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A relational geography of heritage in post-1997 Hong Kong Barber, Lachlan

Abstract

The central question of this dissertation is: what can Hong Kong teach us about the geography of heritage? The study considers the discursive transformation of cultural heritage as a feature of Hong Kong’s transition since the 1997 retrocession to Chinese sovereignty. Specifically, it traces the contradictory growth of interest in heritage as an urban amenity on the part of the government, and its simultaneous framing as a socio-political critique of neoliberal governance on the part of actors in civil society. The study analyses these dynamics from a perspective attentive to the relationships – forged through various forms of mobility and comparison – between Hong Kong and other places including mainland China, Great Britain, and urban competitors. The project relies on data gathered through English-language research conducted over a period of two and a half years. Sixty in-depth interviews were carried out with experts, activists, professionals and politicians in Hong Kong. Extensive surveys of government documents, the print and online media, and archival materials were undertaken. Other methods employed include site visits and participant observation. The methodology was oriented around the analysis of processes of heritage policy and contestation over a number of sites in Central, Hong Kong and surrounding districts where contradictory visions of the meaning of heritage have played out materially. The dissertation connects with debates in critical heritage studies, urban geography, and Hong Kong studies. A distinctly geographical contribution to heritage studies is made with the application of relational theory, drawn from the emerging literature on urban policy mobilities and urban studies more generally, to the study of the politics of heritage. The consideration of heritage policy, an important feature of the cultural economy and collectively produced and contested, adds to understandings of globalizing urban cultural policy. Finally, the study of these processes – at this particular moment in Hong Kong – provides a new frame for understanding post-handover politics in an era of increasing agitation about the future of the SAR’s relationship with the Mainland and ongoing struggles for democratization.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada

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