Heritage, Local Communities and the Safeguarding of ‘Spirit of Place’ in Taiwan

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Heritage, Local Communities and the Safeguarding of ‘Spirit of Place’ in Taiwan Peter Davis, Han-yin Huang International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies, Newcastle University, NE1 7RU, UK p.s.davis@ncl.ac.uk; han-yin.huang@ncl.ac.uk AND Wan-chen Liu Graduate Institute for Museum Studies, Fu-Jen Catholic University, Taipei, Taiwan wanchenliu@yahoo.com Abstract: After brief reviews of the theoretical issues relating to place and ecomuseological processes this paper traces the changing relationships between people and place in Taiwan. Recent research carried out by the authors with local communities on Matsu (a group of Taiwanese islands off the coast of mainland China), and case study material collected from local cultural workshops in southern Taiwan provides a focus for the discussion. Both sets of data demonstrate the growing awareness of heritage by local communities in Taiwan, and their recognition that heritage is significant because it reflects and builds local identities, can aid community sustainability and provides a sense of place. It is suggested that the research and processes described here indicate that the heritage sector in Taiwan would benefit by becoming more community-centred, with consultation, involvement and democratisation playing a significant part of the process of safeguarding natural resources, the cultural environment and intangible cultural heritage.

1. Heritage and ‘Sense of Place’ Terms such as ‘belonging’, ‘identity’, and ‘community’ are frequently used when discussing ideas about place, and the more elusive ‘sense of place’ or ‘spirit of place’. Exploring place has been a research focus in several disciplines, including anthropology, ecology, geography, psychology, sociology and (to a lesser extent) cultural and heritage studies. The human geographers Yi-Fu Tuan, Edward Relph and Anne Buttimer are regarded as pioneers in using experiential perspectives to reflect on place and ‘sense of

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place’ (Cresswell 2004, 19; Hubbard, Kitchin, and Valentine 2004, 5). Tuan (1977) reminds us that a sense of place goes beyond aesthetic appreciation – in other words places are not always comfortable or welcoming - while Relph (1976) demands that we examine the idea in terms of ‘authenticity’. The notion of ‘authenticity’ is itself a challenging notion, and one of particular relevance to heritage professionals concerned with in-situ conservation and the interpretation of ‘authentic’ heritage. Buttimer (1980) argues that place is something that must be experienced rather than described, a view that relates closely to ecomuseum philosophy, discussed later. All three authors emphasize that place provides ‘a world of meaning’ (Hubbard, Kitchin, and Valentine 2004, 5). Tuan’s view is that place is a space endowed with meaning and value. Indeed he regards space and place as mutually defined terms: ‘what begins as undifferentiated space becomes place as we get to know it better and endow it with value’ (Tuan 1977, 6). Casey (1996) agrees that place must be experienced: ‘there is no knowing or sensing a place except by being in that place, and to be in a place is to be in a position to perceive it’ (Casey 1996, 18). Escobar (2001, 140) emphasizes this dichotomy between place as a conceptualization of identity, our mental image or ‘category of thought’ about a locality; and place as a physical entity, ‘a constructed reality’. Our perceptions of places affect us, places modify our behaviour. In terms of heritage this is important when we try to understand its significance. What role does heritage actually play in the construction of a ‘sense of place’? Smith (2006, 77) suggests that the ‘affect’ of place helps us to understand the meaning of heritage and heritage sites. She writes: Heritage as place, or heritage places, may not only be conceived as representational of past human experiences but also of creating an affect on current experiences and perceptions of the world. Thus, a heritage place may...
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