Theories of Cultural Values in Urban Conservation

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOtherpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Generally, heritage conservation practice follows principles with little understanding of their origin and reasoning, or that certain aspects of them could, and do, become obsolete, whilst new issues emerge that are yet outwith their scope. This means, in many cases, urban conservation practitioners are ‘blindly’ following established principles without an understanding of their underlying philosophy, and therefore are not able to adapt their approach to particular circumstances that might be challenging the so-far-recognized conservation doctrine. This ‘stagnant’ urban conservation practice is easily marginalised in planning decisions and thus fails to ensure the sustainable development of historic urban areas from a cultural point of view. The crux of this problem is enabling an actual understanding of how to identify cultural values in order to protect them while retaining their normal integration within the complexity of the urban organism. There have been several attempts, over the last decades, to establish a categorisation of cultural values that could be used for this purpose, from traditional art history-based approaches to nature-analogic ones. This paper argues that Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of capital can offer a viable model for understanding cultural values in heritage conservation, based on his distinction between three forms of capital: economic, social, and cultural, which are convertible, under certain conditions, into each other. A fourth form, symbolic capital, is used to differentiate the ‘institutionalised’ capital – be it economic, cultural or social. Bourdieu considers these forms of capital in relation to the individual, but the concept lends itself for a wider use, such as in relation to an urban community. The cultural capital is represented in this case, by extension, by the community’s heritage. The convertibility between different forms of capital underscores the heritage discourse, which tends to justify itself by the production, through cultural capital, of economic and social values.


ConferenceRoyal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers RGS-IBG Annual International Conference
Abbreviated titleRGS - IBG 2021
Internet address


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