CFP: African Heritage Challenges: Development and Sustainability


DATES: 15TH – 16TH MAY 2015

Hosted by the Cambridge Heritage Research Group

Heritage in Africa is increasingly employed as a vehicle for development. The desire to make heritage pay is palatable. Can one really put the onus on Africa’s past to not only be self-sustaining but also to fuel development? How can Africa’s heritage be used to shape and secure a sustainable future for the continent?

This conference aims to explore the ways in which heritage can promote, secure or undermine sustainable development in Africa, and in turn, how this development affects conceptions of heritage in Africa. As the countries of Africa attempt to forge burgeoning economies and societies in the twenty-first century, cultural heritage has a role to play as the nexus where the past and the future meet.

This conference will attempt to explore and challenge the seemingly dichotomous relationships between the past and the future, preservation and development, conservation and innovation in Africa. This conference has two broad aims: a) to understand the relationship, tensions and challenges between heritage, development and sustainability in Africa, b) to understand how heritage is conceptualized in a diverse African context in light of developing societies, economies and priorities.

We are interested in papers which adopt local, national, regional or Pan-Africanist perspectives to examine the dynamics of heritage and sustainable development, and expand our understandings of the meaning of heritage from within a varied African constituency.

In what ways do heritage, sustainability and development intersect in African nations? Can heritage be conceived as a motor for innovation and change, or is it a barrier to development? What challenges or tensions arise as nations, cities and communities employ cultural heritage for economic, touristic, or societal development? What can heritage researchers learn from the African experience? This conference adopts a perspective which explores African conceptions of what heritage is or can be, and therefore we encourage papers which examine and challenge the relationships between tangible / intangible aspects of heritage, natural / cultural heritage, and the moveable / immoveable. We also encourage an interdisciplinary focus with innovative dialogues made between heritage studies, archaeology, anthropology, international development, political science, geography, sociology and museum studies.

We are specifically interested in papers which discuss the following themes in relationship to the sustainable development of African countries:

• Traditional knowledge: Traditional knowledge bases provide local communities with the historic skills, insights and experiences to carve a sustainable living from their environs. Yet many traditional knowledge systems in Africa are in danger of becoming marginalized because of rapidly changing natural environments and resulting socio-cultural effects. How can traditional knowledge practices play a role in the management and sustainability of built heritage resources? Can traditional knowledge be adequately protected by the international convention on intangible heritage or intellectual property laws? Does the protection of traditional knowledge (materially) benefit the communities’ owners? Can traditional knowledge be a form of commons, and if so, does its protection through IP law create artificial scarcity, infringing on the rights of others to own and use it?

• The relationship between natural and cultural heritage: The ecological footprint of Africa increased 240% between 1961 and 2008 (ADB 2013). Yet, over 14 million people in Africa have been displaced from traditional homelands in the past century to enable conservation (Dowie 2009:xxi). Today most Africans continue to have poor access to these ‘fortress conservation’ (Brockington 2004) areas where human interventions in the ‘created pristine wilderness’ are often vilified and or forgotten.  How do legacies of enclosure and eviction coupled with historic cultural heritage sites in conservation areas inform our understanding of these spaces as ‘cultural places’? How can we protect wildlife and landscapes whilst moving away from the stereotype of ‘good nature, bad natives’? Should bio-diversity priorities continue to leverage weightier claims than tangible or intangible cultural heritage?

• Urbanism and development of post-colonial cities: Over 40% of Africa’s population currently live in cities (ADB 2013). By 2030 urban populations will increase by an additional 300 million people. This pattern is putting pressure on tangible, intangible and natural heritage in areas of urban expansion and increasing urban density. As people migrate to the city from village bastions of tradition, community practices are subject to patterns of rapid change. What roles can colonial heritage play in today’s African metropolises? Should heritage of ‘informal settlements’ be recognised and valorised? What role does ‘cultural sustainability’ (Hawkes 2005) play in urban Africa?

• Tourism and ‘Ethnotourism’: Over 80% of Africa’s population survive on substance agriculture and more than 50% are living on less than USD 1.25 a day (ADB 2013). How can we broaden access to the economic opportunities that tourism offers whilst protecting the vulnerable, the heritage and allowing for sustainable growth? How can tourism in turn inform social, spatial and political inclusion? Does ethno-tourism naturalise uneven development merely relegating certain groups to a particular stage in the human past denying ‘coevalness’ (Fabian 2002:31) and ‘de-development’ (Roy 1999)? In Meskell’s words (2013:60) ‘are we more concerned about saving cultural and material differences than allowing people to choose from a number of future-oriented life-ways’?

• Development and heritage after conflict: Africa’s fragile states house a fifth of the continent’s people. Between 1990 and 2007 conflict related deaths in Africa represented 88% of the world’s total (Hawkins 2008). These conflicts in turn have produced over 9 million refugees and internally displaced people.  In Mali, heritage sites have been specifically targeted for destruction. In Rwanda new heritage sites have been created to commemorate the lives lost during the 1994 genocide. What role does ‘orphaned heritage’ play for the ‘new’ communities that live around these sites today? How do displaced people relate to the heritage of the area in which they seek refuge, sometimes permanently? Can heritage related development help to create a more sustainable peace?

• Heritage and resilience: Africa is changing. Globalisation, demographic growth and AIDS are putting increasing strains on communities. Drought, famine, landslides and flooding continue to be on the horizon. Does traditional knowledge and lessons learned from the past provide insight about how to predict and prevent future disasters, how to cope with them once they have arrived and how to redevelop once they have passed? Can heritage build resilience by rooting identity and acting as a catalyst for sustainable economic and social regeneration? Does heritage preservation contribute to ‘ontological security’?

Please send abstracts of 300 words to Dr Britt Baillie ( and Leanne Philpot ( by 1st October 2014. This conference is generously funded by CRASSH and the Alborada Fund. For more information visit:

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