1. Introduction

  • Erica Avrami
  • Susan Macdonald
  • Randall Mason
  • David Myers

Over the last several decades a considerable discourse on the values of heritage has emerged among heritage professionals, in governments, and within communities.1 This discussion has sought to advance the relevance of heritage to dynamically changing communities and forge a shared understanding of how to conserve and manage it. Values-based heritage conservation aims to retain the cultural significance of places, typically by balancing the aesthetic, historic, scientific, spiritual, and social values held by past, present, and future generations.2 As values-based conservation has evolved in the last quarter century, it has provided new modes of engagement for a wider range of stakeholders, responding to the challenges of sustaining heritage sites and amplifying their relevance.3 This volume’s collection of contemporary accounts of values-based conservation takes stock of recent discussion, experimentation, and applications in practice. The genesis of the collection was a symposium held in Los Angeles in February 2017 that brought its editors and authors together to explore a range of emerging issues and challenges. The work of these sixteen practitioners and scholars enables broad reflection on current practice and maps out areas for future research.

Decisions based on values permeate typical conservation processes, from the identification of places to be protected, to ongoing decisions about conserving and managing sites, to justifying the relevance of heritage conservation as a form of public policy, to evaluating long-term policy effects on society and the environment. Often in practice heritage professionals are balancing between policy-level rationales, such as promoting public welfare and generating tourism revenue, and the immediate priorities of on-the-ground conservation and management, such as retaining the significant aspects of a particular building or site and accommodating its practical functions serving owners, occupants, or visitors. These decisions, however, are not divorced from each other. They are deeply interrelated through valorization—the process of creating new or adding value to heritage through recognition, protection, or other interventions.

Values-based conservation approaches navigate these varying scales and interests by incorporating different perspectives in decision making. How the views of many publics (some powerful, others acutely disempowered) inform the decisions professionals make about what to preserve and how has become increasingly germane as democratic processes have proliferated internationally, and as mobility has created more diverse communities. While it is generally agreed that broader, “bottom-up” participation by a wider range of stakeholders will inform better choices, values-based heritage management is still inconsistently applied, and its processes and outcomes are still largely under-studied in many places.

As societies around the globe, and at all scales, continue to change and transform, and heritage places take on even more prominence in contemporary life, values-based conservation has been challenged with rising to these new complexities. How can the fundamental principles of values-based conservation be better understood and extended to meet these challenges, and what values-based approaches have been successfully applied that have potentially broader utility?

The chapters in this volume explore existing values-based approaches in order to understand which methods have proven effective, how they are operationalized (or not), and what their limitations may be when applied in varying cultural contexts. These ambitious questions motivate us to explore how values-based approaches have fared and how values discourse shifts as societies are more empowered to define and redefine heritage, and as different publics utilize heritage for different ends.

What we seek is not simply a process of understanding “values,” but of exploring the self-aware role of the heritage professional in valorizing places to prompt different kinds of interventions or management decisions, from simply listing or recognizing a site as worthy of conservation to integrating heritage into broader development plans. In other words, we honor the emerging understanding that heritage is both a vestige to which we ascribe value and a catalyst for manifesting shared societal values.

In “Mapping the Issue of Values,” Erica Avrami and Randall Mason chart the historical arc of the heritage-focused values discourse in relation to societal and environmental change. They suggest a rebalancing of the operational framework adopted in many countries between typically ascribed heritage values—such as historic, aesthetic, and scientific—and broader societal values that more explicitly acknowledge the ways in which communities instrumentalize heritage for social, economic, and environmental (that is, non-heritage) ends. In the individually authored papers that follow, fourteen researchers and practitioners describe their work in terms of values-based conservation ideals and models. Their examinations draw from a variety of cultural, professional, and geopolitical contexts in an effort to shed light on shared challenges and opportunities in practice.

The contemporary heritage field is marked by a number of intersecting theoretical lines of argument (often reexamining long-inherited ideas), cultural dynamics, political issues, practical issues, and challenges of governance and policy. Depending on the author, the place, and the heritage issue, different factors take precedence. This notion of intersectionality is threaded throughout the understanding of heritage values and valorization built up by the group of practitioners and scholars represented in this book (and more broadly in the field).4

The typical introduction to an edited collection of essays narrates the flow of ideas represented in the papers, one after another. We take a different approach here, outlining a range of themes, views, arguments, sources, and writers, and foregrounding the complexity of ideas and interconnections.

