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CulturePrintCritical dictionary

Tourism and Heritage

José Figueiredo Santos

The areas of Heritage and Tourism are becoming increasingly important in the revitalisation of modernity. These areas intersect with economic, social, cultural and political agents responsible for the production of activisms accustomed to the preservation of local cultural references, and also with the populations living in the places to be visited as tourist spaces.

Keywords: risk and modernity; culture



The areas of Heritage and Tourism, when associated, are becoming increasingly important in the revitalisation of modernity. These areas intersect with economic, social, cultural and political agents, responsible for the preservation of local cultural references of the populations living in the places visited as touristic locations.

Although such association is far from new, it has suffered a change in scale and modification of its nature from the mid 20th century onwards.

In the context of a late modernity, while the ‘globalisation of culture’[1] is built, particular forms of identification remain, charged with asserting articulating codes of value of their local cultural references relative to the transactional area of cultures[2]. These globalising interstices are enveloped in the hybrid quilt[3] that is culture. Here we notice attempts to redeem a past that is (re)constructed, by turning local cultural elements into heritage, that share the same convictions as a host of players, founded on the belief that the split that took place in contemporary societies vis-a-vis their modern roots contains a time of orderless human action that is part of a ‘collective amnesia’[4] which is intertwined with the alienation of the capture of time. 

If, as a reaction to the embarrassment patent in the anamnesis of the modernist project, Berman attempts a critical face-off with its ethical and political feature, Lowenthal on the other hand alludes to the aesthetical dimension of cultural exogeny as a revitalisation emptied into a past and re-enacted through a staged revival, which he labels as ‘foreign country’[5]. 

Similarly, and referring to a precise context, MacCannell also identifies in contemporary conservationism a symbiotic disqualification, inscribed in an ‘ artificial preservation’[6] of culture converted in tourist merchandise, consumed and experienced as an idyllic image, romanticised and simulating history[7]. 

Heritage as a tradition of modernity

In a classical sense, patrimony is invested as a heritage passed on to future generations[8]. This upholder of relatively stable principles and of the continuity of the cultural references that organise the conduct of individuals in the curvatures of cultural space/time is also inscribed as a symbolic bridge that promotes feelings of affiliation and of belonging to a social collective.   

This failing approach is unable to capture the complexity of the problem in all its breadth and depth. From the outset, patrimony encompasses a dynamic process of the symbolic representation of culture, and consequently, of the selection process of certain referents, of negotiation and delimitation of meanings, and shows how important preservation is to the expressive codes of the collective. Therefore, besides being a time stronghold, patrimony works as a catalyzing element of social and cultural assertion and legitimisation[9]. 

A selection and activation of certain references that incorporate representation stands out of the construction of the meaning regimes of a certain identity[10]. When this representation takes place, with the recovery some cultural references in detriment of others, it aims to negotiate a personal and collective identification. This representation is seen as a set of specific cultural values and specific of each society, which are selected and built by it in dynamic fashion. Far from exhausting itself in its own enunciation, patrimony appears as a symbolic synthesis of identitarian values, since there is no patrimony that does not narrate and dwell in the minds of individuals.  

With the onset of modernity and the collapse of the preceding modes of affiliation, the compatibility of its uses and perceptions has not been an easy task, as evidenced by the composition and recomposition movements of Nation-States. Indeed, out of this spiral of object production/destruction that have integrated the doings and un-doings of States, strategies of patrimony conversion are not dissociated from that of an operator tasked with crystallizing a national imagery, and incumbent on uniting the individuals’ community of senses into a common symbolic space. 

Whilst a transcendence is attributed to certain cultural symbols that express the unique character of a cultural space, conferring an illusion of permanence and continuity as to a past[11], a collective ideal is built based on the tenet of historical and cultural similarity[12], like an interstitial binding link of a union and identification chain amongst individuals.  

Ultimately, modern states organise the conscience of tradition of modernity tasked with a primordial aim: turning memory into a political act warranting the reconstruction of meaning. In their toil of ordering, filing and law making, they mould the patrimonialisation of cultural references by resorting to a never ending quest for the rewriting of common aesthetic and historical roots, of memory places adjusted to virtual threats of rupture and disturbance, hovering like ghosts over the broken pieces they get hold of  during their formative process. Hence the imperative of a discursive production about a time which is a testament to the solidity of cultural references, a promoter of a nostalgic spectrum relative to the past[13], the latter being at once a priceless guide to action.  

