Scientific Symposium "Heritage and Democracy"

Theme and Sub-themes

Heritage and Democracy is the theme of the Scientific Symposium being organised during the course of the 19th ICOMOS General Assembly to be held in Delhi, India, from 11 to 15 December 2017. Organised in the largest democracy of the world, the central idea of this Symposium is inspired by a recent, marked shift in heritage discourse globally towards a genuine people-centric engagement.

How do we facilitate the multiplicity of perceptions that challenge, reject, renegotiate or simply ignore the dominant discourse on heritage? How can we identify, acknowledge and collaborate with owners, stakeholders and custodians of heritage from within our diversity? And then, how do we negotiate particular challenges to collectively safeguard our past?

The ICOMOS Scientific Symposium 2017 explores the possibilities for cultural heritage in a world of multiple stakeholders, recognising the challenges of cultural diversity, and resulting contestations amidst local and/or global communities.

We seek contributions that respond to the need to identify sustainable means to work towards equity, ensuring intellectual and physical access to heritage monuments and sites, and acknowledging and building upon intangible associations with such places, empowering them to protect and interpret the future of our past in times of war and peace; with the increasing support of digital technology.

The Symposium will offer opportunities for collaboration as we continue the Culture-Nature journey to examine what lessons can be learned from ‘cultural studies of human endeavor’ to shift from fighting risk to mitigating and adapting societies successfully.

Nupur Prothi Khanna
Sheridan Burke
Symposium Co-Chairs

More Information about Sub Themes

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 11 for making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable recognises the need to conserve the natural and cultural heritage of cities, along with the need to provide safe and accessible environments for all citizens. The underlying principle of equity in sustainable urban development also necessitates recognition of cultural rights – the right to ‘sense of belonging’ for all citizens and the right to participate in the cultural economy of the place.

The UNESCO Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL), in response to the paradigm of sustainable development, includes cultural, physiological and ecological relationships within a city as a part of its ‘tangible’ and ‘intangible’ heritage. Responding to the issues of diversity and equity, the document emphasises that for any process of continuity or change the perceptions of inhabitants, and other stakeholders, are as important as those of the ‘author’ of the change.

However, in neo – liberal contexts, do these aspirations of cultural exchange outlined through conservation doctrines translate on the ground?  Is an egalitarian, equitable world as envisaged through the Sustainable Development Goals a possibility in the near future? A case in point is the large number of contemporary interventions in historic precincts undertaken as part of urban conservation and sustainable development programmes.

Several of these are utopian images transposed from another place that promise a uniform, clean, ordered and sustainable future. Through their conceptualisation, design and execution, these interventions imagine citizens as consumers or alternatively as ‘locals’, a homogeneous group, leading a quality of life that requires to be ‘improved’ through modernisation. These processes almost never address the cultural rights of a democratic people that may comprise of small heterogeneous groups, neither do they acknowledge social dynamics within such groups, nor the diverse and plural relationships they have with the place.

In the last decade, many historic cities have responded to this discourse with appropriate formal policies and through showcasing projects. Scholars have theorised on these processes, their opportunities and limitations. Organisations have worked with clear bottom-up agendas of gender equity, right to livelihood and right to cultural economy. Can these formal and informal efforts converge and inform processes that foster relationships between communities to integrate heritage conservation and sustainable development?

Under this sub-theme, abstracts are invited that critically analyse policies, projects, community initiatives, theoretical models etc. and present an understanding of the same in the context of trans-national objectives of conservation. Examples and case studies to suggest alternatives to the status quo are also welcome.

Short title: Community, Sustainability & Heritage

Key words: community, stakeholder, sustainability, development, equity, participation



[i] As defined in its Draft Medium Term Plan 1990-1995 (UNESCO, 25 C/4, 1989, p.57)
[ii] United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – Agenda 2030 – Goal 11.
[iii] ICCROM Working Group ‘Heritage and Society’, Definition of Cultural Heritage; References to Documents In History. Selected by J. Jokilehto (Originally for ICCROM, 1990/ Revised for CIF: 15 January 2005, p. 14). Translated text.

In the present VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) context, conflict and disaster impact cultural heritage within and across national boundaries in unforeseen ways. Some events result in complete destruction, others are targeted to erase identity, while in many cases, new meaning and associations emerge out of complete annihilation, some leading to veneration of what remains.

In the entangled role that heritage plays in urbanization and city planning, processes of heritage production can be directly or indirectly responsible for spurring conflict and displacement. This can trigger and widen apparent or nuanced contestations in the city such as gentrification, evictions and displacement. Operating within these inconsistencies, deliberations in this sub-theme will concentrate on the multiple possibilities that peace, reconciliation, and democratic ideals offer to cultural heritage.

Further, unmanaged urbanization and greater vulnerability to natural and man-made disasters put heritage at risk and bring forth issues of identity-based conflict. In post-disaster scenarios, heritage processes can be selective and exclusive, offering a means to exacerbate difference and discrimination. In this context, examination of the resilience of our urban habitat and the robustness of practices that safeguard cultural heritage become important. Heritage conservation can be a vital channel through which communities can participate collectively to memorialize and reconcile.

