Embodiment unbound: Moving beyond divisions in the understanding and practice of heritage conservation

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Publication Type:

Journal Article


Taylor, Joel;


Studies in Conservation, Volume 60, Number 1, p.65-77 (2015)


This contribution discusses how embodied heritage values operate within a context of heritage sites, and tangible and intangible embodiments of what is valued as heritage. This is partly intended to re-contextualize ideas of material and materiality that have recently undergone reconsideration in conservation and heritage discourse. The paper questions the claim that ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ philosophies of conservation are very different, and that they can be characterized as being concerned with intangible and tangible heritage, respectively. This is based on the assertion that influential preservation doctrines are as much a product of the context and practical situations as they are a product of different philosophies and cultures. Well-known examples from East and West are discussed to highlight the similarities, as opposed to the differences, in approaches. The article goes on to discuss the UNESCO definition of intangible heritage (2003), which conflates the intangible embodiment of values with the intangible values attributable to all heritage. As a way to contextualize this, the article considers embodiment of heritage values as a means to express both intangible and tangible heritage sites (since neither embodiment nor sites have to be physical). This is described by way of a simple, pre-existing communication model that moves from information source (which transmits the message) through the medium (the heritage site or object) to the audience (heritage user). These insights are intended to provide a balanced perspective that accommodates both the site and the embodied values in order to help make and justify conservation decisions.