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Shared heritage: An anthropological theory and methodology for assessing, enhancing, and communicating a future-oriented social ethic of heritage protection

Angela M Labrador, University of Massachusetts Amherst


A common narrative in the late twentieth-early twenty-first centuries is that historic rural landscapes and cultural practices are in danger of disappearing in the face of modern development pressures. However, efforts to preserve rural landscapes have dichotomized natural and cultural resources and tended to "freeze" these resources in time. They have essentialized the character of both "rural" and "developed" and ignored the dynamic natural and cultural processes that produce them. In this dissertation I outline an agenda for critical and applied heritage research that reframes heritage as a transformative social practice in order to move beyond the hegemonic treatment of heritage as the objects of cultural property. I propose an anthropological theory of shared heritage: a culturally mediated ethical practice that references the past in order to intervene in alienating processes of the present to secure a recognizable future for practitioners and prospective beneficiaries. More specifically, I develop (1) an ethical framework for shared heritage practice that values social tolerance and future security, (2) a model for the critical assessment of a heritage protection strategy's potential for supporting a shared heritage ethic, and (3) a methodology for scholars, heritage advocates, and community leaders to realistically enact shared heritage. I document two case studies of rural residents implementing heritage protection strategies in the face of suburban and tourism development in Hadley, Massachusetts, and Eleuthera, Bahamas, respectively. I engage with these case studies at three distinct levels: (1) locating and critiquing the potential for a shared heritage ethics in the attempts to preserve private agricultural land in Hadley; (2) developing and applying a community-based heritage inventory assessment in Hadley; and (3) modeling an internet-based communications system for supporting shared heritage development in Eleuthera. Taken together, this dissertation offers an anthropological model for documenting and analyzing the discursive and material productions of cultural identities and landscapes inherent in heritage resource protection and a set of methods that heritage professionals and practitioners can apply to cultivate shared heritage ethics.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Cultural Resources Management|Communication|Public policy

Recommended Citation

Labrador, Angela M, "Shared heritage: An anthropological theory and methodology for assessing, enhancing, and communicating a future-oriented social ethic of heritage protection" (2013). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3556263.