Understanding the Dynamic Nature of Values

Values have been traditionally tied to the history and materiality of places. Heritage is acknowledged first as a bearer of place-based narratives, such as the story of prisoner incarceration and rehabilitation told at Eastern State Penitentiary and the evocative reminder of traumatic events of the Rwandan genocide memorials described by Randall Mason. While development of the heritage profession has greatly refined practices related to understanding these connections, multiple authors speak to the reality that decision making revolves less around a set of fixed values reflected in fabric, and is increasingly influenced by a broader range of values reflective of contemporary society. Kuanghan Li, in her analysis of Dali village in China’s Guizhou province, notes that the introduction of social and cultural values with “Chinese characteristics” allows for formerly unacknowledged forms of heritage to receive official recognition and protection. Joe Watkins likewise outlines how Native American communities and their views of heritage brought about US government recognition of values attributed to places because of associated cultural practices or beliefs of living communities. In examining the role of such cultural values in natural resource conservation, Josep-Maria Mallarach and Bas Verschuuren note their importance to achieving equitable approaches to environmental as well as cultural heritage management.

Erica Avrami and Kristal Buckley, exploring cases in Egypt and Australia respectively, both speak to the power of cultural mapping to engage communities more directly in defining the social-spatial relationships critical to understanding how heritage places are valued and valorized by multiple publics. Such community-oriented tools can also challenge traditional approaches to conservation that may prioritize historic fabric, as Richard Mackay describes in his account of Sydney’s Luna Park. The materiality (tangible attributes) of heritage has come to be recognized as operating in a more complex dialogue with intangible attributes such as practices, uses, and connections. Communities in Ladakh, India, maintain and renew their heritage resources in ways that favor the continuity of intangible, social values, and Tara Sharma elucidates how these decisions challenge the precept of preserving original fabric that is often espoused by heritage norms and professionals.

Bringing an economic lens to the question of evolving values, David Throsby asserts that benefits flow from tangible as well as intangible heritage assets, and that the concept of cultural capital helps model how this works. But both Ayesha Pamela Rogers and Karina V. Korostelina caution that the relationship between tangible and intangible aspects of heritage can also be a source of tension. Cultural and professional biases as well as identity-based conflicts between distinct groups can manifest through the different values each ascribes to heritage, underscoring the dynamic and often temporal nature of values-based approaches to decision making.

Balancing Heritage Norms and Cultural Differences

Changing values and the inclusion of more actors in valuing processes provoke responses in governance and policy, as well as in professional norms and practices. Broader inclusion in heritage processes is a means of empowerment and political engagement for communities as they grapple with increasing diversity and seek ways to cultivate collective memory. This can in turn incur new kinds of questioning of heritage policies and practices, as well as overall governance structures at different scales of jurisdiction, especially in postcolonial contexts. Some authors highlight the power of community-driven action; others note the limitations said structures impose on participatory management.

Many of the texts underscore the pressing need to recognize culturally specific ways of valuing heritage and cultural difference in terms of how heritage is perceived, conceived, and managed. In some of the cases, participatory values-based approaches are not the norm, thereby limiting responsiveness to community concerns. Some papers highlight that internationalized approaches adopted by governments and heritage professionals, including values-based ones, are often heavily biased by the Eurocentric or Anglocentric worldviews from which they emerge.5 For example, the creation of Western-modeled government heritage agencies in Muslim-majority nations has in some cases undercut centuries-old traditions of locally implemented and community-responsive support mechanisms, as Hossam Mahdy demonstrates. Watkins examines how US federal policies and funding focus on stewardship of the tangible places associated with Native American beliefs and practices, without adequate provisions for preserving the intangible traditions themselves, creating a mismatch between government and tribal conceptions of heritage. Such differing worldviews highlight the challenges of establishing and maintaining shared heritage norms and values in multicultural societies. Working across cultures compels greater awareness of and sensitivity to differing worldviews among stakeholders. In their joint paper Mason and Avrami contend that values-based approaches that are context responsive and culturally specific—and that recognize societal, not just heritage, values—have the potential to hold authorities accountable for decisions that counter the societal values associated with places and to assert power over governance processes.

