Karla Boluk (en)

Going Beyond: Perceptions of Sustainability in Heritage Studies No.2, edited by Marie-Theres Albert, Francesco Bandarin, Ana Pereira Roders, Springer, 2017, 368 pp., £109.99 (hardback), ISBN 978-3-319-57164-5

BOOK REVIEW by Karla Boluk

Published in Conservation & Management of Archaeological Sites Volume 20, Issue 5-6, online February 2019. https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/ycma20/20/5-6?nav=tocList
Contemporaneously, it is imperative now, more than ever before for a large industry such as tourism to mutually redress the ambiguities and tenuousness of sustainability practices, and engage in a continued dialogue regarding how heritage may be protected. This is particularly meaningful in light of discussions on carrying capacity recently referred to as overtourism. How may destinations reap the benefits of tourism while maintaining and protecting assets that are culturally significant and locally meaningful?

Most of the contributions of this edited volume are a product of presentations and discussions carried out at an international symposium in Bonn, Germany on The Four Pillars of Sustainability for the Implementation of the UNESCO Conventions and Programmes. Discussions at the meeting considered a fourth aspect of sustainability, mainly heritage, in addition to the traditional domains: environment, economic, and social. Broadening discussions on how we understand sustainability in tourism is important in order to demonstrate progress. Specifically, drawing attention to other crucial pillars is imperative to not only enhance our understanding of the priorities that will aid in progressing sustainability, but also assist in planning tourism development.

Perhaps because of the meeting site, many of the contributions in this edited volume reflect a European (mainly German, Spain, UK, Italy), American, and Australian perspective. Although, it was not explicit where many of the contributors were from in the About the Authors section. This level of detail may aid readers in fully appreciating the diverse perspectives brought forward and in fact achieved in this edited volume. Such level of detail may equip readers with the possibility of better assessing if the book indeed meets the goal of presenting ‘diverse perceptions’ (p. 3). The author biographies did relay scholarly contributions from those with personal experiences from a variety of southern contexts such as Mexico, Zambia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, and Iran; many more examples are provided below. Achieving such diverse perspectives are not easy in edited volumes or special issues. Pursuing diverse perspectives in scholarly research should always be the goal, as should reflecting on how representation from varied voices may be improved, with specific attention and/or strategies for reaching a broader representation in the future. Accordingly, spreading the geographical lens in order to represent as many voices as possible on meaningful matters as discussed here, future focused sustainability, and cultural concerns should continue to be a scholarly priority. While inclusionary efforts were made in this text, it seemed as though a future goal may be to consider co-organising events to facilitate a presence/voice of those who would like to attend but may be unable and/or holding think tank meetings/sessions in some of the under-represented places in the future. Doing so, may enhance the geographical scope of future publications; create networking opportunities
which may result in co-authored contributions and/or writing teams across borders, and indeed may reflect the varied ‘perceptions’ and ‘critical reflections’ going ‘beyond’ a Eurocentric interpretation of heritage, sustainability, and sustainable development.

The scholarly contributions provided evidence of authors’ various expertise on UN policies, goals, and work experience, and/or consulting in diverse locations. Such unique insights are needed in scholarly communities, and particularly tertiary level classrooms. Specifically, in such environments where students may not regularly access such reflections and understandings; given a natural inclination of many instructors to lean on academic articles. Furthermore, of particular value in this text is the emphasis on culture and heritage in sustainability discussions when contemporary scholarship emphasises the economic return of tourism as an industry, and the implications of tourism on the environments in which it takes place.

The title of the book nicely frames the focus of the discussions in the volume. Specifically, preparing the reader to engage in a reconsideration of the traditional model of sustainability, and reflect on the importance of heritage in considerations of sustainability. The layout of the book was easy to follow and the chapters adequately built on one another, and when appropriate, referenced one another. However, a summary section may have helped an undergraduate student pull the strands together. Presenting a diverse range of formats of expression in the style and presentation of sections and chapters, contributes to the accessibility of the content, and value of this text.

