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On Keeping and Selling The Political Economy of Heritage Making in Contemporary Spain

Jaume Franquesa
Current Anthropology
Vol. 54, No. 3 (June 2013), pp. 346-369
DOI: 10.1086/670620
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/670620
Page Count: 24
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On Keeping and Selling


In recent years, heritage has become a hegemonic idiom helping to legitimize, but also resist, the gentrification and private appropriation of urban space in a global conjuncture dominated by neoliberal policies and voracious real estate pressures. Through the analysis of a conflict around a historical building in a gentrifying neighborhood in Palma (Spain), and drawing on recent contributions analyzing the processual character of cultural heritage as well as on Annette Weiner’s theoretical insights on inalienability, the article explores the economic logic that underpins this hegemonic character of heritage. My analysis shows that the loose articulation of developers, gentrifiers, preservationists, expert discourses, and municipal policies is made possible by and enforces an objectifying definition of heritage as an enclosed, incommensurable sphere. This definition, even if detrimental to individual developers, is consistent with the abstract yet differentiated space the marketization of the area requires. In an urban policy context characterized by progressively weaker regulations, this dominant discourse works as an unlikely arbiter capable of effecting a piecemeal, contingent coordination between the particular and general interests of developers, while diffusing the struggles of those actors who, by connecting heritage to everyday practices and to broader issues of political economy, may challenge those interests altogether.

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