Whose Heritage Matters? Final Reports

The final reports for the British Academy / Mistra Urban Futures project Whose Heritage Matters are now available for free download. 

The central question for Whose Heritage Matters was whether, and if so how, cultural heritage could be mobilised to support more sustainable and just urban futures in Cape Town and Kisumu. Our aim was to critically explore what international targets and agendas for cultural heritage and sustainable development mean in the context of entrenched and everyday urban challenges. 

We centred a commitment to co-production in our research design, working with creative, community and policy partners to integrate different forms of expertise. We undertook an action-oriented project intended to co-produce mapping, making and mobilising heritage activities. The design and structure of the project reflected local circumstances and spaces for action, and therefore aligned with existing research and practice trajectories. 

The project was led by the Urban Institute (University of Sheffield), African Centre for Cities (ACC, University of Cape Town) and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology (JOOUST). 

In Cape Town Whose Heritage Matters aligned with existing research at ACC focusing on the role of arts, culture and heritage. The collaboration built on a shared interest in identifying ways to tackle siloed approaches to heritage, and seeing how heritage could be better leveraged for sustainability, justice and place-making. It involved partnerships with the City of Cape Town Arts & Culture Branch and Heritage Branch, Greatmore Studios and existing relationships with heritage practitioners in civil society. The work involved three key steps: mapping the terrain to pay attention to different heritage actors and values that shape their engagement with Cape Town; making creative heritage interventions to explore the role of heritage in researching and reckoning with the past in conflicted places; mobilising knowledge, action and networks to shape public discourse and identify strategies to strengthen policy and implementation in Cape Town.

In Kisumu Whose Heritage Matters aligned with existing research at JOOUST to develop viable, community-managed cultural heritage sites, foster local empowerment, and contribute to poverty reduction through ecotourism, as an alternative to unsustainable economic practices. Researchers at JOOUST had been working on questions of cultural heritage and urban development for years. They were particularly concerned about two issues: how to mobilise cultural heritage resources in support of wider development goals, including poverty reduction and economic growth, whilst protecting natural and cultural heritage; and how to reduce unsustainable economic practices such as quarrying and deforestation around cultural and sacred sites and secure sustainable livelihoods. The work involved partnership with four community-based organisations (CBOs) at cultural heritage sites: Abindu, Dunga Beach, Kit Mikayi and Seme Kaila. There were three key steps: mapping the terrain to pay attention to the values of and for the sites; making heritage governance and management legible through evidencing the roles of the CBOs; and mobilising community researchers to make visible the impacts of COVID-19 on the lives and livelihoods of residents around the sites. 

The project has four key findings. 

First, mapping and making reveal different values for cultural heritage and its plural contested and unsettled dynamics. Mapping is a political act that can reveal actors and power relations on the ground. Mapping unveils complexity and the spaces of resistance and possibility that frame action. In the making of heritage we see tensions in and contestations over the values of and for cultural heritage. 

Second, on the ground, cultural heritage is mobilised by many people for different reasons. Whether cultural heritage can be mobilised depends on how we define heritage and who is mobilising what and for whom. Understanding that cultural heritage is polyvalent, fluid, contested and processual is key for more sustainable and just urban futures. This requires co-production and intermediation between different actors. There is no simple answer – rather, it involves tensions, trade-offs and tactics. 

Third, international frameworks do not recognise how cultural heritage is intertwined with people’s lives. There is too much focus on economic instrumentalisation to the detriment of political and social mobilisation which is required to integrate cultural heritage within wider agendas around urban sustainability and justice. International frameworks presume an unproblematic and linear relationship between cultural heritage and sustainable livelihoods. 

Fourth, a different language is needed to understand how culture, heritage, sustainability and justice intersect in different urban contexts. This is the language of land, livelihoods, lives, liveability, and legislation. 

LAND: Cultural heritage can create critical spaces for engagement between people, places and the planet through an emphasis on negotiating the politics and plural values connected to land. 

LIVELIHOODS: Cultural heritage involves labour and can contribute to livelihoods, conceived of as decent work, social connection, strong networks and wellbeing.

LIVES: Cultural heritage shapes the urban lives of people; recognising and valuing everyday forms of cultural heritage can build solidarities and improve quality of life.

LIVEABILITY: Cultural heritage plays an important role in the liveability of cities, impacting on questions of movement, settlement and belonging, and enabling thriving over surviving. 

LEGISLATION: Cultural heritage is governed through laws and legislation that need to provide an enabling environment for sustainability and justice.


Our final reports can be downloaded here: