In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

4 Experts and Epistemologies Of course those files are secret. We do that so experts can write what they want. Member of ICOMOS Secretariat, 2008 interview Maybe it is just my ignorance but I fail to understand why our land is being controlled in France anyway. Letter from Tasmanian Aboriginal man to the World Heritage Committee, 1988 ICOMOS Sixteenth General Assembly and Scientific Symposium, Quebec, Canada, 2008 In 2008, I attended the General Assembly meeting of ICOMOS in Quebec. I had traveled to the meeting as part of a larger research project that examined the nature of expert knowledge, especially in the context of World Heritage Indigenous cultural landscapes (see Baird 2009). I sought to “study up,” and my ethnographic, archival, and discourse analyses looked directly at decision makers and those who wielded power in heritage negotiations (after Nader 1972). The project investigated how institutional and expert knowledge was applied in developing World Heritage nominations. I hypothesized that analyses of the cultural landscape nomination process could provide a unique vantage to investigate basic assumptions under which heritage experts operate. In recent years, landscapes have become the lingua franca of social scientists and heritage managers. At the time of my study, the World Heritage Centre, the U.S. National Park Service, and the European Union, for example, had all adopted cultural landscapes as a category of heritage, and experts were critical to guiding these organizations on best practices and on developing policy and management frameworks, guidelines, and standards to manage landscapes. Although I was an international expert for ICOMOS and a registered participant for the ICOMOS-IFLA (International Federation of Landscape Architects) Scientific Experts and Epistemologies / 59 Meeting, I was asked to leave. Ten minutes into the meeting, the president announced that only voting members would be allowed to observe the morning session. When I asked about the sudden change, I was told that committee matters would “be of no interest to outside observers.” As I learned, studying up was not easy. The backstory to this abrupt meeting change was disclosed to me later in the day. Upon hearing that I was observing the meeting as part of my research on heritage experts, one member recommended that the meeting be closed. This would ensure that outside evaluators could not share or observe how decisions were made. I was not surprised, as I had encountered roadblocks at many points of my research. In my preliminary research trip to UNESCO and ICOMOS in Paris, for example, I found that in order to get access to nomination dossiers I had to first become an international expert recognized by these organizations (see Figure 4). When I returned the Figure 4. Archives at UNESCO, Paris, photo by author. 60 / Critical Theory and the Anthropology of Heritage Landscapes following year newly credentialed as an expert member of the ICOMOS Scientific Committee and the International Committee on Archaeological Heritage Management, I was still largely prevented from accessing the archives in some subtle and not-so-subtle ways: missed meetings, lost files, conflicting e-mails and phone calls, and misinformation about which agency was responsible for finding the information and files I sought. It took an uncomfortable exchange in the archivist’s office to finally gain access to the files I requested. Still, what at first felt personal, I later realized, was more likely related to what I termed then as institutional gatekeeping, an important theme that emerged in my work, and the subject of this chapter. What experts say and do matters. Heritage experts comprise an interconnected group of professional practitioners, political actors, and bureaucrats who are central to the business of heritage. Their influence extends well beyond the conservation and management of natural or cultural heritage sites or cultural property: experts endorse and campaign, promote and shape opinions, and influence policy at all levels of government. The social scientist Michael Cernea, for example, has written, for the World Bank, key policy documents and scholarly work that outline the importance of cultural heritage for urban development (see, e.g., Cernea 2001). Although Cernea sees cultural heritage as a tool to reduce poverty , how this works in practice remains an open question. A number of authors have shown how such economic interventions also work in ways that harm communities and create inequalities (see, e.g., Comaroff and Comaroff 2009; Guarnaccia 2015; Welsh 1997). Webber Ndoro, director of the African World Heritage Fund, for example, called attention to well-meaning development schemata at heritage sites in Africa that are promoted...


Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.