Over the next couple of months, the CRITICAL team will post introductory profiles and a self-reflective blog post outlining their position on cultural heritage and risk associated with climate change and natural hazards. In these reflective posts, each team member will consider their key influences, including research traditions, disciplinary training and insights and experiences from field work.



Dr Kate Crowley is Lecturer in climate change adaptation and disaster risk research and practice at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. She is also Co-Director of the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute and Deputy Director of the MSc in Carbon Management. Kate has a background in international development and works to understand risk  and adaptation across Scotland and internationally. She has experience managing large, applied research projects including risk modelling and social vulnerability projects.

Dr Rowan Jackson is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate on the CRITICAL research project and a University Teacher in Environmental Sustainability at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on evidence of climate change adaptation and resilience over multi-century timescales, particularly in the North Atlantic islands and the Arctic. In recognition of the scale and rate of climate impacts on archaeological sites and landscapes, Rowan also focuses on the role and influence of cultural and natural heritage in shaping community scale adaptation.

Professor Siona O’Connell is the head of a postgraduate programme in Museum and Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of Pretoria. She is well respected for her work on restorative justice in South Africa through research on land restitution. Her research focus falls within three areas, that of Memory Studies, Archive and Museum Studies and Restorative Justice in postcolonial and post-apartheid South Africa. Her work has impacts in several ways, including graduating students and fulfilling conventional academic outputs such as publishing in peer-reviewed journals and books, but equally in creative work and community engagement. She is the founding member of Critical African Studies at UP (castup.ac.za).

Dominique Niemand is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pretoria and currently a visiting research fellow at the University of Basel’s Centre for African Studies. Niemand’s research looks into unknown local histories and tangled food heritages in South Africa. Her research on the CRITICAL research project focuses on the adaptation of the Elandskloof community in the Western Cape of South Africa, in light of past injustices, climate change and food heritage

Dr Dulma Karunarathna is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow and program coordinator at Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives, University of Victoria, Canada and a visiting lecturer at the Postgraduate Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. Exploring cultural diversity is the centre of her career with degrees in Archaeology (PhD, Newcastle University; MPhil and BA, University of Peradeniya). Her research interests lay with Sustainable Built Environment, Heritage and Climate Change, Indigenous knowledge systems, Inclusive history of South Asia, Heritage for Conflict Resolution, Social Archaeology of Gender, Traditional Crafts and Technology.

Dr Arry Retnowati is a lecturer of the Development Geography Department at Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM), Indonesia. She is expertise in spatial planning focusing on disaster risk reduction/management, cultural landscape and local knowledge related to climatic factors. She is also a researcher at the Research Center for Disaster, working in collaboration with other research centers across UGM. Arry is particularly interested in disaster risk reduction, local knowledge for planning and development upon disaster management, community development towards sustainability and resilience.

Esti Anantasari works as a researcher at the Centre of Excellence of Technological Innovation for Disaster Mitigation (GAMA-InaTEK) and Center for Asian and Pacific Studies Universitas Gadjah Mada, with expertise in anthropology. Her research covers topics on climate change resilience, local initiatives to achieve food sovereignty and disaster risk reduction, particularly in Indonesia. She also focuses on the understanding, capturing and sharing cultural value for climate and disaster management.


The CRITICAL role of positionally in cultural heritage risk management

Positionality has become a buzzword in the social sciences and a staple of undergraduate theses over the last decade. Nevertheless, critical reflection on one’s attitude towards cultural heritage and how it should be managed is all too often eloped to the judgement of so-called experts. We hear of outstanding universal value, national monuments, and sites of cultural significance; but whose culture is this and how do we measure or assess the value of a given site, object, practice, or belief? Who do we trust to make these decisions, and should there be room for a more effective dialogue on the future of our past?

In this blog, I outline my position on cultural heritage value and what I want to call the value-risk gap in cultural heritage management. I outline my influences, disciplinary orientation and conceptualisation of value and risk within the context of cultural heritage and climate change. In short, I will argue that there can be no conceptualisation of cultural risk without an understanding of value within the community of interest. Without understanding how people value, and therein construct, their cultural heritage, we cannot understand what is at risk in the present and what should be ‘preserved’ or ‘conserved’ for future generations.


