Closed adoptions – where birth and adoption records are legally sealed to obscure adoptees’ biological parentage – were once the norm in many Western Anglophone countries. Grassroots resistance to closed adoption relied upon the belief that deprivation of knowledge of their true biological origins could lead to psychological trauma among adoptees. In this chapter, the author reflects on her own mother’s sense of deprivation, her desire for a coherent origin story and her consequent process of cobbling together disparate analogue, digital and biotechnical fragments of legally, religiously, scientifically, commercially and familiarly authorised and authorising heritages from among diverse resources rendered intelligible, relevant and truthful by societal and (bio)technological transformations over time. In so doing, the author calls attention to complicated power relations in everyday personal heritage practices that challenge the simplistic pitting of ‘heritage from below’ (Iain Robertson, Heritage from Below, 2012) against ‘Authorised Heritage Discourse’ (AHD) (Laurajane Smith, Uses of Heritage, 2006).
Critical Perspectives on Heritage from Below
Edited by Hamzah Muzaini and Claudio Minca
Iain J.M. Robertson
Ana Aceska and Claudio Minca
Since the Bosnian Wars (1992–95), the city of Mostar has been divided into two sides, East and West, which are dominated, respectively, by residents commonly defined as Bosniaks (Muslims) and Bosnian Croats (Catholics). The Yugoslavian war has left an indelible mark on the physical space of the city, leaving behind ruined residential areas, destroyed religious objects, bombed statues and empty squares. As such, Mostar has become the most challenging (and expensive) Bosnian project undertaken by many state and non-state actors, who aimed at rebuilding and reuniting the war-torn city. This chapter focuses on the ways in which non-institutional actors constructed a different idea of cultural heritage in contrast to the over-politicized idea of heritage that was dominant in the state narratives after the wars. It looks in particular at one exemplary case: the Bruce Lee statue, erected in 2004 by the members of the local non-profit Mostar Urban Movement, in order to promote the figure of this Chinese-American Hollywood martial arts movie star, whose films were very popular among the youth in the last decades of Yugoslavia. They envisioned the statue as a symbol of common values and shared taste among individuals of all different ethnic and religious backgrounds in Mostar and, as such, as a symbol of togetherness and community in the divided city. Despite the fact that the statue was welcomed by many city dwellers from both sides, it had a very short fate – a few days after being erected, the monument was vandalized and, consequently, removed. The chapter thus reflects on the ways in which and through which heritage from below is produced and practised by local actors in this context. More specifically, the following questions are asked: What makes the ‘heritage from below’ so vulnerable and unsustainable in contested cities? In what ways and contexts can ‘heritage from below’ be better mobilized for reconciliatory existence in contested cities?
The sites of former Nazi death camps have become established as important places of European heritage. While previous research has revealed how the experiences of visitors to these sites are powerfully mediated and scripted by museum authorities, recent work has demonstrated the capacity of visitor photography to facilitate a more active encounter with sites of Holocaust heritage. This chapter extends the analysis of visitor photography at former death camp sites by turning to the ‘participatory culture’ of digital media, through which such images are shared and recontextualized. Focusing on the photograph-sharing platform Instagram, the chapter critically examines both the photographic practices of visitors and the digital mediations that exceed the agency of individual users. The author argue that the capacity of social media to host unexpected juxtapositions of photographic context exceeds any simple binary of heritage from above or below, resulting in an ambivalent ‘democratization’ of heritage.
In Vietnam, the motorbike presents a paradox: it is the fundamental mode of transportation throughout the country yet it is also a relatively recent entrant into the country’s transport market. It is one of the country’s most important signs of class, mobility and identity yet it is already being replaced in stature by the automobile. It is a representation of timelessness and newness; it is both the cornerstone of Vietnamese mobility and rejected as being out of date. This chapter considers the construction of heritage in Vietnam against the tensions inherent to the motorbike through a framework of ‘aspirational heritage’. The author challenges the idea that heritage is something with a strong historical dimension and instead focuses on the ways in which heritage is constructed in the present and shapes the future. In imagining and practicing the motorbike as something basic to ‘Vietnameseness’, though also fleeting to that identity, the author argues that heritage ‘from below’ demonstrates the arbitrary temporalities and memory-making machinery at play in conventional understandings of heritage.
James A. Tyner
Between 1975 and 1979 upwards of two million men, women and children died in the Cambodia genocide. Decades after the cessation of direct violence, the question of reconciliation in Cambodia remains fraught, in part because of competing claims over the meaning of reconciliation; but also because of the ‘authorship’ of Cambodia’s past. As part of a larger project that addresses the political economy of Cambodia’s past violence, in this chapter the author juxtapose the various ‘writings’ of violence on Cambodia’s present-day landscape. More precisely, he calls attention to the remembrance of Cambodia’s past violence ‘from below’, that is, the mundane spaces of quotidian life that remain unmarked and all-too-often unremarked. Specifically, the author contrasts the material legacies of genocide as exemplified by state-sanctioned memorials that, on the one-hand, cater to a largely Western clientele of ‘dark tourists’ and, on the other hand, hidden landscapes of past violence that are lived in the everyday by survivors and descendants of the genocide. These latter sites for the most part remained unremarked and unvisited. In so doing the author documents how the current efforts to remember the genocide are bounded; and how this bounding constructs a particular ‘heritage from above’ while simultaneously silencing the ongoing living of a ‘heritage from below’.
Edited by Hamzah Muzaini and Claudio Minca
Hamzah Muzaini and Claudio Minca
Despite the burgeoning array of studies that have taken ‘heritage’ as their focus of concern, particularly in terms of how the past has been folded into present-oriented objectives, as well as the myriad politics associated with this, there has been comparatively lesser attention on heritage as enacted, practised and experienced on the ground, particularly those that take less visible forms and spearheaded by non-state agents either as producers or consumers of the said past. Even as these have emerged, they frequently do not go beyond romanticizing how these instances of ‘heritage-from-below’ (HFB) have served as checks to what Laurajane Smith refers to as formal ‘Authorized Heritage Discourse’ (AHD) even as there may be instances where the HFB produced not only reproduce dominant official discourses or are themselves motivated by the need to erase or forget the past. Not only does this oversight obscure alternative contexts in and through which the past may be valued within society today, it also misses out on (a more critical investigation of) the more quotidian practices, motivations and performances of heritage-making taking place especially within (in)formal spaces. In the light of this, the first part of the introductory chapter highlights the aims and rationale of the edited book in terms of (a) why there is a need to consider ‘heritage from below’ particularly from a more critical perspective, (b) how this agenda is situated and positioned within the literature on ‘heritage’ (within cultural geography, critical heritage studies and the wider social sciences), as well as (c) charting the trajectories that this may take. Following this, the rest of the chapter introduces the different case studies that make up the edited book with respect to how each speaks to the key trajectories of the book.