Mallarach and Verschuuren drive home the point that governance structures are highly influential in the efficacy of values-based heritage management and play a critical role in the shift between top-down regulatory frameworks and bottom-up, rights-based approaches. They argue that the international arena has an important role to help establish shared aims of values-based management through policies and practices that are supportive of and applicable to local cultural contexts. Throsby clarifies this further, suggesting that acknowledging the different treatments and uses of economic and cultural values clarifies the role of state agencies vis-à-vis other actors, which can be helpful as these relationships are being redrawn. Indeed, economic discourse around values can still provide something of a lingua franca bridging cultural and political divides.

In the case of Australia, as Mackay and Buckley assert, the Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance (also known as the Burra Charter), a non-statutory, values-based decision-making tool, has been central to determining conservation and management policies for Australia’s heritage places. Introducing participatory processes into governance, as promoted in the Burra Charter, has also increased support for conservation and secured better outcomes. The Burra Charter has evolved over time to recognize intangible dimensions and Indigenous heritage, which underscores how changing values and new knowledge inform shifts in heritage norms.

The development and revision of the China Principles () reflect the internal evolution of Chinese practices through the broadening of both recognized value and heritage categories and the portrayal of national image, but Li notes that they also demonstrate the influence of international norms. Rogers raises the crucial point that the application of internationalized values-based heritage management processes to local contexts, especially those with colonial-based laws and limited participatory governance structures, presents fundamental challenges. Sharma cautions that conflicts between colonial-based heritage policies and contemporary heritage practices underscore values-related tensions that have yet to be reconciled at the level of governance and within the heritage profession.

Changing Notions of Value and Shifts in Heritage Practice and Management

Concepts of value directly shape modes of practice, so new notions of value inspire new practices. Further, the complex relationships between traditional heritage values and broader societal values raise questions about their application in decision-making processes.

In their respective accounts of the evolution and application of the Burra Charter in Australia, both Buckley and Mackay note that recognition of social value has catalyzed shifts in the roles and participation of experts, and further democratized heritage management through new models of traditional owners managing heritage places. Mason asserts that heritage and its internationalized practices can be taken further along this path, functioning as an agent of broad social change, sometimes challenging traditional practices and vice versa. The embrace of international models has advanced the state of practice in China, as Li observes, but increasing interest in heritage among broader publics challenges the singular roles of the state and the profession.

In her description of the changing function of a neglected Mughal monument in Lahore, Pakistan, Rogers asserts that contemporary use of heritage represents ongoing shifts in societal values that must be continually reconciled with management decision making. Likewise, changes in environment and social context can influence values in ways that compel broad change in heritage practice, as in Kate Clark’s account of how the English Heritage (now Historic England) Conservation Principles () mark a shift toward values and sustainability in cultural heritage management, drawing on natural heritage practice. Mallarach and Verschuuren echo the reciprocal relationship of nature-culture dynamics, and underscore the need to recognize different worldviews and knowledge systems so as to establish management practices that reflect shared values.

Promoting Participatory Processes

The essential narratives and values of heritage places are rarely, if ever, singular. This multiplicity can only be recognized through more participatory heritage management processes that give voice to a range of stakeholders, including those beyond the realm of heritage experts (from other disciplines as well as nonexperts). Several authors present histories and cases that further underscore how broader involvement, especially of local communities, in deciding what and how to conserve is critical to socially responsive and socially relevant practice.

Buckley, Clark, and Mackay all emphasize the fundamental role of participatory processes that extend beyond heritage experts. Mason takes this further by noting that as social and societal values play more influential roles in conservation decisions, participatory processes take on greater importance vis-à-vis expert judgment. Identifying heritage through a community-driven process can elucidate values that, as Sharma argues, challenge concepts of boundaries, materiality, and heritage language. And Rogers suggests that greater recognition of “informal modes of engagement” is key to fostering participatory processes that are community responsive.