Positionality can be understood as the acknowledgement of a researchers position in relation to participant(s) and the research context (Rose, 1997). This involves reflection one’s own position on a given issue and how it has been shaped, as well as the position of research participants (McDowell, 1992). Viewed through this Feminist lens, “all knowledge is produced in specific circumstances and… those circumstances shape it in some way.” (Rose, 1997: 305). For cultural heritage, one’s subjective take on value and what is at risk is therefore as much a question about what we each consider valuable to us as the rather vague nations of “creative genius” and “unique” or “exceptional” testimonies “to a cultural tradition or civilization” (see UNESCO 1972 ‘Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage’). Reflection on the position – that being a reflection on the influences that shape how we view cultural heritage – we take on cultural heritage value and risk is an important step towards effective dialogues between and international approach to cultural heritage and risks associated with climate change, natural hazards, and globalisation.

My doctoral training was in geography and archaeology, having studied at the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinburgh and the Department of Archaeology and Heritage Studies at Aarhus University. The focus of my PhD was to understand long-term human adaptation to climatechange in Norse Greenland – an iconic example of (so-called) collapse at the end of the Medieval period. To get to grips with the Norse understanding (and value) of the environment in Greenland, I brought together three strands: the geography of place, the anthropology of being, and the historical-archaeological interpretation of material and historical continuity and change. Each strand has, in turn, had an influence on how I understand and frame cultural heritage.

Geography and Social (De-)Construction

Before I started my PhD, I examined group identity in Transition Towns in Northern England. This, together with my training in post-structuralist theory, provided the conceptual apparatus to examine how groups and communities relate to place and how different ideas about place are rooted (or constructed) in contingent values and experiences.

Deconstruction, though a deliberately vague and pervasive concept, can be understood as a way of unravelling the hierarchies that govern order and organisation. For example, the stable idea of a chair or a table can only be possible through a set of social and material relationships that create the idea and material reality of what a chair and table is—or is not—and what makes a good or bad chair or table. For cultural heritage, this would mean value and material reality are also inherently unstable and constituted in association with those who value it and construct its meaning. For that reason, the idea of a community of interest, rather than a community of experts or a local community alone is more appropriate when understanding the value of the site (Harvey and Perry, 2015).

This idea of the community of interest in cultural heritage studies is also closely linked with studies of memory and access to archives of knowledge (Erll, 2011). Michelle Foucault and Jacques Derrida both examined the control over collective memory and the dominant narratives over what was worthy of remembrance. In Foucault’s (2002 [1969]) seminal Archaeology of Knowledge, he uses the archaeological method to examine discursive formations that define the boundaries of thought. This could include the forms of knowledge and conceptualisation that are acceptable in a given domain, such as ideas of outstanding value and what is worthy of preservation and remembrance. Derrida also examines the control over collective memory through his idea of ‘Archive Fever’, where political power is exercise through control over collective memory (Erll, 2011). At the extreme ideas of Outstanding Universal Value could be interpreted as a form of ‘Archive Fever’, where the narrative is dominated by expert or elite judgement—and the dominance of Euro-centric discourses on cultural heritage (Meskell, 2018).

Anthropology of Being

Using an anthropological lens, we can ask question about what it means to dwell in a given landscape. Of significant influence about dwelling and the perception of the environment has been the idea of taskscapes, bringing together the spatial and temporal dynamics of lived experience (or being). In Tim Ingold’s (1993) paper Temporality of Landscapes, he muses on the example of Bruegel’s Harvesters, deconstructing the experiences of being in the agricultural landscapes of the Medieval Low Countries. The patterns of seasonal work and movement through the landscape are constituted through the intermixing of cultural perception, interpersonal exchange, and the physical attributes of the landscape.

For cultural heritage, this idea has significant traction, as it brings together the multiple constituents of tangible and intangible heritage. Practices, values, beliefs, and customs are situated within given geographical contexts—context that will be affected unevenly by the impacts of climate change (see Liechenko and O’Brien, 2008; Hastrup, 2018). As Brace and Geoghegan (2011) explain, “Climate and the ways it might change… need to be discussed in a relational context: a ‘mingling’ of place, personal history, daily life, culture and values”. This central concept of ‘place’ in social and cultural geography and anthropology explains why we need a situated understanding of culture – in context – to understand what is at risk. The relationship between value and risk, as DeSilvey and Harrison (2020) explain, is central to their co-development – an ‘endangerment sensibility’ that gives heritage value through the perception of risk.

