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‘A Frame to Hang Clouds on’: Cognitive Ownership, Landscape, and Heritage Management

Abstract and Keywords

In the archaeological context, a sense of the evolving landscape becomes especially important where there is considerable time depth or cultural sequencing inherent in a single site. The prehistoric occupants of that site used and related to the landscape in very different ways throughout time. However, archaeology is a modern endeavour, a form of enquiry directly related to post-Enlightenment and modernist conceptions and constructions of knowledge, place, and society, enacted within a complex of social-administrative and political constraints. The physical existence of an archaeological site reflects its multi-contextual conceptual identity. The concept of cognitive ownership has tended to be couched in relatively simple pragmatic terms: observing behaviour and drawing categorization of individuals and groups engaging in a cultural place as a management tool. In some studies, this has led to deeper understanding of cultural values, while in others, to more pragmatic management or activist conclusions.

Keywords: landscape, cognitive ownership, management, archaeology, conceptual identity

Bill Boyd is Professor of Geography at Southern Cross University, Australia, with special interests in long-term environmental change, the history of landscapes, and cultural heritage management. His interest in the ‘cognitive ownership’ of places by multiple ‘owners’ developed out of the need to engage with issues surrounding the management and preservation of archaeological sites, and in particular in whose service such management was required. Although located here in examples from Australia, the concept is one that has ramifications for all those involved in public archaeology and heritage. It takes us beyond the concept of (mere) ‘stakeholders’ into that of shared and competing communities of interest—thereby creating a useful counterpoint and complement to other chapters in this volume (e.g. Smith and Waterton (Chapter 8); and Schofield, Kiddey, and Lashua (Chapter 15)).

Introduction: ownerships of landscapes

A frame to hang clouds on. This is how I have described the concept of cognitive ownership, a concept I coined with one of my postgraduate students, Maria Cotter, over a decade ago (Boyd and Cotter 1996; Boyd et al. 1996). It emerged from a discussion about whose sites and landscapes those places we were investigating archaeologically actually were—Ours? The prehistoric occupants? Which prehistoric occupants? Present-day legislators and other government officials? The archaeologists who studied the sites? The heritage managers responsible for their care now?…and so on. In asking such questions, we are inherently concurring with Head's (2000: 64) observation: (p. 173)

Cultural landscapes are not the preserve of sedentary or urban societies. People have attached meaning to their landscapes, and shaped them both consciously and unconsciously, throughout human history. Those meanings have been contested, and have included values placed upon remembering the past.

In the particular context of our discussions, a seemingly simple problem needed to be solved: What landscape could be mapped to illustrate the landscape of the archaeological site? This was not, as it turned out, as simple a question as it seemed. The language of landscape is fraught with complexity (Cosgrove and Daniels 1988; Winchester et al. 2003). Landscape, Knapp and Ashmore (1999: 16, 20–1) remind us, ‘maps memory and declares identity…offer[ing] a key to interpreting society…the land itself, as socially constituted, plays a fundamental role in the ordering of cultural relations…landscape is neither exclusively natural nor totally cultural; it is a mediation between the two and an integral part of…the routine social practices within which people experience the world around them’. Maps, on the other hand, are equally ‘socially constructed artefacts that can be analysed in terms of the views, values and purposes they embody and promote’ (Pinder 2003: 172); mapping, Pinder continues, is ‘not universal and disinterested but…partial and situated knowledges, expressing particular concerns, priorities and positions…cartography is…in and part of the world’. Bring the two together, and we have a potent mix with which, depending on our inclination, to confound or enhance our understanding of human behaviour in the past.

Landscape, archaeology, and cultural heritage management

‘A Frame to Hang Clouds on’Cognitive Ownership, Landscape, and Heritage ManagementClick to view larger

Figure 9.1 The archaeological site of Phu Long, Loei, NE Thailand. This is a prehistoric copper mine, more recently adopted as an important Hindu and, latterly, Buddhist site. Where there were probably many miners living and working on the site in antiquity—the remains of their not inconsiderable labour are evidenced in the many mine shafts, spoil heaps, and isolated stacks of bedrock, and probably in their physical remains within the mine shafts—there is now a small number of resident monks. The site links into an extensive prehistoric trade network, tied to significant techno-cultural development that defines socio-cultural communities throughout the region in the archaeological past. It now articulates into a multifaceted spiritual landscape. Contemporary archaeological interest extends the site into a global scholarly landscape. The site has, as yet, been barely touched by tourism. (Photo: W. Boyd.)

In accepting the standpoint of the cultural situatedness of maps, and especially recognizing the power they may hold as mediators of knowledge (more of that below)—our ‘simple’ question demanded a heuristic to assist navigating the multiple senses of landscape and their constructions. In the archaeological context, a sense of the evolving landscape becomes especially important where there is considerable time depth and/or cultural sequencing inherent in a single site. The prehistoric occupants of that site used and related to the landscape in very different ways throughout time. This is the stuff of archaeology. However, the matter does not stop there. Archaeology is a modern endeavour, a form of enquiry directly related to post-Enlightenment and modernist conceptions and constructions of knowledge, place, and society, enacted within a complex of social-administrative and political constraints (Renfrew and Bahn 1991). The physical existence of an archaeological site will reflect its multi-contextual conceptual identity. In simple terms, for example, a site may be peripheral to an archaeological study area, at the core of a proposed housing development, on the edges of prehistoric territory, of purely local prehistoric importance, a key regional historical place, etc. Which of these landscapes takes precedence in our understanding and/or the management of the site (p. 174) (Figure 9.1)? The question then becomes: Whose site and landscape is it? Who, we may then ask, can make a claim of association, emotionally, intellectually, cognitively, over that site? People's sense of association with place can be extremely strong, and readily becomes equivalent to a sense of ownership. However, if we can identify such an individual or group, can that individual or group make a claim of absolute ownership that is valid, or should we be expecting to observe socially constructed and processed, shared, and overlapping ownerships? The tenor of our argument obviously tends towards the latter; the original question is clearly relativistic, building on the strong implications of multifaceted and overlapping behaviours—ancient and modern—observed at any (p. 175) archaeological, historical, or heritage place. This is not new: Merriman's (1991) survey of public attitudes towards the past in Britain, for example, identified several forms of connection between people and their knowledge of the past, constructed through, variously, an archaeological and personal or familial lens.

