Shaun Canning
'Contested Space"--the role of Social value in the assessment of Cultural Significance

Supervisor: Dr. Dirk H.R. Spennemann



Cultural Heritage Management (CHM) is a dynamic and diverse profession primarily concerned with the best practice management of items or places that are deemed culturally significant. Items or places possess cultural significance for innumerable reasons, and can be significant to a range of differing communities. The task of cultural heritage professionals is to ascertain which items or places are culturally significant, to whom the places or items are significant, and the reasons for this significance.

The assessment of cultural significance is a complex process, for which a comprehensive set of procedures and guidelines has been established at a variety of bureaucratic levels. The established guidelines were designed to ascertain the level of significance of items or places in a supposedly value free and objective manner. Many factors determine the cultural significance of items or places. The common approach to assessing cultural significance employed in Australia relies upon the assessment of four core elements of cultural significance: Aesthetic, Scientific, Historic and Social values. These fore core elements are the foundations of the CHM profession.

Each of the core elements needs careful and timely assessment in a manner most suited to the inherent attributes of each element. Until relatively recently, the CHM literature and academic discourse had been dominated by issues concerning only the aesthetic, historic and scientific core values. Scant attention was given to social value in the literature until a report was published by Chris Johnson (1992), entitled 'What is Social Value? Since this seminal publication, social value has begun to attract the attention of the CHM profession.

Social value has traditionally been regarded as both an elusive concept and a difficult entity to assess. This difficulty and elusiveness resulted in social value being virtually ignored in cultural significance assessments. Although the profile of social value has risen in the CHM literature since 1992, social value assessment remains problematic. The research presented in this dissertation is an extension, in part, of the work of Johnson (1992).

This dissertation addresses a variety of issues pivotal to contemporary CHM discourse and practice. The concepts of culture, heritage and cultural heritage will be examined in some detail in the opening chapters. The discussion is directed at contextualising these concepts within the general CHM theoretical framework. The relevant Federal and New South Wales State legislation affecting the terrestrial heritage of New South Wales is also examined in some detail. State and Federal Legislation provides the Australian CHM profession with a variety of tools to assist in and regulate the preservation and conservation of the nation's heritage. Both legislative dicta and non-legislative principles, such as the Australia ICOMOS 'Burra Charter', are reviewed in chapter 3.

Contemporary CHM relies on four core elements to assess the cultural significance of a variety of items, materials or places. The nature and assessment of the four core elements of cultural significance: aesthetic, historic, scientific, and social values are discussed extensively in chapter 4. A number of problematic methodological issues were identified during the course of the research presented in this dissertation. Chapter 5 provides an in-depth discussion of the methodological issues and problems encountered.

The research presented here is based upon an assessment of all New South Wales local government area (LGA) Heritage Studies completed up to the end of 1998, a relatively homogenous collection of data. From the analysis of the studies, a variety of trends and issues becomes apparent. The findings presented focus upon the four core elements of cultural significance, and identifying those practitioners who assess them in order to determine whether social value remains an under-utilised component of the CHM process. The study reveals anomalies within the New South Wales LGA heritage studies. A number of reasons are suggested for these anomalies. This dissertation concludes by suggesting certain methods of revising and improving the assessment of cultural significance in the New South Wales LGA heritage study arena. The conclusion leads directly to who should be responsible for the assessment of social value in this process.


Publications resulting from this thesis

Canning, Shaun and Spennemann, Dirk H.R. (2001)
Contested space: social value and the assessment of cultural significance in New South Wales, Australia. Heritage Landscapes: Understanding Place and Communities. Proceedings of the Lismore Conference 6 November 1999 Lismore, NSW: Southern Cross University Press. Pp. 457-468