Managing the Meaning of Tongariro World Heritage Site: Conservation, Culture and Government
This thesis explores the culture and practices of the UNESCO World Heritage system – an international system of conservation governance that catalogues the ‘most outstanding’ heritage sites in the world. World Heritage (WH) status is perhaps the ultimate bureaucratic accolade of spatial identity. In this work I examine what happens to these places once they have been designated as World Heritage of ‘universal’ significance. Recounting the recent history of one site, Tongariro National Park (New Zealand), I discuss the consequences of World Heritage designation and the inter-relations that constitute the World Heritage system of government. Seeking to avoid what Massey (2002) terms the ‘Russian doll’ conceptualisation of local, national and ‘global’, I examine how World Heritage sites are at once local and ‘global’ inventions. My methodological approach therefore tracks between the different places where the World Heritage institution is enacted. Localities of World Heritage practice include: the National Park, the administrative World Heritage Centre, the Pacific UNESCO office, and the World Heritage Bureau and World Heritage Committee rooms. Through ethnographic work, textual analysis and interviews, I have examined the politics and practices of World Heritage administration. I observe how agents move between these localities, producing a technologic of government as they circulate. I consider management of Tongariro as actions within a network, working with Latour’s and others’ (re)configurations of Actor Network Theory. The thesis describes therefore the way actors relate to produce Tongariro World Heritage site, drawing upon theoretical approaches from science studies and cultural geography. I identify mechanisms for conferring this new identity. Places are inscribed into World Heritage discourse. World Heritage is instituted through the processes of government that shape the World Heritage site and World Heritage system. The symbolic power of World Heritage is invoked as World Heritage subjects make interventions in the institution. Examining processes of translation between local and ‘global’ contexts in this way, I sort out the means by which World Heritage operates. As the World Heritage Convention has recently celebrated its 30th anniversary, I consider the consequences for sites classified under this system. I argue the importance of not simply reflecting on ‘conservation outcomes’, but examining methods of practice. This research is therefore of direct interest to the heritage conservation community and also sheds light on more general experiences of transnational governance.