These seemingly simple questions have a strong bearing on the practice of cultural heritage management. Heritage management has conventionally used the individual site as the focus of administrative and legislative attention (e.g. Flood 1990; English 1994; Hall and McArthur 1996). This represents a notably Western conception of place as paramount in the ownership landscape, and in part reflects a logistical convenience: it is much easier to manage an individual place than a landscape or a network of places. However, both archaeological and social trends suggested in the 1990s that a site-focused approach was becoming increasingly inappropriate in managing cultural heritage.

In archaeology, concepts of cultural landscape emphasize the interrelationships rather than the individuality of sites (e.g. Head et al. 1994; Ross 1996), and the importance of landscape and environment rather than the individual site within any understanding of past people's behaviour (e.g. Butzer 1982; Lasca and Donahue 1990). In 1999, my colleagues and I extended this argument in practice, organizing a conference entitled ‘Heritage Landscapes; Understanding Place and Communities’. The ensuing publication (Cotter et al. 2001) contained papers from a broad range of archaeologists, historians, and heritage managers, each taking up the challenge of critiquing or describing opportunities for managing cultural heritage enabled by the use of ideas embodied in landscape. The conference served to highlight aspects of personal, professional, and communal engagement with heritage, and the validity of landscape as a functional tool for the management of our cultural heritage resources. Importantly, the contributing authors guided the reader towards recognition of both the diversity of heritage landscapes and the people who may or may not engage with such landscapes; some referred directly to cognitive owners, although more often cognitive ownership remained only implicit. They also highlighted the possibilities of existence of multiple landscapes, historical and contemporary, at various social and geographical scales. All were, in effect, addressing Johnson's more recent (2007: 144, 162, 191) reminder of the ‘necessity of a deep and complex understanding of the mutual consideration of both [nature and culture]’, grounded on concepts of landscape as a ‘two-way process: it is about the viewer and his or her social, cultural and political circumstances as well as the viewed…a constructed story with spiritual dimensions…the creation of place out of space’ and, above all, the importance of questioning ‘the assumption that there is a single way of understanding the landscape’.

At a societal level, increasing awareness and vocalization of Indigenous and other community claims to land and places (e.g. Toyne and Vachon 1984; Allen 1992; Lippman 1994) draws attention to the complexity of interest in sites within any landscape, and has resulted in an increasing, if often still marginal, Indigenous and community involvement in site and area research and management (e.g. Tjamiwa 1991; Birckhead et al. 1993; Kerber 1994; Layton 1994a, 1994b; Nutting 1994; Hortsman and Downey 1995). The effect of these conceptual, social, and political changes is that (p. 176) cultural sites are increasingly recognized to exist within rather than on social and physical landscapes. Heritage managers, we argued, need to be able to recognize, identify, and work within such landscapes: ‘if we think about landscapes as having Communities of Ownership and Interest—layers of cognitive owners including stakeholders’, argues Norman (2009), ‘we might then begin an interesting conversation with each other in regard to resource management.’ Likewise, if we pay attention to Carman's (2002) review of values in heritage in which he identified very different fields of value (institutional, utility, and social values), each founded on very different principles, each arising from different disciplinary backgrounds, each ascribing value in very different ways, and therefore each being articulated and operationalized through different institutions—museums, state, community—and language, then it is clear that there is inevitably going to be a conflict or misalignment between those groups with an interest in the heritage item.

Introducing cognitive ownership

In seeking a heuristic with which to address such issues, therefore, we developed the concept of cognitive ownership (Boyd and Cotter 1996; Boyd et al. 1996). This was a deliberately provocative term, drawing in the presumed force of economic or legal ownership to reinforce the power of an entirely non-statutory ownership, that of personal identification and emotional association with a place. It attempts to unsettle or shift the relationships implicit in conventional and socio-economically mediated conceptions of heritage as object of ownership, in ways similar to, for example, Carman's (2005) shift of the heritage object as commodity to gift, and therefore its potential as symbolic value, ‘marking a change from an object embedded in systems of ownership and exchange for measured value, to the status of culture, the realm of heritage related to identity and—more importantly—the creation of community by the gift of the self’ (44). It was designed, therefore, both to draw attention to the inherent social constructedness of heritage embodied in multiple, socially constructed values present at any cultural place that provide existential validity for the multiplicity of values, and to provide a practical frame in which such multiplicity may be recorded and expressed (see also Schofield, this volume).

The concept was founded on the pragmatics of social construction theory (Jackson and Penrose 1993; Norton 2000; Winchester et al. 2003), and represents a response to Kong's (1997) call for ‘more empirical work that takes on board reconceptualisations of culture as an active and negotiated construct’ (Kong 1997: 183). The term was chosen to reflect the cognitive links people make with heritage places. As such, it prioritizes the interest in, or association with, a place claimed, even implicitly, by all people or groups who express some value for that place. Cognitive ownership, therefore, represents the link between people and place defined by intellectual, conceptual, and/or spiritual—all of these are acknowledged as explicitly socially constructed—meanings (p. 177) that people attach to that place. We started thinking in terms of meaning articulated through location within the landscape, but progressed to a point where there is equal, if not greater potency in considering the expression of meaning reflected in behaviour, both on and off site, within the landscape. That, indeed, provides a strong observational device for extracting underlying meaning. Simply put: What do people do at the site? To answer this question, we need to know who engages with the site—the ‘who’ are the cognitive owners, the many and diverse identified as stakeholders, for example, by authors in Merriman's (2004) edited volume (Figure 9.2). This provides, therefore, the frame to pursue questions, for example, of social and cultural behaviour, interactions between social groups and individuals, and understanding of social behaviours and impacts upon places. Observing and recording human behaviour with regard to a place provides the raw data that allows us to classify users in terms of their cognitive ownership. The depth to which we attempt to understand and characterize the nature of that ownership can vary; we may, for example, want to understand social relationships, inter-group political processes, or the conceptual philosophies guiding ownership groups. Whatever the case, the value of the approach is that the identification of groups of ‘owners’ and observations of their behaviour provide primary data directly related to very practical settings. The benefits are clear: Norman (2009) notes that the cognitive ownership approach ‘demonstrates the richness of place…as an alternative to the poverty of perspective embedded in adversarial and unconsultative bureaucratic planning processes [revealing]…the confluences and conflicts in ownership claims’.

