My research concerns heritage-making within the neoliberal context of Hong Kong, and analyzes cultural politics through strategies of resistance rather than the institutionalized forms of power.
As land in Hong Kong is both scarce and the main source of government income, real-estate developers have been dictating the vertical rise of the hyper-dense city since the arrival of the British colonizers. Prioritized land revenue causing large-scale demolition and privatisation of public space, in combination with continuous local marginality under postcolonial rule, sparked a wave of middle-class activism focused on ‘controversial’ heritage: spaces in the urban core directly threatened by redevelopment.
I argue that the emergence of a heritage movement in Hong Kong, often referred to as ‘the spatial turn’, is a reaction to the predominance of land economics in the city’s development. Underlined by Hong Kong’s rapid urban renewal, claims of cultural heritage are a means of articulating ‘the rights to the city’ and reclaiming the spaces its politically marginalized inhabitants identify with. As the label ‘heritage’ implies public property, it offers activists and middle-class citizens a powerful tool to intervene in the urbanization process and the manner in which public space is managed.
Building on previous fieldwork findings, I will use my time at IIAS to further explore cultural politics in Hong Kong by focusing on the position of grassroots activists in the decision-making process; their interests, strategies, and their relation to key players – not just governmental institutions, but also developer-funded organizations.