Retaining character

Heritage conservation and the logic of continuity

in Social Anthropology/Anthropologie sociale
Thomas Yarrow Durham University

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In anthropology and beyond, discussions of character have more often focused on this as a quality of human subjects rather than of the material world. How is character figured as a quality of historic buildings, monuments and places? I situate this question through an ethnographic focus on conservation professionals in Scotland, tracing the practices through which ‘character’ is recognised, understood and conserved. My account explores the practices and dispositions through which practitioners attune themselves to this quality, and highlights the role character plays in resolving a central dilemma for conservation: how things can remain as they are, even while changing. This ethnographic focus questions some of the materially essentialist analytic frameworks that have prevailed in literatures on both conservation and character, while highlighting forms of practice that are elided more than illuminated by countervailing deconstructive approaches to these topics: actions, ideas and commitments that stem from heritage professionals’ own sense of character as ‘in‐built’.

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