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Cultural Heritage Rights: From Ownership and Descent to Justice and Well-being

From: Anthropological Quarterly
Volume 83, Number 4, Fall 2010
pp. 861-882 | 10.1353/anq.2010.0025



The protection of cultural heritage sites is normally evaluated in terms of universal and scholarly significance criteria, although increasingly the contributions of sites and monuments to the economic and social well-being of communities have been recognized. Human rights discourse, despite its many problems and limitations, offers a possible mechanism for evaluating heritage in terms of social justice and well-being. A cultural heritage right based on descent is particularly problematic and cannot be supported by archaeological, historical, and anthropological theories. A cultural heritage right based on whether people are in practice able to participate in sites and objects in such a way as to fulfill their capabilities is an alternative, as long as it also includes responsibilities to other communities with conflicting interests. However, few archaeologists and heritage managers have the training and expertise to work out short- and long-term economic and social benefits of artifacts, sites, and monuments, and they have limited experience in facilitating human capabilities through heritage beyond scholarship, aesthetics, and identity politics.

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