One could say that modernity confines in the patrimonialisation of cultural referents the paradox that takes root in bringing back, in rejuvenated shapes, much of what itself made obsolete, in a kind of eternal comeback as foreseen by Nietzsche. 

Heritage as a metonymic resource of tourism

It is known how Modernity and the intensification of globalisation join in a world without boundaries[14], a disturber of the relational stability between past and present, within which a discourse of crisis is bred, inserted in a kind of patrimonialising pathos.

This contemporary boom of patrimony, if looked at away from the intellectual and artistic changes occurred during Modernity, together with an extensive terminology, be it “patrimonial passion”[15], “patrimony reinvention”[16], “patrimony allegory”[17], “patrimonial madness”[18], or “patrimonial malaise”[19], is often mistaken for the processes of cultural reterritorialisation. A remade past excels in this patrimonialising pathos, interpreted, (re)invented and supposedly stabilised through myths, ideologies, nationalisms, romanticisms, to which it was recently joined by marketing[20].


This contemporary avidity to socially value cultural patrimony gives rise to impulses of rescue and activation everywhere, protagonised by either public or private agents, turning the elements of meaning attributed to the patrimony into a hub of interests associated to complex social processes. 

The great social tensions that result from the organisation of fairs showcasing the cultures of peoples clearly show how social awareness of the role played by patrimony is ever more frequently part of the agenda of movements, associations and political parties. Finding in culture driven towards tourist interests an alternative for development, regional cultural policies don’t forego the chance for symbolic and legitimate profiting from their political options. Although they try to adjust conventional forms of patrimonialisation that condemn what is exhibited as opposed to what is experienced, they simply resort to the canonical use of patrimony, as if holding totems that give them access to the universe of tourism. Economic agents applaud its indexation with consumption by using patrimony as a way for promotion and to profit from tourism. Such policies, falling to the demotion of culture to consumption, fan out in terminologies of doubtful sustainability, e.g. markets, corporate management, target consumers, etc., bearing with them the instrumentalisation of collections, authors, works – in short, patrimony – to magnify in paradoxical fashion the image of their ‘product’ for the restrictive generation of profit. The negative impacts of such designs, fuelled by a logic of value stemming from forms without content, could be relatively minimised if a meaningful set of its agents were not to undervalue the strongly perceived cultural elements, regarded by their respective populations as symbols of their particular life, forcing instead a culture ingrained with images devoid of density. In this framework  patrimony conceived as tourism’s metonymic resource, devoid of its condition as the fundamental indicator in the construction of identity, ends up a prisoner to a logic of priority, with a clearly demeaning materialist, monumental and aesthetic meaningfulness, operating its pretence revitalization in extremes that range from restrictive and excessive use to its complete massification, if not impacted by the imposition of its transformation into a merely educational, passive and superficial performative ritual.  If, in the context of a plural society, a patrimonial activation becomes imperative as a result of a negotiation process between various social actors (namely specialists, economic agents, politicians and local populations), the latter are not always included in these projects, their emotional identification with the places notwithstanding. And because they are ignored and denied inclusion, they are irredeemably cast aside from the desired conception and conveyance of rich discursive repertoires, founded in popular imagination and in the opportunity to contribute to strengthening the tourist imagination and taking a legitimate profit out of a tourist appropriation of space. Yet, by opening space to the understanding of how intertwined the dialectics of contemporaneity is with the possibilities open by this movement in the field of new symbolic conceptions and settings that contextualise the metamorphosis that take place in patrimony, it gave rise to new and imposing geographies detached from the activisms of the daily life of local populations. Even if this divorce does not constitute a tragedy, it is nonetheless a drama in the recomposition of places targeted as new constellations of sense inaugurated by tourism. The tension between a more immanent/intrinsic perspective of patrimony and a more utilitarian one becomes more acute when projects of pretentious developmental nature ignore the various contradictions jotting the process, interdicting discourses, ignoring the anthropologic identifications with the territory, the frontiers, the material and immaterial nature of space at the heart of the elements that make up the territory, as products of social relations and peculiar ways of life. It is on this bias that an almost mechanical (frequently unfounded) association between patrimony and development sets in, leading to reflections around a  more imagined than effective local progress, based on dubious principles of sustainability which leave unfulfilled the much acclaimed development. A great deal of these projects suffer from shortcomings frequently clouded by the adoption of unfounded pretexts about expected benefits, derived from the conversion of patrimony in an intermediary metaphor of a merely commercial and aesthetic dispute.

