Sustaining the Human Artefact: Towards a Normative Theory of Historic Conservation
My research aims to use the resources of contemporary analytic philosophy to lay the groundwork for a normative theory of the practice in which I am professionally engaged, viz. the conservation of historic buildings and the ‘historic environment’ or ‘built heritage’. Taking as its starting-point the field’s existing corpus of theoretical writing – from the early reflections of Ruskin and Riegl to the statements of principle issued by contemporary heritage organisations and the critiques launched by scholars in heritage studies – it asks what a philosophical approach can add to, and how it might attempt to problematise, the forms of understanding embodied in this literature. Drawing upon recent philosophical work in meta-ethics (theory of values and reasons), political theory (public reason, liberal neutrality and historical injustice) and environmental philosophy, it then attempts, while keeping in view the innate contestedness of heritage and the power-relations it embodies, to sketch a philosophical account of the value[s] of the historic built environment and the rationale for its conservation.