Whose Heritage Matters?

The British Academy has recently announced awards granted under the third round of their Sustainable Development Programme. The programme focusses on excellent, policy oriented UK research, aimed at addressing the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and advancing the UK’s Aid Strategy. 27 UK-based academics, in collaboration with other UK and overseas researchers, will undertake research projects of up to 27 months in duration.

We are pleased to announce that Sheffield University’s Urban Institute has been awarded funding, in collaboration with the African Centre for Cities (Cape Town, South Africa) and the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology (Kisumu, Kenya) for a two year research project.

‘Whose Heritage Matters? Mapping, Making and Mobilising Heritage Values for Sustainable Livelihoods in Cape Town and Kisumu’ is a coproduced action research project which brings stakeholders together to map heritage values and develop creative interventions for sustainable development.

Cape Town and Kisumu are two secondary African cities with high levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Harnessing cultural heritage may play a role in addressing these challenges. However, it is a value-laden concept, particularly in the context of colonial histories and urban futures. The project asks:

  • Whose heritage matters?
  • How can we negotiate competing and plural values?
  • How can cultural heritage be mobilised to support sustainable livelihoods?

We will be working with local teams and groups of women in low income communities to collaboratively examine and respond to these questions.

Prof Beth Perry, who leads the project, said:

There’s a lot of interest in how we can harness cultural heritage for wider developmental goals. But global goals don’t always resonate with local priorities, issues and values. It’s important that communities and marginalised groups are central in designing and delivering any interventions. We have to continuously ask ‘whose heritage matters?’ and recognise that there is a plurality of views to be taken into account.

Dr Vicky Habermehl, lead researcher on the project at the Urban Institute added:

The project methodology of mapping through counter cartography techniques, explores different values, meanings and heritage making practices that may not be recognised otherwise. Mapping becomes the method of developing intangible cultural heritage discourses, to rethink what cultural heritage means in each context. 

The project builds on a Mistra Urban Futures comparative project on cultural heritage and a JPI Heritage plus project on cultural heritage and festivals. It provides the opportunity to strengthen relationships with, and support local research teams in Cape Town and Kisumu.

The project's partners Dr Rike Sitas and Dr Patrick Hayombe had this to say:

In the face of the multiple crises that face African cities, the cultural and social lives of residents can often get sidelined through developmentalist lenses that do not recognise their importance in sustainable and just growth. We are particularly interested in the transformative potential of exploring the relationship between tangible and intangible heritage through creative means. (Dr Rike Sitas)

We have been at the centre of promoting social justice as well as just cities, through ecotourism programmes that incorporate cultural heritage. We see cultural heritage through the lens of local community empowerment. The slogan is "the people come first in urban and rural development, theirs belief, lifestyle and heritage matters for social-capital transformation and sustainable livelihoods". (Dr Patrick Hayombe)