Fearing loss – saving face

For the upcoming 2018 biannual conference of the Association of Critical Heritage Studies, I have joined forces with Luke James and Evan Hamman for exploring Australia’s resistance to World Heritage In Danger Listings.

Title: Fearing loss – saving face: A case study of Australia’s resistance to World Heritage In Danger Listings

Abstract: Competitive internationalism sets the scene for winners and losers. As international lists and rankings enable the possibility to rise and fall, ‘fear of loss’ becomes part and parcel of taking part. Within the field of heritage, the World Heritage List and its counterpart, the List of World Heritage in Danger (the ‘In Danger List’), figure as the most prominent examples of competitive lists. Whilst not intended to be a sanction on States, the In Danger List has nonetheless gained negative connotations from certain States over the years. For these states, the In Danger List represents the counterpoint to the World Heritage List’s ability to generate national prestige and, ultimately, contribute to international status gains. In this paper we draw on the concepts of ‘losing face’ and ‘reputational damage’ to explore how the In Danger List’s association with fall and loss play out through the case of Australia. As a prominent player within the World Heritage regime, Australia is a particularly interesting case. In parallel to its active role in foregrounding World Heritage listing as a tool for conservation, Australia has also entered into long and contentious fights against In Danger Listings proposed for its World Heritage sites Kakadu (in the 1990s) and the Great Barrier Reef (2010-2015). While these sites have been subject to threats from resource extraction and associated development, the Australian Government has gone to great lengths to avoid In Danger Listings which, arguably, could have strengthened their conservation efforts. The aim in this paper is to approach the phenomenon of competitive internationalism, fear and loss and reputational damage, by addressing the following questions: what has motived Australia’s resistance to In Danger Listings and how has this motivation changed over time? To what extent has Australia’s continual resistance towards In Danger Listings shaped the perspective of the In Danger List as an instrument for shame and blame? How have Australia’s efforts to save political face, against the backdrop of clear scientific concern from the advisory bodies, contributed to raising its fear of loss? And, finally, what might we learn about competitive internationalism from a perspective that highlights loss of face or reputation—or risk thereof?

Read more about the confrence here.

Photo: Ranger Uranium Mine, Kakadu. Bidgee, Wikimedia Commons.

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