Accepted paper:

Negotiating decay: exploring the temporal and material paradoxes of heritage conservation


Sian Jones (University of Manchester)
Thomas Yarrow (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores the temporal and material paradoxes of heritage conservation. It is shown to be a complex process involving diverse temporalities of practice and competing visions of the object of conservation ‘in’ and ‘out’ of history.

Paper long abstract:

The modern conservation movement emerged in response to new ways of relating to the past in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Whilst, significant destruction of historic landscapes produced a desire to secure and even restore material remains, the Romantic Movement led to a preoccupation with ruination, decay, and the historic monument as temporal 'witness'. In Britain, enthusiastic restoration in the first half of the nineteenth century was replaced by an ethos of 'preservation as found', which became the foundation of conventional conservation philosophy. However, the relationship between material remains and temporal processes of change and decay remain a fundamental problem. In this paper, we explore how the paradox of securing the past whilst changing it is dealt with in conservation practice. Drawing on collaborative ethnographic research with Historic Scotland, we argue that conservation is a complex process in which practitioners grapple with the stability and instability of the objects they work with. Conservation principles pre-suppose an ontology of monuments and buildings as stable unified objects of intrinsic value. However, unruly forces of erosion and deterioration, as well as complex histories of modification and former campaigns of conservation, provide sources of instability and disorder that practitioners are acutely aware of. Relations between past and present thus emerge as a central problem in regard to both the objects of conservation and the practices surrounding them. We examine how diverse temporalities of practice are negotiated, and show how competing visions of the object of conservation 'in' and 'out' of history co-exist.

panel P55
Ruined bodies and aging buildings: architecture, oblivion, decay