Seeking conceptual soundness, social construction theory, with its explicit recognition and validation of multiple meanings, provided the intellectual springboard for this work. In social construction theory the important issue became not one of the truth or validity of one meaning over another, but merely of their identification. The fact that a group of owners exists is important, and does not deny the existence of any other cognitive owner. Value judgements on their validity are not important since, in a very practical sense, whether they have a so-called valid claim of association, by whosoever's rules, is irrelevant: they still exist as a group with cognitive association with the place. It is that cognitive association, whether viewed as valid or not, that will influence individuals’ behaviour. From a heritage management perspective, this opens possibilities to understand conflict at heritage sites, and, in a better world, manage such conflict. Conversely, from an archaeological analytical perspective, where the place is the indicator of human behaviour, the recognition of cognitive ownership may provide access back into prior social behaviour enacted at or associated with the place. The important practical implication of the cognitive ownership model, therefore, is that the cultural heritage place ceases to be an individual, mono-temporal place, but becomes enlivened within parallel, particular, and cognitive landscapes constructed under the influence of many social and cultural parameters (cf. Tuan 1974, 1977; Haynes 1981; Gould and White 1986). The individual, therefore, becomes one node within overlapping networks of physical, social, cultural, and political linkages, pathways, edges, landmarks, and surfaces (Boyd et al. 1996, 2005).

‘A Frame to Hang Clouds on’Cognitive Ownership, Landscape, and Heritage ManagementClick to view larger

Figure 9.2 The archaeological site of Ban Non Wat, Khorat, NE Thailand. This a prehistoric occupation site dating from the Neolithic through to the Iron Age. It has yielded a very rich set of evidence for past lifestyles, burial and related rituals, technology, trade, and environmental management and resource use. The site is located on a small mound on a large floodplain, the site of a modern village. The site is being excavated by Australian, New Zealand, and Thai archaeologists, with a large team of students and assistants, aided by an small army of local hired labourers and European and American paying volunteers. The labourers and volunteers are off-site at lunch, and the villagers are going about their daily business, while a group of local school children are being introduced to this site by New Zealand archaeologist, Nigel Chang, with his back to us, and Thai archaeologist, Rachanic Thosarat, standing at the right. A Thai archaeological assistant continues her work. The site is regularly visited by groups such as this, along with officials from all levels of government and other local, often professional, people who wish to find out more about the activity of archaeology, the role of the various groups of non-Thai visits at this site, the artefacts being unearthed here, or the prehistoric story being uncovered. (Photo: W. Boyd.)

‘A Frame to Hang Clouds on’Cognitive Ownership, Landscape, and Heritage ManagementClick to view larger

Figure 9.3 Historic anchor, Signal Hill, St Johns, Newfoundland, Canada. Anchors are powerful symbols of the sea and society's relationship with it, especially in the past. This is an example of common adoption and reappropriation of what was constructed as a purely functional artefact: it now serves as a memorial in a public park, a point of contact between the land and the sea, the past and the present, an affirmation of a sea-going social past now superseded by an increasingly industrial present, in a society that still identifies strongly with the sea and industries dependent upon the sea. Those individuals, families, and communities conventionally associated with this maritime heritage are now joined by tourists and other formerly land-bound communities; the park is managed by local authorities, and the preservation of the anchor itself draws in heritage conservation experts, technologists, and funding agencies. In many instances, such an artefact will provide a focus for amateur enthusiast groups, including local museums. In all cases, the artefact serves to stimulate and reinforce social identity across a wide range of individuals and groups. (Photo: W. Boyd.)

(p. 178) In defining the ‘site’ in this way—in effect as geographical place, albeit with time depth—the site ceases to be an abstract archaeological artefact; it becomes a place with many owners and meanings, each with particular relationships with the place and its landscape and with every other owner (Boyd et al. 1996; Figure 9.3). This has implications in both understanding past social dynamics and identifying contemporary management options (cf. Smith et al. 2003). (p. 179)

(p. 180) Cognitive ownership and cultural fluidity

Interestingly, in studying or managing such places under such intellectual conditions, it becomes rapidly apparent that values and owners shift. New values emerge as site significance is assessed or enhanced, or existing values evolve, becoming redundant, less important, or more important (although the process may be ambiguous; cf. Watson and Winkelman 2005). Cognitive ownership is clearly not static and, indeed, if it is a valid social process, should be inherently unstable. Equally, and in a direct relationship with this conceptual instability, the character of, for example, a landscape can evolve as changing constructions influence behavioural change associated with that landscape (Papayannis 2005).

