CIRCA:Michael F. Brown's "Heritage as Property."

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Michael F. Brown's “Heritage as Property”

Brown begins his discussion of property, knowledge, and “ethnic nationalism” by invoking the image of a frontier: a site of controversy and confrontation. A number of different groups have entered the discourse of heritage protection, namely social scientists, legal advocates, and international organizations interested in cultural preservation. These discussions, however, are bogged down by the “definitional quagmire” (50) of culture, property, heritage, etc. The proliferation of lawsuits involving environmental disasters, for example, has generated an entire “heritage industry” (52) wherein property is presented as inextricable from culture. Brown’s example of the Navaho rug is an excellent illustration of the complexity of designating absolute (property) ownership to a community since it “evolved in collaboration with other Indian peoples and Hispanic and Anglo-American settlers as part of their shared historical encounter” (59). Highly contested, heritage extends beyond the material or physical property to the “intangible,” resulting in repatriation policies that involve the “repatriation of information” (50). Brown ascribes the irony and inefficacy of policies aimed at protecting intangible heritage (critique of UN reports) to the “commodifying logic of the culture-as-property perspective” (50), and proposes an alternative approach through the employment of civil society at both the local and international levels (NGO’s and transnational corporations). This approach, Brown argues will result in more relevant discussions/solutions and elicit greater participation of both aboriginal and non-aboriginal citizens.
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