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States of Conservation: Protection, Politics, and Pacting within UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee

From: Anthropological Quarterly
Volume 87, Number 1, Winter 2014
pp. 217-243 | 10.1353/anq.2014.0009

Abstract

Abstract:

The title, States of Conservation, deliberately references the two “states” that now occupy critical yet oppositional nodes within UNESCO’s 1972 Convention and its conservation agenda. It recalls the State of Conservation (SOC) reports commissioned by the World Heritage Center in conjunction with its Advisory Bodies that relay the condition of World Heritage properties to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee. But more critically, “states” here also refers to the most powerful, emergent players in World Heritage Site inscription and protection processes—the States Parties of the 1972 Convention. Many researchers have debated the merits and consequences of World Heritage. While this work remains critical, my own contribution specifically traces the international political pacting, national economic interests, and voting blocs through which particular states increasingly set the World Heritage agenda and recast UNESCO as an agency for global branding rather than global conservation. I contend that as the rush for World Heritage inscription increases and economic and geo-political pacting between nations intensifies, the resources, concerns, and commitments for conservation of sites already inscribed potentially declines. The politics of inscription has now spilled over into the politics of conservation and endangerment. But whereas the former seeks international status and socio-economic benefits through global branding, the latter may jeopardize protection of those same sites through the unhindered interventions of conflict, mining, exploitation, and other infrastructural developments. Whether describing World Heritage, the environment, or manufacturing, denationalized economic life goes hand in hand with renationalized political life. I draw World Heritage case studies from around the world, with a particular focus on the Historic District of Panama—one example of what happens with the cutting of conservation, and concomitantly communities, from the Convention.



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