A core concept in the cognitive ownership model is one of community—community access to heritage is legitimized through the recognition of its interest. However, despite a potential broadening of ownership by inclusion of community in its multiplicity of forms, the inclusion of community is still a fluid process. New owners, outside and within the new community, can emerge following changes in public perception of the place. In our original studies (Boyd et al. 1996), for example, as the local fame of a historic shipwreck grew, increasing numbers of people adopted a cognitive association for the place, including the local Aboriginal community who, while clearly articulating the view that this was not ‘their’ place, integrated it into their contact history and made public claims regarding its importance, claims that served to validate a particular version of its history (Figure 9.4). This process has notable echoes in Jacobs's (1995) account of the J. C. Slaughter Falls Community Arts Project in Brisbane. In her analysis of the production of new outdoor Aboriginal artworks, created as part of a process of cultural reassertion of space, Jacobs concludes that these reconceptualizations of place amount more to ‘a process of Aborigalization of place than the reclaiming of Aboriginal place’ (Jacobs 1995: 212). The fluidity and innovating evolution of indigenous cognitive ownerships of the place is dynamic and vital; the ‘Aboriginalization of the place’ does not negate previous, more conventional, or traditional claims of cultural association with the place, but indeed adds to the cultural capital of that place through a cultural enriching of place-making.

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Figure 9.4 The World Heritage Site of Phanom Rung, Khorat, NE Thailand. This is an important Kymer site, recently restored as a World Heritage Site. As with all such sites, it is layered with its own multiple histories and architectural significances, and as such is a place of interest to historians, archaeologists, heritage enthusiasts, tourists, as well as to local people who find value in the Hindu iconography and meaning implicit in this site. This location had just been visited by a local (Buddhist) family conducting a non-Buddhist ceremony, in part related to the spiritual character of this site, but also, it seems, related to the (re)constructedness of this site following its scheduling as a World Heritage Site and subsequent reconstructive management. This site is a powerful icon of contemporary Thai identity, embedded in and reinforced through the past of the Kymer civilization centred at Angkor. (Photo: W. Boyd.)

In a series of unpublished papers, another of my students, Ray Norman, illustrated the growth of cognitive ownership. His focus was on submissions to the Launceston City Council (Tasmania) in their planning of future use of a historic blacksmith shop, the Inveresk Blacksmith Shop. In one particular paper, entitled Does Place Make Culture or Do Cultures Shape Places?, written for presentation to the local National Trust branch in August 1999, he drew on the cognitive ownership model to demonstrate the richness of the place and what seemed to him to be the poverty of perspective on that richness embedded in the planning process (Norman 1999). He suggested that an audit of cognitive ownership would reveal the confluences and conflicts in ownership claims. On (p. 181) (p. 182) abandoning the notion that there can be a hierarchical structure to the ownership of place, he claimed that management can begin to work towards accommodating claims in the context of coexistent cognitive ownerships, resolving conflicts over usage and access, and establishing appropriate management plans and structures. Who are the Inveresk Blacksmith Shop's cognitive owners? Norman listed fourteen, including blacksmiths, others who have worked at the site, citizens and ratepayers of Launceston, railway enthusiasts, local industrial historians, other historians, tourism operators, academics, the Show Society, entrepreneurs, the City Council, and the museum and art gallery. Shortly after writing this list, Norman was proudly able to claim that the ‘Blacksmith shop gets 17 more cognitive owners’, as a group of year 11 and 12 students became engaged in the site as part of their school studies (cf. Figure 9.2).

Extending the horizons: cognitive ownership beyond cultural heritage

The concept of cognitive ownership is, it should be noted, not unique to archaeology and cultural heritage management. Before examining examples of its use in cultural heritage studies, it is of value to touch on its use elsewhere, allowing further insight into its value and nuances. The pragmatic field of environmental management, for example, is increasingly recognizing the value of community-based knowledge, that is other cognitive ownerships of environmental conditions and issues, and placing that body of knowledge next to more conventional and previously authorized professional forms of knowledge, science, and public governance (Fenton and Syme 1989; Martin and Lockie 1993; Dutton et al. 1997; Griggs 1999; Tripathi and Bhattarya 2004; Briggs 2006). Likewise, studies of geographical attachment (e.g. Raine 2001; Kaltenborn and Bjerke 2002; Kaltenborn and Williams 2002) recognize the power of diverse place cognitions.

The power of cognitive ownership in education is illustrated by many writers. Ebert et al. (1998: 47), for example, note that education can be passionate for the educator and the student because it ‘involves a mutual effort in the construction of knowledge and personal understanding that yields ownership—cognitive ownership’. They note that people will value those things in which they have a sense of ownership. In this context, we can see cognitive ownership of heritage and knowledge playing similar roles in establishing identity relationships with place and knowledge. Krueger's (2007) evaluation of problem-based learning in enhancing business students’ entrepreneurial thinking like-wise recognizes the cognitive ownership of learning inherent in problem-based learning as crucial in the process of entrepreneurship pedagogy, and instrumental in shifting the focus to higher-order relationships with knowledge. For meaningful development of entrepreneurs, Krueger asserts, such ownership enhances their understanding of their deep cognitive structures. The theme of moving learners from static to mobile engagements with networks of knowledge recurs: cognitive ownership makes learning become cooperative, and empowers students to ‘resist…the monopolizing of education imposed (p. 183) by hegemonic faculty’ (Rodríguez-Valls and Montes 2008: 16). Importantly, Rodríguez-Valls and Montes critique the modern university as ‘houses of knowledge instead of…homes for human and social development’, in a critique parallel to that inspiring my adoption of the concept of cognitive ownership, a critique that argues the need for ‘practices [to]…be contextualized in renewed…environments that promote awareness for diversity; a diversity that generates empathy for transcultural contexts defined by multidimensional views based on current practices’ (Rodríguez-Valls and Montes 2008: 16).

