World Heritage and Urban Politics in Melaka, Malaysia. A Cityscape below the Winds
What happens to a town after being inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List?
Pierpaolo De Giosa, author of World Heritage and Urban Politics in Melaka, Malaysia. A Cityscape below the Winds, will tackle this question in this book talk, organised by the International Institute for Asian Studies.
The book talk including Q&A will take place from 14:00 - 15:30 p.m. Amsterdam Time (Central European Summer Time, CEST).
The Book Talk
Situated at the intersection of urban anthropology and critical heritage studies, this book explores the global/local nexus of heritage politics in Melaka, a Malaysian historic city inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2008 on the strength of its multi-ethnic and multi-religious urban fabric. De Giosa looks at this designation and discusses its consequences on the everyday life of Melaka’s inhabitants and urban fabric.
In World Heritage and Urban Politics in Melaka, Malaysia. A Cityscape below the Winds, De Giosa first traces the evolution of heritage politics since the era when European principles of conservation privileged architectural grandeur and monumental heritage. Then, he deals with the more recent postcolonial practices that put this conservation philosophy at the service of the nationalist narrative through museums and replicas celebrating the glorified past of the most famous of the Malay kingdoms. Things, however, started to change after Malaysia ratified the World Heritage Convention in 1988, with an increasing interest into intangible, vernacular, and multicultural heritage. With more than 1,000 sites, the prestigious World Heritage status continues to attract the attention of a diverse set of actors worldwide, from international organizations to nation-states and society at large. Yet, contrary to the expectations of heritage experts and aficionados, the global mission of safeguarding cultural heritage has become a tumultuous issue on the ground. World Heritage unfolds as an instrumental label used by different actors in order to generate new economic revenues and to attract investment for large-scale real estate development projects. This ethnography portrays the complex and often contradictory stories of such designations in urban milieus. The talk will thus present some critical side effects ongoing in downtown Melaka such as gentrification, the politicization and racialization of tourism packages, as well as the boom in modern high-rise projects around century-old low-rise neighbourhoods beyond the World Heritage site.
This ethnography is based on fifteen months of fieldwork carried out in Melaka between 2012 and 2013, and subsequent visits between 2014 and 2019. De Giosa draws on lively material collected through participant observation among, and interviews with, a wide range of people including, among others, residents, business operators, real estate agents, activists, tourist guides, politicians, officials and bureaucrats, as well as architects, archaeologists, historians, and urban planners.
Pierpaolo De Giosa is an Italian sociocultural anthropologist and former member of the research group ‘The Global Political Economy of Cultural Heritage’ at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology. He holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, Germany. His research interests lie at the intersection of urban studies and critical heritage studies, with a special emphasis on Southeast Asian countries.
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