ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

International heritage expertise and the weaponisation of the rhetoric of diversity in Nepal


Viswanath Raghavi - European University Institute, Law, Firenze, Italy
Wiseman Jessica - European University Institute, Law, Firenze, Italy


47 – Recent Cultural Heritage Initiatives in Nepal and the Himalayas


 It is widely acknowledged that international cultural heritage policy has long-perpetuated neo-colonial, Eurocentric norms. In response, those responsible for drafting new heritage policy have come to justify their work in language that centres local communities and invokes broader definitions of heritage. This paper examines the extent to which such discursive reformulations are matched by action on the ground. By way of a case study, we zoom in on Nepal and the flurry of international heritage responses implemented following the 2015 Gorkha earthquake. We show that despite rhetorical claims to the contrary, most of these interventions remain staunchly affiliated with Eurocentric modes of heritage protection. They fail to engage local communities in a meaningful way and instead prioritize heritage conservation and economic benefits. We surmise that a key reason for this dissonance is the monopolizing influence of an exclusive group of international experts on the character of heritage policy in Nepal. These actors perpetuate what Smith calls the “authorized mode of heritage protection”, which prioritizes a depoliticized reading of material “authenticity,” not least because their own disciplinary backgrounds and career prospects incentivize such. Using sociolegal evidence, we argue that for heritage protection to honor its commitment to embrace diversity and move beyond its Eurocentric bounds, critical reflexivity at the highest levels of policy making is necessary.