Archaeology and History: Continuity and Change

Archaeology can be understood as “the study of the human past from material remains.” (Scarre, 2018: 25). This is a discipline that constructs the past from the residuals of human societies and the environments they created and/or operated within (Lucas, 2001, 2012). Because there is often no direct observational evidence of the material remains of the past, archaeology is a highly interpretive discipline (Hodder et al., 1995). As Lucas (2019) explains, archaeology is not just about digging and deconstructing or destroying sequences of the past but is also a constructivist exercise where the archaeological record is materialised (through archaeological practice) in a way that can be analysed and reanalysed, interpreted and reinterpreted using repertoire of method and theory. For interpretive archaeologists, this means the record of the past is not static and is open to interpretation. But this does not mean the past is unknowable. As Hodder (1991) writes, archaeological data provides a form of ‘guarded objectivity’—the material residues of the past resisting endless interpretation.

This interpretive approach to archaeological research has strong parallels with processual heritage studies. Material heritage is something that we invest value in, but it is not static and our investment of value and meaning in the object or site will change over time (Harvey and Perry, 2015). Changing values might be associated with the relationship with different communities of interest, such as local communities and national identities. An example of this is captured in Wilkinson and Harvey’s (2017) deconstruction of discursive values and cultural imaginaries of Tarr Steps in Exmoor National Park. Tarr steps have long been imagined as a material expression of authentic ancientness, in a way bridging between the present and Britain’s deep past. Nevertheless, the steps are themselves heavily managed, as the clapper slabs are periodically washed away by flood events (Wilkinson and Harvey, 2017). The materiality (and authenticity) of Tarr steps is, one could conclude, less important than the intangible value that is invested in the site.

The Value-Risk Gap

DeSilvey and Harrison (2020) identify risk as a key component of value – a consequence of the endangerment sensibility (see Fig.1 for visualisation). But equally, tangible and intangible cultural heritage can only be conceived of as at-risk if it pertains a value to a community of interest (see Harvey and Perry, 2015). This cycle of value and risk (see Fig.1) resembles a hermeneutic cycle of interpretation. As I would like to provisionally conclude, the blurred boundaries between value and risk need sustained attention and recognition internationally. To understand what is at risk, and therein to carry out effective risk assessments, we need to understand how cultural heritage is valued in different local, national, and regional contexts. This will, in turn, help us understand how and in what ways cultural heritage should be managed for future generations.



Brace, C. and Geoghegan, H. (2011) Human geographies of climate change: Landscape, temporality, and lay knowledges. Progress in Human Geography 35(2): 284-302.

DeSilvey, C. and Harrison, R. (2020) Anticipating loss: rethinking endangerment in heritage futures. International Journal of Heritage Studies 26(1): 1-7.

Erll, A. (2011) Memory in Culture. London: Palgrave.

Harvey, D. and Perry, J. (2015) The Future of Heritage as Climate Change: Loss, Adaptation and Creativity. London: Routledge.

Hodder, I. (1991) Interpretive Archaeology and its role. American Antiquity 56: 7-18.

Hodder, I., Shanks, M., Alexandri, A., Buchi, V., Carman, J., Last, J. and Lucas, G. (eds.) (1995) Interpretive Archaeology: Finding Meaning in the Past. London: Routledge.

Ingold, T. (1993) The temporality of the landscape. World Archaeology 25(2): 152-174.

Lucas, G. (2001) Critical Approaches to fieldwork. London: Routledge.

Lucas, G. (2012) Understanding the archaeological record. London: Routledge.

Lucas, G. (2019) Writing the past: knowledge and literary production in archaeology. London: Routledge.

McDowell, L. (1992) Doing gender: feminism, feminists and research methods in human geography. Transactions of the institute of British Geographers 17: 399-416.

Meskell, L. (2018) A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the dream of peace. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

 Rose, G. (1997) Situated knowledges: positionality, reflexivities, and other tactics. Progress in Human Geography 21(3): 305-320.

Scarre, C. (2018) ‘Introduction: The Study of the Human Past’ In Scarre, C. (Ed.) The Human Past, 4th Edn. London: Thames & Hudson.

Wilkinson, T.J. and Harvey, D.C. (2017) Managing the future of the past: images of Exmoor landscape heritage. Landscape Research 42(8): 862-879.