The importance of the role of cognitive ownership in defining identity and depth of cultural engagement is reinforced by two analyses of the colonial desire to control territory through the imposition of its own discourse—its emerging claim of cognitive ownership—mediated via the Western trope of cartography. Both Klein (1998) and Garuba (2001), for example, comment on the power of maps, in very different contexts, to control the representation of terrain, providing a direct challenge to local experience, and thus removing the terrain from the cognitive ownership of those who inhabit that terrain. This is the age-old habit of colonizing forces in redefining the geography and its expression as an enabling and disempowering force. Both Garuba's and Klein's examples reinforce the multiplicity of cognitive ownership and its potential power in understanding the interactions between cultural players at sites of cultural interactions, much as Bhabha (1994) explained the creation of cultural self-identity in parallel terms (Figure 9.4). Maps are well known to play such a role, and it is curious that my own initial discussions of the then-unnamed concept of cognitive ownership commenced with discussions of potential maps. Parman (1996), in reviewing Larry Wolff's book Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment, notes that ‘the term “map” in Wolff's title reflects the conception of maps not as positivistic descriptors but as social and ideological documents connoting political, economic, and cognitive ownership’. She notes the tradition of literature that ‘represents the cartographic equivalent of Michel Foucault's gaze conferring power’ (Parman 1996). Cognitive ownership of landscape and representation is contested: maps are noted for what they do and do not represent. Maps represent the outsider voice and the making of local voices and visions unheard and unseen. The ‘mapping’ of eastern Europe is part of the (western) European mapping and colonization of the world, and the continuing extension of the Enlightenment's agenda of controlling knowledge. In short, the mapping is the creation of new cognitive ownerships with important cultural and political implications.

Cultural heritage management as social engagement

How, then, has the model been used in cultural heritage studies? The following summarizes a range of cultural heritage studies that have largely or in part adopted the cognitive ownership model. Importantly, they transcend the time spectrum, spanning studies that might, conventionally, be described as archaeological, historical, ethnographic, or (p. 184) geographic, and whose emphasis lies along the spectrum from purely scholarly to fully applied, political, or managerial. This reflects, in large part, the emerging importance of understanding past places in contemporary terms and being able to apply contemporary forms of social and cultural critique to the analysis of the past. All archaeological and historical places are, simultaneously, heritage and geographical places (Figure 9.5). The issues that apply to the management of heritage refer equally to contemporary places as to ancient places.

Our original cognitive ownership studies in New South Wales and Queensland, Australia, considered a historic whaling station at Byron Bay, a historic shipwreck at Suffolk Park, an Aboriginal rock engraving site in Sydney, and an ancient Aboriginal midden complex north of Brisbane (Boyd et al. 1996). A common theme throughout these case studies was that in each case several interested parties can be identified, each with a characteristic claim of association with, or cognitive ownership of, the site. For each party, the site is understood to represent a point within a particular physical, social and political landscape. Identification of the individual interests and landscapes, and the relationship between parties, provided an often-complex picture of site ‘ownership’. It was argued, however, that unless these interests, landscapes, and relationships are fully understood, the cultural heritage management of each site will be founded only on partial understanding of the site, and will result in unsatisfactory solutions to management issues. This was emphasized by the then-continuing events surrounding the resolution of court proceedings associated with the Beachmere Aboriginal midden complex and proposed changes in land use (of which more later).

Several of my students subsequently drew on this model to evaluate cultural values and their historic development amongst contemporary communities. Notable amongst them were Taylor (1997), working with residents of the traditional (European) campground of Woody Head, and Lockland (1998), working with residents of the multiple occupancy community of Tuntable Falls, both in northern New South Wales, Australia. Both used the model to allow them to identify a diversity of underlying cultural meanings that people attached to the places, and that therefore influenced their sense of belonging and relationship with the place and its other residents. For many of the interviewees, the model provided for the first time a coherent frame for their sense of place.

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Figure 9.5 Ceremonial Aboriginal Bora Ring, Lennox Head, New South Wales, Australia. Originally set in a woodland, and presumably previously opened to some extent, bora rings are important ceremonial sites for some eastern Australian Aboriginal communities, known to have been significant gathering places for communal ceremonies. As such they do not only represent the ceremonial behaviour of individual culture or language groups, or specific aspects of cultural identity and life passage rituals underpinning the formation, creation, and continuity of social identity, but also represent important socio-geographical places. They provided a focus for gatherings of groups from different areas, often groups who would have met only on such occasions. Furthermore, they are located by clear and definitive rules, associated with other places of significance including song lines and other landscape features that formed a complex and integrated cultural landscape. They are now often destroyed, a result of more recent contact and post-contact social and landscape histories, including the reconstruction of this landscape as an agricultural landscape and, more recently, increasingly urbanized landscape. Where they survive, their landscape context is severely compromised for the most part. Their cognitive ownership likewise has shifted. While they retain significant cultural value and meaning to the local Indigenous people, the ritual and ceremonial activity is severely compromised. They have, however, acquired a political value, and provide powerful statements of identity and presence. In the meantime, local residents may or may not value such places, may adopt them for recreational reasons, while authorities such as national parks and local government officials assume, by legislated obligation, an interest. (Photo: W. Boyd.)

At around the same time, a colleague, the visual artist and academic John Smith, commenced an oral history project with a community in Botany Bay, Sydney, a community he was brought up in and in which his family had lived for four generations. Smith's (2005) Fisherman Village Project has evolved into what he calls a ‘cultural heritage retrieval project’, aimed to generate for the local museum ‘a multi-layered art and information package ranging from place-marking sculptural works through to digital outcomes…various hard copy formations…and community interfacing…[to] provide a range of outcomes across archival historical information as well as creative works’ (Smith 2005: 1). Smith developed opportunities to let people ‘hear the past and then speak the present’. What emerged was a rich record of history and geography, of cultural mapping and personal affirmation, of stories and myths, of exhibition and sensory (p. 185) (p. 186) engagement with the past, of documents and photography, of poetry, prose, and song writing, etc. Smith's agenda was to understand, in its fullest and most personal nature, the character of Fisherman Village. He engaged his own self, his family, residents past and present, libraries, museums, schools, place as persona, and so on. In all this, he was struck by the powerful sense of ownership of knowledge, and in a moving description, he described the power of the evolving nature of cognitive ownership:

I have also played and sung the Fisherman's Waltz [his own composition] with family members. One time when this happened I was on a trip away with a group from the family at a country hotel, playing and singing in the early hours of the morning out on the verandah. In this instance the last time we had shared the Fisherman's Waltz was as a spoken piece a couple of months before in my father's eulogy. However, this time one of my nephews indicated he had written his own music for it. He played it for me to sing and he’d changed it from a seaman's waltz to a ballad. As a ballad, it was a more contemporary piece of music and it was also a lot more moving, a lot more emotional. I was very taken by the way in which he had claimed a ‘cognitive ownership’ of the work and transformed it. (Smith 2005: 1)

Explicitly focusing on seeking any underlying meaning of a place, and tracking in the footsteps of Smith's work, Boyd et al. (2001a, 2001b) applied cognitive ownership concepts to an analysis of ‘The Scottish Town in Australia’, the town of Maclean in northern New South Wales. Maclean is a town that makes great claim of its Scottish historical identify in its defining contemporary corporate identification (Figure 9.6). The origins of this study, as an aside, reflect the potential for researchers’ own cognitive ownerships to be recognized as important. The research team in this case comprised myself, an expatriate Scottish Australian resident in Australia for nearly two decades, and colleagues Jane Gardiner and Maria Cotter, of mixed European ancestry but with claims of many generations as Australians. Our original conceptions of the Scottish town in Australia were diverse, and indeed the interaction of our differing perception of the town brought a richness to the study. By considering this civic identity from the perspective of different groups within the town, we concluded that the ‘emerging iconography of Maclean seeks to make a familiar past special through selective use of symbols and emblems…[and] has created a dreaming of Scottishness, Scotland and a locale in rural Australia . . .’ (Boyd et al. 2001a: 319). Interestingly, this emergence of a dreaming reflects a diversity of social and cultural inputs, in which ‘senses of history are adopted and adapted, and in which both related and seemingly unrelated social and cultural characteristics are reworked . . .’ (Boyd et al. 2001a: 319). Importantly, by considering different ownership groups, it became clear that the desired ownership is not necessarily reproduced: the youth of the town, for example, while accepting the cultural construction—and this is truly a constructed culture—chose to do so under their own terms, reconstructing the Scottishness in new ways.

‘A Frame to Hang Clouds on’Cognitive Ownership, Landscape, and Heritage ManagementClick to view larger

Figure 9.6 The Scottish town of Maclean, New South Wales, Australia. As with many rural Australian towns, Maclean has a history of settlement by several groups from Britain and, to a lesser extent, mainland Europe. Typically, farmer settlers arrived from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany. The history of this town is bound up with these communities, and is typically related to a nineteenth- and twentieth-century rural lifestyle. Maclean has privileged its Scottish origins over others in a relatively recent (1980s) reconsideration of its civic identity; while its citizens identify clearly as contemporary Australians, fabric and behaviour often revolved round a reconstructed and re-invented Scottishness; tartan and oatcakes abound, while the annual Highland Gathering is an important event in the Scottish calendar of Australia. Some accept this identification without question, while other, notably young, people redefine their identity, not necessarily deliberately, but founded on the presumption of Scottishness. (Photo: W. Boyd.)

‘A Frame to Hang Clouds on’Cognitive Ownership, Landscape, and Heritage ManagementClick to view larger

Figure 9.7 Peanut stooking, Alstonville, New South Wales, Australia. This curious form of farming, a historic hangover from settler days in northern New South Wales, has now ceased. Forming a distinctive landscape, it emerged as a significant component of local people's sense of ownership in this district. While our studies of this passing landscape have identified a rich history of social farming, and with it a sense of the cognitive ownership, much of that ownership seems to have been temporary or short-lived. There is still, however, a rich study to be made of the global links between this distinctly local landscape form, the behaviour that underlies it, and its potential origins in, in all likelihood, nineteenth-century Britain. (Photo: Angela Jones.)

Maintaining the theme of civic identity, but with a more overtly historical focus, Jane Gardiner (Gardiner and Knox 1996, 1997; Gardiner 1999) had previously published, as part of the local environmental planning processes, an in-depth study of the cultural significance of the rural town of Alstonville and its environs in northern New South (p. 187) (p. 188) Wales. By grounding the study on Johnston's (1994) social value methodology, data-gathering revolved around group and individual interviews and activities. Gardiner was able to demonstrate that people develop attachments to places through their use of these places over time. By valuing all participants’ inputs equally, that is recognizing their inherent cognitive ownership of the town, or at least aspects of the town, the study generated a list of culturally important places that was much wider than those in the various official registers, and included items such as local waterfalls, land activities such as peanut cultivation and stooking (Boyd and Gardiner 2005), public works, and landscape views (Figure 9.7). By broadening the expression of cultural heritage, notably by encouraging the community to express its own constructions of significance and value, several consequential outputs now contribute to the redefinition of the area's cultural heritage. These include a formal community heritage report, public talks, heritage tours, a heritage main street study, a heritage information board, successful application for listing on (p. 189) the National Trust heritage register, and the more recent opening of a restored historical house as a local museum. All have an impact upon the community and its respective memory and attachment to heritage items, and thus have redefined the public understanding and expression of the cultural heritage value of the area.

