DFG-Project „Ringen ums Erbe. Heritage-Regimes und Rhetorik in Myanmar“

In Myanmar, a variety of actors refer to the term cultural heritage in their struggle for different and often antagonistic ideas of a future society. Since the 'opening' of the isolationist country in 2010/2011, issues like nation, state, civil society, religion, tourism and political culture are negotiated with reference to heritage. Due to declining censorship and surveillance, new spaces emerge for the articulation of criticism of and alternatives to the long-standing dominant national heritage regime, which disseminated an ideology of harmony in order to legitimize the extant power relations. Now it provides actors with a target as they postulate possibilities and directions for social change on the basis of heritage as well.

On the basis of Critical Heritage Studies, which consider cultural heritage as processual political practice, this project employs the methodology of rhetoric culture theory in order to work out the persuasive character of and the agonistic moment in the 'struggle' for sovereignty of interpretation over the past. The investigation of rhetorical strategies opens up the connection of governance, societal change, and the interplay of global and local discourses.

 The national heritage-regime and its contestations are examined in four empirical fields: (1) the anti-colonial and Buddhism-influenced nation-building by the state authorities; (2) the contested commemoration of independece hero Aung San; (3) the efforts of preserving colonial architecture and (4) the country's branding for international tourism. The dynamic interrelations of these four closely interwoven empirical fields illustrate the interaction of different economic, political and cultural interests. They also are reflected in the emergence of actors, in performative practices and compelling narratives. Moreover, the focus on this pluralistaion of culutral heritage practice promises a new understanding of the ongoing changes in Myanmar.

The project is based on anthropological long-term research in the former capital Yangon. Central methods are observation, interviews, and analyses of text, images, and audio recordings.