The editors Albert, Bandarin, and Roders (2017) organised the book into six distinctive parts. The initial section entitled Beyond the Current: New Political Commitments discussed the opportunities of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically for cultural sustainability and tourism. Importantly, Turner noted limited reference to the role of mutual tourism and culture as drivers to achieving sustainability in the SDGs. The notion of driving the SDGs was placed in contrast to enabling as indicated in four of the targets (p. 20). Albert noted the role of the World Heritage Committee in offering specific indicators in the SDGs encouraging capacity building, and awareness programs to leverage stakeholder engagement. This influence is critical and particularly salient given the universal nature and applicability of the SDGs; which is their intention and will surely influence their achievement by 2030. Albert’s chapter reinforces the importance of considering culture as an area deserving attention in our understanding of sustainability and indeed an enabler for achieving sustainable development (p. 39). Engels’ contribution was complementary of the inclusion of target 11.4 in relation to culture and heritage and importantly noted the World Heritage Committee’s role in requesting a policy integrating sustainable development into the convention, as well as detailing overlap between the convention and the specific SDGs (Table 1).

The second section, Beyond Existing Approaches: New and Innovative Theoretical Perceptions bridges the idea of making culture accessible, contributing to preservation and the longevity of digital information, and also facilitating various modes (e.g., Prodan’s digital documentaries) of presenting culture; implied but not explicit, in the discussions on access was the opportunity for such mediums to broaden an appeal for cultural engagement. Similarly, Lutz and Koch implied broadening access in a number of creative examples drawn on such as GLAMs (open galleries, libraries, archives, and museums), and cultural hackathons. Further, they reflected on a conceptual framework which proposes three representations of culture within sustainability encouraging critical avenues for future research. Erlewein’s contribution identifies the absence of cultural sustainability in the United Nations 17 SDGs as an independent dimension; however, notes its recognition in SDG 4 Quality Education. As such, the author proposes cultural sustainability as a fourth pillar to the sustainability model and recognises the importance of intangible cultural heritage. A case study on Kutiyattam Sanskrit Theatre in India was used as a way to demonstrate its transformation. This chapter, along with others in the initial section joins a recent interest in the tourism scholarship necessitating critical thinking in order to progress the SDGs to meet the 2030 deadline (e.g., Boluk, Cavaliere, and Higgins-Desbiolles 2017). Ripp and Lukat explore the notion of urban resiliency and planning a current gap in the literature. Specifically, they consider resilience in the methods in which buildings are constructed and designed, the role of building materials, and the various adaptable uses of buildings. Illustrations throughout the chapter visually depict examples of adaptability of the build environment in Albania and Czech Republic.

The third section, Shifts in the Understanding of Heritage and Sustainability begins with a contribution (Serafi and Fouseki) challenging the blind use of sustainability models necessitating enhanced critical engagement. Their analysis draws on the historic and religious city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia to illustrate the significance of a spirituality pillar in the sustainability model. Their research illustrated that development and heritage may coexist if development is used as a vehicle for improving spirituality and responds to the needs of worshippers. Thompson’s chapter uses sport as a lens to examine cultural sustainability and heritage safeguarding. The chapter mutually recognises this as an absence within UNESCO, and generally the use of sport for development. Sport is positioned as sustainable and like intangible cultural heritage is considered as transformative, inclusive, and fostering community. Several international examples were used throughout to highlight the symbiosis of cultural preservation and sport. Curtis’ contribution begins with the premise that while sustainability is used ubiquitously its meaning is ambiguous. This stance contributes to contemporary scholarship such as Higgins-Desbiolles’ (2010) work which draws attention to the elusiveness of sustainability in tourism as a consequence of neoliberal conditions, and an emphasis on consumeristic ideology. This work is missed in this chapter however, Curtis offers a similar critique of the way sustainability has been co-opted to meet capitalistic ends. A unique case study on Akcalar, Turkey draws attention to the notion of contextual sustainability with local understandings and contributions.

The fourth section, Best Practises and Narratives offers geographically diverse critical insights on sustainable heritage protection and conservation. Specifically, Sandholz draws on examples of rapid urban growth in both Kathmandu, Nepal and Yogyakarta, Indonesia and its consequences on heritage buildings following earthquakes. Ultimately recommending that protection mechanisms are needed mutually for tangible and intangible heritage in developing urban cores. Whelan’s work focused on South Africa, and compared community perspectives of two reconstruction projects: The Georgetown Project and The Montrose House Eco-Museum Project. Drawing on McKenzie’s conditions which supports social sustainability, Whelan proposes the scale of community to be considered as an additional condition. Mwamulowe’s chapter expresses disquiet regarding the World Heritage List (WHL) nomination of Zambia’s Barotse Plains, Zambia’s second largest wetlands. Considering what the WHL status may impose on the site, Mwamulowe offers several suggestions such as conditionally awarding WHL status as a pilot, and reducing the protected area boundary concluding that an integrated approach to planning for conservation and development is required. Lozano argues that landscapes and environments are vibrant cultural artefacts facilitating a sense of being. Using a WH Site,
Quebrada de Humahuaca in the Andes as an example, she illustrates how sense of being is endangered by modernisation. Further drawing attention to governmental power and decision-making disregard of community involvement and participation in decision-making.