These studies were aimed at understanding cultural meaning and process, within either a social or a heritage agenda. Around the same time, Ellemore (1998) was examining and exploring constructions of place and their roles in the processes of natural resource management in Australia. Drawing on the case study of the Barmah-Millewa Forest, straddling the New South Wales–Victoria border, she applied several analytical approaches, including cognitive ownership studies. Her thesis demonstrated the important role of place and identity in constructions of contests over natural resource management and allocation. Her interest, in particular, focused on the differing relationships with place and natural resource held by the local Aboriginal people, non-Aboriginal rural communities engaged in the timber industry and in arable agriculture, and various government agencies. By exploring the ways in which these groups of cognitive owners construct conceptions of the forest, forest use, environmental knowledge, environmental change, and natural resource management, Ellemore was able to move beyond a theoretical cultural understanding of social process to identify the relationships of power that, in her view, surrounded and impeded the processes of natural resource management in the forest as meanings of the forest were negotiated and contested. Such environmental management analysis is valuable, and, Ellemore suggests, is important from a longer-term policy and management perspective: it facilitates an ‘understanding of the relationships between the different values and meanings ascribed to places/resources, different forms of knowledge, different [land] uses and opinions of management[, situating these] within the broader historical, political and cultural context [while r]elationships between different constructions of place…highlight the relationships of power that emerge as meanings are negotiated and contested’ (Ellemore 1998: 233).

Cognitive ownership as cultural politic

Political activism cannot ever be far below the surface where critiques of cultural processes are being enacted. Ellemore's study, for example, was published shortly before the local Aboriginal community's Native Title claim was defeated in the courts, despite a clear recognition, through her research, of significant cultural attachment—cognitive ownership—to the land in question. In discussing power as part of social and cultural construction, Ogborn (2003) notes that ‘power is involved in constituting identities…social relationships…and cultural geographies…[and that] active cultural construction of places, spaces and landscapes are part of relationships of unequal power between social groups’ (Ogborn 2003: 10). While Ellemore's research demonstrates the power of cognitive ownership, the native title outcomes equally reinforce (p. 190) the potential for power differentials. Elsewhere, social identity and institutional power differentials play out in Jones's (2004) account of the reconstruction and location of an inscribed Pictish stone from Hilton of Cadboll in Scotland. In this instance, ownership was claimed by both a national museum and the local community: who has primary ownership? Should the object be stored in a central museum or within the community? In this instance, a multiplicity of academic interests relate to the object as material evidence and symbolic object, potentially playing an important role in both representing the community and contributing to the community's sense of identity. The depth of this socio-political value, only identified if a cognitive ownership model is accepted as valid, is reported by Carman (2005: 113–14) in the following way: ‘As such it at once belongs to the community, is part of it and also constructive of it: as well as being conceived of as a living member of the community, the monument is also simultaneously an icon for the [community] as a whole…This extends into the monument's role in the construction of a sense of place, and indeed of reforging a “lost” sense of community cohesion…that can be “healed” (at least symbolically) by reuniting the two original pieces of the monument.’ This is a powerful politic, indeed.

In our original study, Cotter's work at the Beachmere Aboriginal midden was equally politicized, and equally represented the effects of power differentials. The focus of this study was a Land and Environment Court case, in which sites and landscapes that Cotter could clearly demonstrate have cultural and archaeological significance were being threatened by competing land uses, notably a plan to quarry coastal sediments (Cotter and Boyd 2001). The ensuing court case provided an ideal opportunity to account for the full range of cognitive ownership: everyone with an interest in the site has to register that interest formally within the court proceedings. At one count, over ninety cognitive owner groups were identified, reinforcing the complexity of cognitive interest in such sites. Cotter's analysis provided a valuable insight into the degree of complexity, and provided good evidence of the practical difficulties that courts may face in making a singular decision about a situation where there may be many nuances and relationships at play. Lane (1997) illustrates this difficulty well in his consideration of processes of Aboriginal engagement in the management of a (then) newly created World Heritage area in north Queensland. In demonstrating the limited ability of management to understand Aboriginal social organization and its relationship to land—in effect, management ignored the complexity of Aboriginal representation—Lane concluded that ‘because the management agency uncritically accepted the claims to a mandate for regional representation by one Aboriginal lobby group, this group was able to assume a dominant position in liaising with the management agency’ (Lane 1997: 308).

Following the conclusion of the Beachmere court proceedings—the site was not saved—we subsequently examined possible cultural causes for such an outcome (Boyd and Cotter 1999; Cotter and Boyd 2001). Again, we turned to the cognitive ownership concept, and investigated the roles of historical cognitive owners. Our question was this: Is there a cultural history that, cumulatively, amounts to a marginalization of particular places? We demonstrated that there is a crucial history of marginalization, expressed through verbal accounts (validation through repetition of terms such as ‘dismal (p. 191) swamps’), the limitation of land-use options, selective choice of low-grade land resource production, and repeated associations with cultural constructions of marginalized groups (convicts, Aboriginal people, poor farmers). ‘And so, at Beachmere, the ambivalence of a nineteenth century European observation of an alien land, the ambivalence of the relationships between planted alien pine trees and the soil in which they grow, the ambivalence of the late twentieth century construction of Aboriginality, and more, all negotiate the meaning of the Indigenous material heritage buried in the land observed, grown upon, and assigned Aboriginal (in)significance’ (Boyd and Cotter 1999: 108). We optimistically concluded that ‘the meaning(s) mirror cultural processes of construction and thus by attempting to identify the ambivalences, it is possible to enculture the cultural heritage, and come some way closer to rethinking the logics of causality and determinacy’ (Boyd and Cotter 1999: 108).

Around the same time, Norman was using the concept of cognitive ownership to tackle the planning of use of the Inveresk Blacksmith Shop in Launceston, Tasmania (discussed above). Importantly, he introduced the ideas to the local National Trust branch, with whom he worked again a couple of years later on projects associated, first, with local council plans to redevelop a local park (the Ockerby Initiative in 2002), and, secondly, a campaign to preserve a sixty-year-old street tree (cf. Figure 9.8). An important form of public engagement within the Ockerby Initiative was to conduct ‘an audit of the individuals and groups that have an attachment to, an interest in and feel a sense of ownership towards Ockerby Gardens’ (Norman 2002). In an unpublished leaflet outlining the street tree project entitled ‘Place Assessment—Community of Ownership and Interest’ Norman set out an agenda for the assessment:

To identify the tree's community of interest and the consequent layers of cognitive ownership attached to it, in order to:

  • develop a better understanding of how the tree and the place in which it stands are variously understood and imagined;

  • assist in developing an appropriate management strategy for the tree and the streetscape that fits the aspirations of the tree's/site's community of interest and ownership;

  • aid in the development of a strategy(ies) that takes account of the layers of community interest and ownership in respect to the tree, the streetscape, the neighbourhood community and the wider community. (Norman 2002)

‘A Frame to Hang Clouds on’Cognitive Ownership, Landscape, and Heritage ManagementClick to view larger

Figure 9.8 Jacaranda Avenue, Grafton, New South Wales, Australia. Trees often represent significant heritage sites: there are many famous trees associated with dramatic events in the past (such as hanging trees and explorer's trees) or significant development in a country's settlement. In terms of community ownership, however, street trees are often overlooked. The Jacaranda trees of Grafton, for example, form a significant community symbol: the town is regionally identified in the terms of these trees, and local celebrations and ceremonies have grown up around them. The annual Jacaranda Festival is a social highlight of the community. Association with such trees is often understated until some threat to them is posed: clearing a street such as Jacaranda Avenue would readily mobilize a diverse community, who, if necessary, would be able to articulate a diversity of opinions regarding the socio-cultural significance of these trees. (Photo: W. Boyd.)

He used this public activity to outline concepts associated with the model of cognitive ownership. In particular, he noted that ‘individuals and groups are likely to have multiple and overlapping layers of interest and ownership…[and that owners’] various interests will not always be complementary’ (Norman 2002: 1); he acknowledged that the statement is true for both the tree and its streetscape. Furthermore, he made it clear that assessment was subjective, but progressed to the overtly political statement that ‘in claiming an ownership the interested parties also need to accept reciprocal obligations to the place and others sharing their ownership and interest in place’ (Norman 2002: 1). (p. 192) It is interesting that such a claim of obligatory reciprocity is rare in cognitive ownership studies (cf. Carman 2005); indeed, I suspect it is, in reality, rare. In this study, Norman went on to identify a range of groups of owners, including various local and city resident groups, people who use the street, government and other risk assessors, council members, environmental activities and other interested people, and planners and legislators. Of course, the success of such as an approach is contextual. Carman (2005: 60) notes that ‘certain types of value are connected to particular types of owning institution’; the consequence is that certain types of critique of ownership will be politically more or less (p. 193) acceptable under various conditions. Norman (2009), in updating his continuing work in Tasmania, made the following comments about the relative success of such work: ‘it might be to do with…the ways bureaucrats do not welcome the concept of “ownership”. Sadly, they do not seem to see that with ownership comes obligation—perhaps the bit that's unwelcomed.’ He continued to note that two further audits were conducted, one for a historical graveyard and now a new park, and the other a historical street tree that the local government council wished to remove; the former audit ‘was ignored and derided…while the tree still stands’. In the meantime, despite community engagement, Norman commented that the blacksmith shop audit ‘just never got any consideration because the whole idea was bureaucratically repugnant’.

A continuing conclusion?

To close, it is helpful to consider what has not been explicitly examined yet. The concept of cognitive ownership, while reflecting the complexities of social construction theory, has tended to be couched in relatively simple pragmatic terms: observing behaviour and drawing categorization of individuals and groups engaging in a cultural place as a management tool. In some studies this has led to deeper understanding of cultural values, while in other studies to more pragmatic management or activist conclusions. In focusing on the pragmatics of recognizing multiple voices in cultural heritage, this chapter, therefore, does not primarily concern itself with the conceptual and political implications of such effects. I have not necessarily ignored this, however; although where I have addressed it, is has arisen indirectly from a theoretical consideration of the cognitive ownership model composed originally as a validation of the model (Boyd et al. 2005). Interestingly, and now in retrospect (the manuscript was completed in 2002), I find the conclusion to that paper resonant:

The argument, therefore, becomes liberating by accepting the legitimate right of multiple meanings as being representative of cultural heritage, and rejecting notions of essentialism in cultural heritage [comment: this is the pragmatic outcome]. It also accepts the fluidity and, at times, contradictory nature, of these constructions of meanings. It does these for good reason: by such acceptance, cultural heritage management should invariably become more inclusive and imaginative in its application…. By doing this, of course, management would be successfully subverting the constructed meanings, the meanings often built at the popular or subordinate edges of the mainstream society managing (and traditionally defining in limited essentialist terms) the cultural heritage. By doing so, it will invariably stimulate further construction of meaning. (Boyd et al. 2005: 110)

Cognitive ownership studies, therefore, have the capacity to extend beyond the pragmatic, and to provide opportunities to examine the modes of construction of cognitive ownership or the effects such construction has on cultural behaviour (print news media and cinema studies, for example, provide clear examples of the power of cultural construction: e.g. da Costa 2003; May 2003). Such an examination would yield valuable insights into the (p. 194) dynamic role and impacts multiple ownerships may have upon the social access and management of cultural places. Butler (2003: 119), for example, quotes a lawyer reflecting on a situation reported from Kansas, where the construction of the cultural act of burial is such that, in the lawyer's view, ‘dig up a white grave and end up in prison. Dig up an Indian grave and you will get a PhD’. Surely such an opinion must force us to consider the importance of understanding multiple cognitions of cultural places? Indeed, Carman's (2005) critique of heritage ownership delves more deeply into the implication of ownership, hinting at the potential dire possibilities, if multiple and community-base ownership—ownership as used here and not in the strictly legal and/or economic sense—is ignored (pp. 74, 76–7): ‘. . . the private ownership of cultural objects represents the appropriation of a collective cultural store of value [and] a sense of community for the enhancement of an individual's own status, which in turn denies the very purpose of promotion of objects to “heritage” status…The diversion of symbolic cultural value to a different purpose denies the heritage its full purpose…the concept of “my heritage” (but not yours) is a non-sequitur since any stock of heritage objects is always “ours” ’.

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