Since 2011, the Advisory Bodies to the World Heritage Convention have been implementing actions to better understand the place of human rights in World Heritage activities. The World Heritage and Rights-Based Approaches project, led by ICOMOS, IUCN and ICCROM, promotes good practice regarding human rights and has developed tools for higher consideration of these rights within the Advisory Bodies’ work.

This dynamic needs to continue to be discussed within the complex landscape of class, caste, gender and accessibility, sometimes rendering ‘expert’ advice subservient to a politically and socially authorized view. In this context, it is paramount to discuss the sensitive role of mediation as undertaken by multilateral peace-building agencies such as UNESCO and ICOMOS.

In sub-theme 2, we seek contributions that respond to some of the concerns highlighted below:

  • How do heritage processes aid or obstruct peace-building?
  • How does heritage transform during and post-conflict/disaster?
  • How can we best advance and integrate the “rights-based approach” to heritage conservation?
  • What is the relevance of experts and peace-building agencies in the sensitive management of cultural heritage during periods of conflict?
  • How are democratic ideals achieved or undermined through the reconciliatory role of heritage production?

Short title: Heritage for Peace

Key words: peace, reconciliation, rights-based approach, conflict, disaster, identity

Modern digital resources offer new approaches and opportunities in the protection of cultural heritage, with respect both to the processes of conservation and restoration and to the dissemination of information to engage the public and stakeholders.

Digital empowerment is already impacting many of the processes of conservation, providing technological advances in documentation, treatments, scientific testing, monitoring, interpretation and archiving. Examples of such advances include 3-Dimensional scanning; Ground Penetrating Radar; and Satellite surveys (e.g.by ISRO). In addition to these survey techniques, digital resources also enhance certain scientific testing methods used for identifying historic materials and compositions; and to assess the compatibility of newer materials used in conservation, as well as a wide range of interpretation actions.

A crucial aspect of the conservation of cultural heritage is the dissemination of information and knowledge to engage the interest and understanding of the public both locally and globally. As digital systems become increasingly familiar to larger sections of the community, it is essential to understand their potential to promote understanding and engagement amongst diverse communities that contribute to the protection of cultural heritage. How can digital technology render decision-making, interpretation and conservation itself, more democratic? How can it be deployed to enhance accessibility to cultural heritage on the part of the differently abled?

We invite papers that address any aspect of these two main areas of the sub-theme 3. Priority will be given to papers that discuss general principles of broad application that are nevertheless based on a discussion of actual sites or specific examples.

Short title: Cultural Heritage and Digital Empowerment

Key words: digital resources, conservation, interpretation, dissemination, accessibility

Sub-theme 4 is jointly coordinated by IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and ICOMOS, and developed with a range of partners. Building on the successful Nature-Culture Journey at the IUCN World Congress in Hawai’i in 2016, it is now ICOMOS’ responsibility to continue the ‘Journey’ at our General Assembly in Delhi in 2017, reversing the title to Culture-Nature.

Culture-Nature is an approach to heritage that has emerged based on the understanding that relationships between people and the natural environment have worked to shape both our physical environment and belief systems. It embraces the complexity of our heritage, which includes biological resources, genes, landscapes, geological diversity, cultural places and practices, and traditional knowledge systems. It acknowledges both that humans shape their surroundings and that nature acts on humans in many different ways to produce the world’s diverse landscapes.

For millennia, people interacted with their natural surroundings, sometimes as participants in the functioning of ecosystems, protectors of sacred natural sites, other times shaping landscapes, including through agriculture and fishing. People have developed traditional and scientific knowledge, belief systems, management and practices. The Culture-Nature Journey will build on the growing evidence that natural and cultural heritage are closely interconnected in most landscapes and seascapes, and that effective and lasting conservation of such places depends on better integration of philosophies and procedures regarding their management.

Once again, as in Hawai’i, we envision that through a mix of session formats ranging from scholarly papers to knowledge cafes, workshops, kiosks and posters, participants will address the interconnected character of cultural and natural heritage. We think this is a vital issue, of growing importance to our work on conservation, globally and locally. The Culture-Nature Journey will include diverse elements, but its success relies on members and partners of ICOMOS and IUCN making proposals by the due date so that they can be considered within the overall programming of the ICOMOS General Assembly Symposium.

We expect ICOMOS and IUCN members to come together to propose Sessions that fit within the sub-themes of the Journey and to gather at least a core of collaborative presenters (other presenters may be recommended by the Scientific Symposium Co-chairs from responses received to the general call for papers).

If you have any queries or wish to discuss your proposal please contact the Culture-Nature Journey co-chairs Susan McIntyre-Tamwoy (ICOMOS), Tim Badman (IUCN), Sonali Ghosh (WII India) at [email protected]. We have prepared a list of ideas to assist anyone considering submitting a session proposal, which is available on request at the same e-mail address.

Short title: Culture-Nature Journey

Key words: nature-culture, indigenous, traditional, biodiversity, risk, disaster, climate change.