Korostelina, as well as Mallarach and Verschuuren, note that such participatory processes can provide important means of conflict resolution among diverse stakeholders and their respective values. If dealt with sensitively, they can create common ground and mutual understanding of underlying needs. Such processes have the potential not only to mediate laterally among (potentially conflicting) interest groups, but also to address the varying degrees of agency and power among decision makers. Experts have a potentially significant role to play. Li observes that disconnections between top-down policies and local practices in China require heritage professionals to act as mediators in addressing community concerns. Avrami shares similar views in relation to how experts interact with communities to understand and spatialize values, noting that “expert-led” and “community-driven” are not mutually exclusive. It is often through the interaction of these agents that underrepresented community voices are empowered, as illustrated by Watkins’s account of how US federal heritage policy shifted in the 1990s to enable more than 170 Native American tribes to take over preservation functions on their own tribal trust lands, and gave participatory processes additional statutory support.

Using Heritage for Social Outcomes

Conservation increasingly plays a role in processes of social justice, reconciliation, healing, and promoting understanding as well as other sociocultural-related benefits across diverse communities—even pursuit of economic benefits. These burgeoning expectations of heritage tie conservation more firmly to dynamic, contemporary societal issues.

Mason makes the case, most poignantly in his example of Rwanda, that conservation decisions sometimes respond primarily to contemporary issues—such as trauma, reconciliation, and human development—and do not necessarily stem from the interpretation of traditional heritage values. Korostelina shifts this assessment from reactive to proactive, suggesting that inclusive heritage practices have the potential to promote accountability for past injustices, heal traumas, and reduce the likelihood that injustices will occur in the future. Avrami likewise suggests that it is incumbent upon the heritage field to use more inclusive values-based approaches to support restorative justice by empowering underrepresented stakeholders and narratives.

Mallarach and Verschuuren from the natural heritage perspective, and Buckley from the cultural heritage perspective, assert that rights-based approaches represent an emerging recognition of the importance of local voices and values, Indigenous land rights, and traditional knowledge in achieving equitable outcomes. Mahdy warns that formerly equitable and sustainable outcomes are undermined when Western concepts of heritage values are imposed in an Islamic setting while doing away with traditional Islamic support mechanisms; sustained delivery of social services is weakened as a result.

What is important about heritage, and which places or items are important as heritage? What purposes can heritage serve? If heritage conservation is organized to serve society, who does it serve and how well does it serve? These are the ultimate questions value-based conservation means to address. By deeply interrogating why we conserve and what we should conserve, we’ll find answers to guide how we conserve.

Through the 2017 symposium and this volume, we aspired to identify challenges and explore where further research may advance the application of values-based approaches to the heritage enterprise. The field has long sought to better connect professional and public values, and to bridge divides between policy and place-based practices. The papers herein illustrate the barriers to and opportunities for putting these approaches into motion. Collectively, they serve both as an evidence-based assertion of the need to forge ever stronger societal connections and as a provocation to reconsider the relational dynamics of those connections in ways that challenge the field to adapt policy and practice.


  1. Heritage professionals are those individuals with a primary focus on the understanding, recording, conservation, management, and presentation of cultural heritage. They come from a broad range of disciplines, including but not limited to heritage conservation, archaeology, architecture, urban planning, history, anthropology, and geography. They work in a broad spectrum of organizations spanning public, private, and NGO sectors.
  2. This definition is best known through the influential Burra Charter (). The term “values” is used in the sense of positive qualities or attributes ascribed by stakeholders, and not in the sense of ethics or beliefs.
  3. A stakeholder is defined here as any person, group, or organization with an interest or concern (a stake) in a place, situation, issue, or conflict, or who will be fundamentally affected by related outcomes.
  4. Intersectionality is a term arising from identity politics, holding that different aspects of identity (gender, race, class, et cetera) cannot legitimately be isolated or treated as separate analytical categories.
  5. The editors of this volume acknowledge that they are products and representatives of an Anglo-European heritage tradition, and as such bring their own views informed by that tradition to this analysis.