Heritage and Environment

An ancient architectural-style archway contrasts with the modern buildings behind it.How can humanity – with its culture, heritage and history – arrive at a more open, non-destructive and equitable relationship with nature in the 21st century, and what happens if we fail?

Our planet's natural environment and cultural heritage face unprecedented human-induced threats at a time when they are the subject of unprecedented human fascination, devotion, exploitation and commercial marketing. Our research seeks a stronger grasp of society's conflicted relationship with its cultural and natural environments. It aims to enact a scholarship that generates the conceptual tools and policy alternatives needed for sustainable living. Our research on heritage and the environment is distinctive in meshing expertise in those fields with the Institute's key specialisations in cultural analysis, digital life, urban studies, cultural diversity and globalisation.

There is a pressing need to understand better how people interact with and value the heritage and nature that they encounter in everyday life. A new collaborative alliance of cultural and environmental expertise and a new sensibility is needed to shape this understanding of our world. Our research takes us into communities and diverse field sites in order to advance knowledge on, for example, the new role of Aboriginal people in managing Country, the ways in which visitors to major heritage sites construct and remember Australia's past, and how Australia's immigration history brings into being 'transnational heritages' linking Australia with China, Lebanon, the Sudan, England and other places.

As researchers and knowledge brokers, we are committed to helping organisations and practitioner communities in environmental/heritage conservation to adjust and innovate in the face of rapidly changing global contexts. We are, for example, examining the 'crisis' in World Heritage governance brought on by the rise of Asia and the Global South, coupled with the explosion of tourist numbers in those regions.  We are also assisting government in assessing the social value of heritage places and landscapes, and studying the place-making dynamics and anticipatory action of a range of state and non-state actors in Antarctica.

Of central concern to Heritage and Environment theme work is finding ways to transcend the culture-nature divide that has long institutionalised a stand-off between our species and the rest of sentient nature. Our research is thus oriented toward the interplay of socio-ecological, human and more-than-human agency.

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