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Cultural landscapes: exploring local people's understanding of cultural practices as “heritage”

Elena Settimini (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan, Italy)

Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development

ISSN: 2044-1266

Article publication date: 3 November 2020

Issue publication date: 14 May 2021




A vital testimony of human presence landscape is recognised and protected by international, national and local documents as an identity resource and one of the factors that contribute to the identity building processes (UNESCO, 1994; European Landscape Convention, 2000). The validation of landscape as cultural heritage presents not only new challenges but also opportunities for the heritage sector. In fact, a landscape plays a dual role: as part of the cultural heritage, which has to be preserved for its values, and as a “living” site, where individuals and groups live and work. This implies that the acknowledgement of its cultural significance should not be exclusively determined on the basis of discipline-driven frameworks and benchmarks but should rather be the result of a shared awareness within local communities.


Through the analysis of the vineyard landscape of Langhe-Roero and Monferrato (Italy), the author discusses how the selection of a World Heritage site driven by “outstanding universal values” risks presenting a top-down approach to heritage processes.


In this article, the author explores how people living in this cultural landscape articulate their understandings of heritage values, and she addresses issues concerning their participation in decision-making processes, questioning whose values and meanings do the “outstanding universal value” legitimise or not.


What the author argues is that the World Heritage listing's focus on extraordinary values risks constructing heritage around a consensus that privileges only some actors, whose voices and stories enliven the prestige of the wine production of this cultural landscape, omitting other values, memories and practices from the identity and meaning making processes. Does the identification and representation processes validated through World Heritage status capture how a landscape is understood by individuals and groups living within it? If not, how do these differences affect people's engagement? A further point of discussion is whether individuals and groups want to be engaged in decision-making processes and on which terms.



This article is based on her PhD research at the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester. First and foremost, the author would like to thank her supervisor, Professor Lisanne Gibson, for her steady guidance and encouragement. Through hard work and compelling discussions, she provided invaluable direction and helped me envisioning ways to address this research. A special thanks to the people the author met during her fieldwork and who shared their stories and perspectives with her. Finally, the author would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their constructive criticisms and suggestions.


Settimini, E. (2021), "Cultural landscapes: exploring local people's understanding of cultural practices as “heritage”", Journal of Cultural Heritage Management and Sustainable Development, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 185-200.



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