Perceiving and participating in cultural heritage : an ethnography about the process of preservation of Ouro Preto, Brazil
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This thesis discusses the promises and pitfalls of city preservation in Ouro Preto, a Brazilian city preserved nationally and hailed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Using interviews, archival material, ethnographic observations, and the analysis of public meetings on city preservation in Ouro Preto in 2013, I study how the city’s legacy as a national treasure of monumental architecture has endured until now, despite different coexisting standards of living, perceptions and uses of the city, and views of the past. In Ouro Preto, while fluctuating populations of tourists and students live mainly in the historic city centre, permanent residents often build their homes in underprivileged and marginalised areas and benefit little from their cultural heritage. Spatial exclusion and preservation policies, allegedly favouring outsiders, boost the divide between residents and newcomers, echoing the colonial past of the city. Disputes around the preservation of the cityscape invited widespread participation. One expectation of increased grassroots participation in cultural heritage sites is that it could expose varied and fluid perspectives of the city, and consequently allow for corresponding, more inclusive uses. However, when looking at local participatory practices in heritage policies, I consider the challenge for grassroots meetings to include different citizens and viewpoints, when the ability to disagree in public debates and participation are restricted by socio-economic conditions. The ethnographic character of this research offers a platform to investigate anthropological questions regarding the role, limits and expectations around cultural heritage and participatory practices in a context of varied socio-economic levels and fluid perceptions of aesthetics, history, and everyday uses of public spaces in a fragmented city.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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