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Understanding heritage labels

Defining labels and city networks. How these instruments enable cities to collectively set norms and share knowledge to promote cultural diversity?
Labels have enjoyed a rising success as a tool for heritage policy. So what are the underlying logics of these heritage labels? And what are the challenges and tensions that arise with them? First, heritage labels come from inspirations coming from the business and the marketing sectors. Labels are tools to differentiate products and to target niche markets. But heritage labels have been used as a tool in heritage policies. Why? Because public authorities use heritage label as a tool to combine both incentives and norms. They are not only restrictive tools. Second, because they are relatively inexpensive and they transfer most of the costs to the local actors that are applying for the label.
Third, because they are not only heritage policies, they are also economic development policies. So in this course we are especially interested in transnational heritage labels. So when you think of transnational heritage labels, you can either think of regional initiatives such as the European heritage label launched in 2013. And that aims at identifying specific sites as European sites. But you can also think of global labels like the ones of UNESCO, for example. Later on we will speak especially about the World Heritage List as well as the World Book Capital city. So what are the challenges and the tensions that go along with these labels?
First, there is a challenge of establishing common norms among a wide variety of actors coming from different countries and different cultural contexts. Can there be a universal understanding of heritage? UNESCO and its World Heritage List has often been criticised as too Western-centric. With the years, of course, they have tried to be more inclusive and include elements such as intangible heritage such as, for example, the Brazilian capoeira in 2014 or Arabic coffee in 2015. A second issue is the fact that labels can be structurally inequal. For example, when you look at the map, you see that only 10% of World Heritage sites are located in Africa.
This is because it takes a lot of technical and legal expertise to prepare the 1,000 pages, documents needed to get these kinds of labels. A third problem with heritage labels is that it commodified heritage, it turns it into a product. This means that it can simplify the understanding of a local heritage. But it also means that it can bring excessive tourism flows that can damage the sites but also raise prices, which can be to the detriment to local populations. So you have cases like in Dubrovnik in Croatia, where UNESCO threatened to remove the world heritage status because of the excessive tourism flows. So heritage label can definitely be opportunities to promote diverse cultural heritage.
But we also have to bear in mind some questions such as who benefits from such heritage labels.

Labels have enjoyed a rising success over the last decades in the cultural field and have become important tools for both safeguarding and promoting local heritage.

This video focuses on two questions: What is the underlying rationale of heritage labels? What issues and tensions does labelling heritage raise with regards to the issue of cultural diversity?

Heritage labels are an opportunity to increase access to the heritage of an ever-growing diversity of cultures. But labels also raise questions: Are they always effective in safeguarding threatened heritage? Who actually benefits from such heritage labels?

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Cultural Diversity and the City

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