, people organise exhibitions and tours and develop teaching materials for schools. These people like to make a contribution to society, to be active and to provide younger generations with knowledge about history. Landscape elements that show an area's history are valuable to these people. The people in conservation practices focus on legislation, for which they administer and collect data on species and their habitat. They also go out to work on small projects to contribute to nature. That is what they love to do most. Historical elements and features that also have a high ecological value have a special meaning within these practices. Being active in the landscape characterises the practices of landscape maintenance, activities such as pruning, pollarding and digging. What motivates these people are the social contacts they have during these activities and that these are outdoor activities. The objects of their activities are central to the assignment of meaning to the surroundings. The aesthetic meaning is paramount here, while the historical dimension hardly plays a role. In practices focused on monument conservation, getting other local residents involved is an important activity. Being active for the community and preserving something for future generations are important motivations for participants. It is not the larger landscape structures, but specific historical objects that are of interest. If there are spatial changes, these historical meanings are strongly articulated and defended, even in court, if necessary. In the practice of landscape development, found only in the Tjongervallei, people make plans for the area and organise consultations. It is about improving the landscape and using history to this end. Therefore, there is special emphasis on historical artefacts, which become meaningful in new plans such as the development of tourist routes. Depending on the study area, protest activities or support activities are at the heart of landscape development practices. When protesting proposed plans, this means taking part in participation procedures and court procedures. Support activities involve persuading other locals of their perspectives on the future, in order to prevent administrators of making decisions that are not in line with those perspectives. Historical landscape structures, rather than specific objects, are assigned meaning from the desire to steer spatial developments. Throughout the practices and study areas, different dominant modes of production of meaning were found, within which heritage is constructed: on the basis of landscape aesthetics, in response to upcoming or recent spatial changes, from the perspective of people's own family history, the wish to make a social contribution, and on the basis of utility value. This research shows that assigning meanings to historic landscape features and structures is diverse. This diversity does not only exist between study areas but also between practices within an area. Heritage is therefore a social construct. At the same time, heritage is not a completely random construct. Some historical artefacts easily get assigned meaning, and therefore play an important role in different practices. Also, these heritage meanings are often understandable seeing the activities, motives and knowledge in the relevant practices. The theoretically assumed distinction between explicit and implicit meanings does indeed turn out to be relevant. Some people assign meaning to historical objects in a landscape, while there is not any actual historical connotation. In their view, for instance, the objects are valuable in relation to the aesthetics of the landscape, or as elements with value for nature. Different ways of knowledge exchange with experts were found in this research. Sometimes participants in practices worked together with experts to gain knowledge. Especially in practices that revolve around collecting historical information amateur archaeologists and professional archaeologists work together to increase historical knowledge. In conservation practices, people consult experts to become familiar with statutory frameworks that are relevant to their activities. Practice members and experts appreciate each other's work. Within some practices, such as that of monument conservation, expert knowledge and consultation are actively sought out to strengthen the legitimacy of arguments. People think, for example, that the likelihood of success in court cases increases when an expert agrees with them. The extent to which upcoming and recent spatial changes are of influence varies greatly between landscape practices. In some practices, activities and the assignment of meaning explicitly address these spatial changes. People protest against changes using various means, such as public inquiries and lawsuits, and by accentuating or even newly constructing historical meanings of objects as a strategy to influence changes. Other practices do not react to spatial changes, because the historical artefacts that are important within these practices remain untouched by these changes. This research shows that many people are prepared to take care of heritage in their own way. We also see cooperation with the government. Sometimes practices execute public tasks through volunteer work, and vice versa the government facilitates some practices through grants and by organising public inquiries. However, this does not mean that we can already see joint assignment of heritage meanings and values. In its wake, a broad willingness to participate in public policies for heritage was not found. The way in which the government frames interaction can be a major obstacle. In the IJsselvallei, there is discontent among citizens about the small extent to which they can share their perspectives within the planning procedures as established by the government. Conclusion and discussion Heritage literature often emphasises the importance of heritage for people. This research shows that it is indeed important, but also that we should not exaggerate this importance. The interest in history is usually fragmented and often limited to a specific object that is of interest in a landscape practice. Moreover, this study looked at people who are actively involved in the landscape, and landscape heritage is probably even less important to people that are not actively involved. Heritage researchers also often emphasise that heritage is important for people's identity formation. Although this issue has not been examined directly empirically, the findings do necessitate a nuancing of this idea. The interviewees hardly indicate that historical artefacts are important to their sense of identity. Some measure of identity contribution does seem plausible though, because, for example, people find some objects typical for the region to which they feel connected. The main attraction of landscape practices for the participants lies in the social relations. That is what it is really about for most people, and that is what makes them feel good. In this sense, historical artefacts are often, but not always, a reason for doing things together, and that is what the participants enjoy the most. Social Relevance The current heritage policy focuses increasingly on citizens. Policymakers think that shared values ​​should be established in the collaboration between heritage professionals and citizens. This study provides insights into both the conflicts that arise in practice and the current cooperation between citizens and heritage professionals. A striking finding in the studied landscape practices is that there are no conflicts between practices themselves. Many meanings assigned to heritage, although different, are not inherently conflicting in the sense that they are mutually exclusive. The importance of social relations for those involved in a landscape practice means that they do not easily start a conflict. While conflicts between practices were not found in this study, there are many conflicts between landscape practices and governments. Spatial change is a major driver of conflict. Especially in those situations, governments should therefore focus on interactive participation processes in a planning context. In addition to the negatively oriented cooperation between citizens and governments, this research also identified a positively oriented cooperation. These forms of cooperation are not very interactive yet. It is therefore questionable whether they will lead to shared heritage values. For governments and other heritage professionals, landscape practices are interesting contacts. They are organized and often already actively involved in heritage, so they are easier to approach than individual citizens. To give new meaning to heritage policy with the shared values ​​of governments and citizens at the centre, a change is required in the way professionals work. More than they do now, participatory processes should focus on the actions of people and the diversity of the meanings they assign to heritage. If they do, the results from this study indicate that it might well be possible to share the care for heritage.

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