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Heritage Matters: Understanding Value in Crisis Syria

Shackelford, J; (2015) Heritage Matters: Understanding Value in Crisis Syria. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

This thesis explores the production and consumption of material cultural heritage in contemporary Syria, both prior to and during the uprising that began in March 2011. Guided by a material culture perspective, this research pays particular attention to the network of relationships between people and things, and how these relationships illuminate larger social cosmologies. Through field research conducted in Syria, it has become evident that in times of economic and/or political crisis dramatic changes occur regarding what heritage means and why it matters. Prior to the crisis, a general modern humanist conception of preservation and conservation of the material landscape prevailed in Syria. However, during the crisis, general moral values have been in a constant state of flux, and heritage objects have become opportunistically exploited symbolically and economically in ways that paradoxically both enhance and physically endanger the value of the objects in question. This issue is one that goes to the heart of UNESCO’s World Heritage mission, which began in reaction to the enormous amount of plunder and destruction during the Second World War. It’s not that heritage really stops mattering; rather, it simply starts mattering in a different way. I argue that, in crisis Syria, what heritage does is confer a perceived greatness in the past, symbolized through its material remains, unto whatever group is able to assert physical and/or discursive authority over heritage objects in the present. This, in turn, reinforces that group’s authority and grounds it, literally, in the material world. Thus, as social control breaks down, heritage objects and sites become primary nodes of contestation, which both increases their value and makes them more susceptible to exploitation and destruction.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Heritage Matters: Understanding Value in Crisis Syria
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1465059
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