Hence the imperative that the instituted powers and society inaugurate participative processes of permanent negotiation, of which should not be excluded the evaluation of the State and local authority’s entrepreneurial role in culture so as to reach the highest possible level of consensus around processes linking patrimony and the surrounding social reality.

The hiatus between the democratisation of culture and cultural democracy lies ultimately in making everyone, not only a ‘beneficiary’ of acquired culture, but above all a master in defining that culture, while at the same time avoid letting patrimony turn into a tourist  casting show.



[4] See J. ASSMANN - “Collective Memory and Cultural Identity”, New German Critique, 65 (Spring-Summer): 125-135, 1995.

D. HERVIEU-LEGER - Religion as a Chain of Memory, Oxford, Polity Press, 2000.

A. HUYSSEN, - Twilight Memories: Marking Time in a Culture of Amnesia, New York, Routledge, 1995.

[5] D. LOWENTHAL - The Past is a Foreign Country, apud Josep Ballart - El Patrimonio histórico y arqueológico: valor de uso, Editorial Ariel, Barcelona, 1977, p. 37.

[6 According to MacCannell, this paradox embodies a characteristic trait of modernity itself; ‘the best indication of modernity’s final victory over all other socio-cultural arrangements is not the disappearance of the non-modern world, but its artificial preservation and its reconstruction in modern society”. Dean, MacCannell - «The Locke case», in MacCannell Dean, Empty meeting grounds, London, Routledge, 1992, p. 8.

[7] The past brought to a present filtered by a vastness of modern techniques, engulfed by the allure of visual showbiz, is stripped of its authenticity with the purpose of better fitting a trivial history.

[8] J. GARCÍA - «De la cultura como patrimonio al patrimonio cultural», in Política y Sociedad. El Patrimonio Cultural, nº 27, Enero-Abril, pp. 9-20. 1998


[9] L. PRATS - Antropología y Patrimonio, Barcelona, Editorial Ariel, 1997.

[10] On the relation between patrimony and identity see, by Elsa Peralta and Marta Anico (org.) – Patrimonies and Identities, Contemporary Fictions, Oeiras, Celta, 2006

[11] Although coined as a cultural representation process based on the past and in the local cultural particularities, patrimony is not mixed with history and its material and tangible evidence of the historical  process, but rather as history fictitious reenactment, conveyor of myths of origin and of continuity which, apart from giving a sense of belonging to a group (Lowenthal, 1998), contributes to legitimise the social institutions responsible for its activation.

[12] E. GELLNER - Nacionalismo, Barcelona, Ediciones Destino, 1998.


[13] See R. ROBERTSON - Globalization. Social Theory and Global Culture, London, Sage, 1992.

[14] See Anthony Giddens - Consequences of Modernity, Celta Editora, Oeiras, Lisboa, 1994.

[15] M. GUILLAUME - La Politique du Patrimoine, Paris, Editions Galilée, 1980.

[16] A. BOURDIN - Le Patrimoine Reinventé, Paris, PUF, 1984.

[17] F. CHOAY - L’allegorie du Patrimoine, Paris, Seuil, 1992.

[18] H.P. JEUDY - Patrimoines en Folie, Paris, Editions de la Maison de l’Homme, 1990.

[19] N. MARTIN-GRANEL - “Malaise dans le patrimoine”, in Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines, XXXIX (3-4), 155/156, 1999, pp. 487-510.

[20] See, respectively: E. HOBSBAWM; T. RANGER - The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge, Canto, Cambridge University Press,1983; D. LOWENTHAL - Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998, e F. SCHOUTEN - “Heritage as Historical Reality”, in D. Herbert (ed.) Heritage, Tourism and Society, London, Mansell, 1995, pp. 21-31.



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