SEAARC Symposium Abstract 12: “The New Arenas of Conservation Diplomacy: challenging the narratives of material antiquity in Southeast Asia”

by Prof. Tim Winter, Deakin University

The methodological nationalisms and classificatory typologies, which have shaped the historiography of Southeast Asia’s architectural past, have been particularly pronounced in the study of the region’s antiquity and classical architecture. The mutual emergence of fields such as archaeology, epigraphy, art history and architectural history in the 19th Century not only led to a privileged set of readings of the classical built environment, but also created a structural rigidity to certain geographies of institutionalised scholarship.

Today however, the various knowledge practices which constitute the professional heritage and conservation industry in Southeast Asia are undergoing some interesting and historically significant changes. The rise of intra-regional heritage diplomacy in Asia is remaking those framings and narratives that have dominated the analysis of the region’s architectural antiquity to date. Europe is being rapidly de-centred as the metropole of theory and knowledge production through an emergent infrastructure of research and scholarship coming from India, Korea, China, Japan and elsewhere in Asia. This paper considers the degree to which this trend is opening up new analytical narratives, ones that will move the analysis from the national to regional, aesthetic to socio-historical; and, at the same time, reinforcing long-standing discourses of civilizational flow, hierarchy and material antiquity.


Tim is Research Professor at the Cultural Heritage Centre for Asia and the Pacific, Deakin University, Melbourne. He has published widely on heritage, development, modernity, urban conservation, tourism and heritage diplomacy in Asia. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the University of Cambridge, The Getty and University College London, Qatar. His recent books include The Routledge Handbook of Heritage in Asia and Shanghai Expo: an international forum on the future of cities.

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