Center for the History of Global Development

Development and heritage:

UNESCO in search of a new paradigm

The main goal of the project is to examine the evolution of ideas and concepts linking ‘development’ and ‘heritage’ forged at the forum of the UN inter-governmental specialized agency – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Although its primary preoccupation was education in the developing world, already in the 1960s UNESCO extended its programs into the field of cultural and natural heritage. At first, those two concepts were regarded as separate or opposed ideas (e.g., ‘development,’ irrigations systems, dams, infrastructure was seen as a threat to existing material treasures of humanity and to nature). The milestone 1972 World Heritage Convention proposed means to protect the material cultural and natural heritage. At the same time UNESCO positioned itself as a key actor in the debate on development, when in 1968 it organized the first intergovernmental conference on sustainable development and, afterwards, established the “Man and the Biosphere” programme. The next decades witnessed increasing engagement of countries from the Global South, endeavouring to push the organization’s activities into new directions, and to refocus its commitment to both cultural and natural heritage and to development. The criticism of Europocentrism, which was very clear in the early era of UNESCO led to the new conceptualization of heritage, which now encompasses the underwater human legacy (2001 Convention) as well as intangible heritage (2003 Convention) (e.g., Arizpe and Amescua 2013; Bortolotto 2007; Smith and Akagawa 2009). Numerous charters, recommendations, guidelines, strategies and action plans followed, and they reflect the wide debates on various aspects of heritage, which gradually was linked – directly and indirectly - to the issue of development. In this process of discussions and interactions of representatives of various countries with their particular and regional interests, UNESCO has eventually become the main actor in promoting culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable development. Its current strategy identifies “culture for sustainable development” as the main area of interest and engagement (UNESCO: Culture for Sustainable Development). Heritage, in this process of reflections and debates, acquired new functions, and is widely perceived as a driver of development (cp. Rodwell 2013, Hawkes 2001, Smith, Akagawa 2006).

Researcher: Dobroslawa Wiktor-Mach