Empowering Communities through Archaeology and Heritage: The Role of Local Governance in Economic Development
Peter G Gould
Bloomsbury
182pp, 16 black & white illustrations
Hardback, £70

This is a long title for quite a small book, which is based on a PhD thesis – and it shows. First, PhD students demonstrate their academic credentials by citing everything they have ever read. This means that the unfortunate reader is faced with a path rocky with references. In fact, if you are interested in the subject matter (and why else would you tackle this book?) then the bibliography is useful. But there are better ways to deliver it than the hiccuping Harvard System.

Secondly, PhD students show they have climbed the peaks of intellectual achievement by giving us a summary of their theoretical gurus. In this case the introduction covers economics and governance. Inevitably, perhaps, it includes sentences such as '… some scholars have proposed that multilevel, or polycentric, governance systems be viewed as highly interactive complex adaptive systems (CAS)'. If your brain has gone numb at this point, then this book is not for you.

So who is it for? As the text is littered with acronyms (a prize to whoever can translate LCCD or RCT), it suggests that its target audience includes consultants, bureaucrats and experts. But such creatures get quite short shrift from the author who claims that 'expert-led, top-down models (of heritage management) fail with regularity'. Instead he seems to prefer a bottom-up grass-roots approach. 'A successful heritage project depends upon local knowledge, involving local people who understand their environment and culture'. Well no one could disagree with that, could they? However, both approaches can deliver successes and failures. In practice, projects need to be approached from both directions and, in spite of the author's respect for local people, he does not seem to be writing for them.

Peter Gould illustrates success with four projects: Raqchi, Peru, the Maya Centre Women's Group, Belize, the Burren Centre, Ireland and a cluster of heritage sites in the Val di Cornia Region on the Etruscan coast of Italy, which he says is 'on the Atlantic coastline'... I am sure he knows better.

The case studies are the most interesting part of the book. The problem is that they are relatively small projects scattered across four countries. The local conditions are so varied that it is difficult to generalise from them. The devil is in the detail. I have worked on projects in four continents – some rich and highly developed. In others there were obstacles: dreadful communications, corrupt officials, lack of security, widespread illiteracy and undrinkable water. It was certainly true that everywhere I learned more from the locals than they learned from me.

Often we employed an economist who would accumulate and analyse data from dozens of comparable projects – that means those in similar political, cultural and environmental conditions. Four cases spread across the world really does not hack it. The main causes of failure are over-optimistic visitor estimates and the unreliability of long-term funding. Witness some Lottery projects in the UK.

There are the makings of an interesting book here, but we need to hear the voices of the people involved – in other words, more inspiration and experience and less jargon. PhD theses are an academic hurdle but they rarely make good reading.
David Miles

 

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