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Valuing the Historic Environment: a critical review of existing approaches to social value
Jones, S. and S. Leech
Manchester: AHRC Cultural Value Report; 2015.
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This project seeks to advance understanding about how experience of the historic environment creates forms of social value. Value is central to how aspects of the historic environment are designated, managed and conserved as heritage. For much of the twentieth century this was primarily linked to what have been seen as intrinsic historic, aesthetic and scientific values. More recently there has been increasing emphasis on the social values derived from active use of the historic environment. There are considerable difficulties surrounding how these different kinds of value should be weighed up against one another. This is exacerbated by a lack of understanding about social value, which falls largely outside of the kinds of expert knowledge traditionally associated with the heritage sector. Furthermore, social value is not readily captured by quantitative methods or easily subjected to instrumental forms of cost-benefit analysis. Through a critical review of existing research, this report examines current knowledge and understanding of social value. Encompassing the significance of the historic environment to contemporary communities, social value relates to people’s sense of identity, distinctiveness, belonging, and place, as well as forms of memory and spiritual association. Particular attention is focused on the modes of experience, engagement and practice that inform people’s relationships with the historic environment. The report also considers how to deal with the dynamic, iterative, and embodied nature of these relationships. The range of methodologies used in existing research and surveys is critically discussed, along with their application in the spheres of heritage conservation and public policy. Finally, the appropriateness of conceptual frameworks that quantify and fix values is examined. The possibilities for capturing more fluid processes of valuing the historic environment are considered, along with the implications for other spheres of arts and culture.