Section five, titled Beyond the Mainstream emphasises the interests and rights of Indigenous peoples in light of intangible and tangible heritage. Frandy and Cederström’s contribution analyses the dominant European understanding of sustainability and emphasises a need to ‘restore Native sustainabilities’ (p. 219) in light of colonialisation. Specifically, the authors reflect on the intangible assets in the process of birchbark canoe building in the Lac du Flambeau Anishinaabe community in northernmost Wisconsin. A key outcome of the program was its ability to work towards multicultural sustainability, specifically as an identity building exercise that recognises power and pursues social justice. Stoffle et al. argue that achieving sustainability requires the comanagement of heritage resources and advocates this approach for the Southern Paiute people. However, they recognise that American land managers and museum specialists are resistant to shared comanagement practices with native peoples. Rode draws on two case studies in Tanzania and Kenya providing further support for local peoples to be meaningful participants in conservation efforts. However, this contribution draws attention to exclusionary practices of conservation negatively affecting Indigenous peoples. Logan reflects on heritage sustainability in Hue, Vietnam. Recognising some positive steps towards embracing sustainability (e.g., the development of Vietnam Agenda 21 (p.270)) from a national level while also recognising some of the shortages specifically in reference to the World Heritage natural sites failing to recognise cultural heritage. Logan highlights the challenge for Hue where the economic value of tourism is prioritised over all other pillars of sustainability.

Section six, titled Aspects of Implementation introduces new methodological approaches to support heritage sustainability. Barrera-Fernández and Hernández-Escampa examine the rebranding of Malaga, Spain in consideration of its cultural asset of Pablo Picasso. The authors reflect on the hope to derive commercial value by rebranding Malaga to Malaga-Picasso rather than contributing to local culture. The study revealed the consequence of leaving locals out of tourism decision-making – a sense of loss. De Pascale breaks new ground by exploring environmental protection, mainly geoethics mediated by CIGIS technologies. Using Calabria, Southern Italy as a case study De Pascale found that CIGIS software is useful in improving the dissemination of information and communicating how to reduce risk in relation to earthquakes to the public. Ravankhah et al. examine the inclusion of cultural heritage in the disaster risk management framework promoting disaster resilience in the WHS of Bam, Iran. Yadollahi and Weidner contribute to a gap pointed out in the literature contributing to urban heritage management drawing on Tabriz Bazaar, Iran. Specifically, they suggest that understanding local culture(s) and place-based understandings are important in order to understand responsibilities and vulnerabilities of actors in the pursuit of social sustainability. Kloos’ contribution, closing the text, refers to Heritage Impact Assessments as a way to assess transformations in cultural World Heritage properties. Drawing on examples in Dresden, Liverpool, and Istanbul, the study indicated high variability when implemented. This led the author to reflect on the need to position heritage management more centrally in strategies of urban and regional planning.

Overall, this edited volume makes an important contribution to the current knowledge that aims to critically navigate sustainability in tourism. This volume would make an excellent resource for undergraduate students, as well as an important resource for graduate students specifically interested in the pursuit of research in sustainability in heritage studies. This volume contributes
to the growing body of literature on heritage and sustainable development and draws attention to the importance of a heritage sustainability discourse in order to confront economic development, which often, unfortunately, supersedes sustainability interests.

Karla Boluk, Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, Faculty of Applied Health Sciences University of Waterloo kboluk@uwaterloo.ca

References

Boluk, K., C. Cavaliere and F. Higgins-Desbiolles. 2017. “Critical thinking to realize sustainability in tourism systems: reflecting on the 2030 sustainable development goals.” Journal of Sustainable Tourism 25(9): 1201-1204.

Higgins-Desbiolles, F. 2010. “The elusiveness of sustainability in tourism: The culture-ideology of consumerism and its implications.” Tourism and Hospitality Research 10(2):116-129.

Link to the book