Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



In the nearly fifty years since the 1972 World Heritage Convention was ratified, UNESCO’s flagship preservation program has transformed itself from an initiative valorizing primarily national parks and Western-style monuments to the keystone of a robust World Heritage Program that seeks to engage different communities with a common ethical narrative of “unity in diversity.” Yet UNESCO has been critiqued for its politicized and elitist nature; its inability to protect its World Heritage properties from militias such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and Ansar Dini in Mali, or from adverse governmental policies in Germany, Syria and Oman; for a rather late engagement with the tourism industry; and for the 1972 Convention’s historical marginalization of descendent and indigenous communities (cf. Prott 2011). Yet this chapter posits that we should view UNESCO’s 1972 Convention as part of a broader World Heritage Program, a coordinated set of initiatives born out of the World Heritage Convention, which seeks to fulfill the organization’s ultimate, utopian goal of producing “peace in the minds of men” (UNESCO 1945) by cultivating in individuals an ethical orientation towards human cultural diversity, through the idiom of heritage. The World Heritage Program should be seen not merely as a preservation initiative – despite language suggesting this – but as a fundamentally ethical framework aimed at slowly cultivating a new, and ostensibly more peaceful, world system by appealing to communities at a grassroots level to responsibly embrace and act on a particular conception of heritage. This chapter interrogates UNESCO’s true objectives, and the ways in which its initiatives progressively work towards meeting or refining them. It also examines the primary target “audiences” of the World Heritage Program, and they ways in which UNESCO has changed in its mode of appealing to them. Last, the chapter also questions the ethics surrounding such participation at the local, grassroots level.

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Book TItle

Community and Participation: Core Concepts in Heritage Policy and Practice

Book Editor(s)

N. Adell, R. Bendix, C. Bortolotto, M. Tauschek

Book Publisher

Universitätsverlag Göttingen Press

Place of Publication