An Introduction to Heritage in Action

Emma Waterton, Steve Watson, Helaine Silverman

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Cultural heritage is a process, a discourse, a political reality, an economic opportunity, and a social arena as well as sites, objects, and performances. As such heritage “does work.” And as work cultural heritage is a cultural tool that is deployed broadly in society today. Heritage is at work in indigenous and vernacular communities, in urban development and regeneration schemes, in acts of memorialization and counteracts of forgetting, in museums and other spaces of representation, in tourism, in the offices of those making public policy, and all too frequently in conflicts over identity. Thus, heritage is not an inert something to be looked at. Rather, heritage is always in action, bringing the past into the present through historical contingency and manifold strategic appropriations and deployments. This volume emphasizes the active nature of heritage-making, hence heritage in action.

The volume’s authors engage the multiple scales at which heritage works, from the vernacular to official and from the forgotten to the famous World Heritage List and into cyberspace. And they consider the many ethical challenges attendant to heritage. We examine the expediency of heritage and the complex ways in which people assert and reassert themselves in places that already seem fully achieved in terms of their heritage profiles. And yet people intrude on these official pasts and well-inscribed places, eager to make their own pasts in a way that jostles for position amid other more powerful versions.

The unifying theme of this volume is the way that heritage is active in enabling people to find ways to connect and reconnect with the idea of the past, with places, objects, and events acting as vectors and foci of meaning and activity. We attend to the individuals and communities that mobilize cultural heritage for a range of reasons and through a panoply of actions. We point towards a new, albeit imperfect, practical agenda for heritage in action.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHeritage in Action
Subtitle of host publicationMaking the Past in the Present
EditorsHelaine Silverman, Emma Waterton, Steve Watson
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-42870-3
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-42868-0
StatePublished - 2017


  • action
  • heritage
  • popular culture
  • work


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