Perspectival limitations: the theoretical, temporal, and spatial scope of the debate
As the academic view of heritage became more diversified, as described above, the complexity and scope of the debate grew significantly over the course of the 1980s and 1990s.
Nonetheless, heritage theories were still subject to enormous perspectival limitations. First of all, from the mid 1990s, the Marxist structural approach found itself irreconcilably opposed to the approach oriented to (everyday) cultural actions, which increased the pressure to position heritage in substantive terms (Terry-Chandler’s criticism of Lowenthal) and hampered innovative new approaches. But even Max Weber had warned that the aim of scholarship could not be
to substitute for a one-sided materialistic an equally one-sided spiritualistic causal interpretation of culture and history. Each is equally possible, but each, if it does not serve as the preparation, but as the conclusion of an investigation, accomplishes equally little in the interest of historical truth.
(Weber 2001: 125)
Second, the empirical area of application for heritage theories remained extraordinarily limited. Such theories tended to focus on the decades since the 1970s, and the studies were restricted to the territory of the British Isles.
Samuel and Lowenthal did manage to expand the perspective of the British heritage debate to include a wider timeframe. Instead of dating the start of the heritage boom to the 1970s, when the semantic field surrounding heritage had undeniably changed both quantitatively and qualitatively, they thought that heritage was closely connected to the rise of the nation state in the nineteenth century (Lowenthal) or the labor movement in the twentieth (Samuel), by means of which heritage—previously a privilege of the “princes and prelates, merchants and magnates”—had become part of collective identities beyond class and status: “The nineteenth and twentieth centuries democratized heritage” (Lowenthal 1998c: 173). Lowenthal’s emphasis on the function of heritage as a foundation for group identity could have applied to even earlier periods, and his definitions made it possible to link heritage to more recent debates concerning the relationship between history and tradition (cf. Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983; Giddens 1994) as well as history and memory (cf. Nora 1989; Le Goff 1992; Assmann 2011). However, these facts were overlooked in the UK debate (regarding the later exploration of these themes, see Section 2.2.3).
In terms of spatial scope as well, Samuel and Lowenthal’s perspectives widened the heritage debate tremendously. While Samuel called for the local construction of heritage to be given more attention in future research and placed on an equal footing with official (national) historiography, Lowenthal was the first to do away with the “belief in national exceptionalism” (McGuigan 1996: 118) that had been characteristic of the British heritage debate to date and to identify heritage as a global phenomenon instead. These complementary perspectives resulted in a close-range view of heritage while also demonstrating to UK heritage researchers that it was possible to investigate heritage in terms of international comparisons as well. But the national level remained the dominant explanatory reference system for Corner and Harvey and for Samuel, as a discourse of dominance which marginalized local heritage initiatives, and for the global heritage crusade, described by Lowenthal as a state-influenced (Western) form of viewing the past. The next chapter will cover the discussions of the 1990s and 2000s, which traced the heritage phenomenon beyond the boundaries of the UK and analyzed it on a much broader scale by drawing on postmodern and postcolonial theories.