GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Transnational Desire and Hybrid Heritage in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi: Towards a Critical Approach
Paper Proposal Text :
Within its plans to diversify the economy by 2030 Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, is seeking to position itself as a significant cultural centre through the development of the heritage industry. Contemporary developments are situated within a desire to modernise and at the same time retain traditional aspects of Gulf-Arab lifeways. This is reflected within the way that heritage is developing within the Emirate. Abu Dhabi is creating a heritage industry through the redevelopment of selected existing heritage sites within the city, along with the establishment of a new cultural quarter on Saadiyat Island, which will see the creation of two major 'Western' heritage franchises - the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim. These heritage developments play a central role within the Emirate’s plans to develop a world-class cultural tourism sector within Abu Dhabi. The aim is to both; preserve, protect and promote the past, and at the same time position themselves as an important transnational hub for international cultural tourism. This has led to a unique developmental approach towards heritage and tourism within the Emirate, challenging the often taken for granted notion that heritage is specific to particular societies and cultures by highlighting its increasingly transnational forms. Within this process we can observe a key contemporary phenomenon relating to the transnationalisation of heritage in the franchising of particular museums and galleries, developed within particular socio-economic contexts as global heritage institutions.

A key concern then becomes understanding how autochthonous heritage - that which is formed or originating in the place where it is found - and franchised heritage - the distribution of heritage through a legal relationship between two parties: the franchiser (heritage organisation) and the franchisee (in this particular case the Abu Dhabi Government) - combines to create something qualitatively new, a hybrid heritage. This paper will seek to provide a theoretical discussion of the development of hybrid heritage within Abu Dhabi presenting a critical exploration of the social, political and economic implications of using heritage in this manner. This will be achieved by exploring the manner in which Abu Dhabi is developing its heritage locally in partnership with UNESCO, nationally in the partnership with the British Museum, and transnationally in partnership with the Louvre in order to present itself as both a traditional and modern state. Arguing that it is Abu Dhabi’s transnational outlook and desire for international recognition that is in-effect leading to the creation of this hybrid heritage environment. Suggesting that it is the possession of certain types of cultural heritage as opposed to the way of life that it safeguards that is increasingly seen to be an instrument of modernisation and a mark of modernity. Ultimately suggesting that the franchisation of heritage is re-shaping the way the heritage canon is presented developing within non-Western models. What becomes important is the transformative power of the ‘idea of the past’, in the contemporary world, that impacts how heritage is used within diverse transnational contexts.