Heritage, Indigeneity and Sustainability

Taking disciplinary pluralism as our starting point, we examine the concepts of heritage, indigeneity and sustainability as categories of critical enquiry, fields of practical and political contestation, and terms of increasing importance within international discourse today. Among our membership are scholars with expertise and interests that engage one or more of these conceptual fields. Critical concerns of heritage, indigeneity and sustainability come together in debates about governance, identity, inequality, sovereignty, place-making, post-conflict reconstruction, representation and social memory. We pursue multidisciplinary interests in material and visual culture.


Our aim

We seek to understand why and how the boundaries between the social/physical, human/non-human, and material/non-material are now changing in distinct ways. We aim to shed light on the ways the concepts with which we work elicit contestation and dissonance, as well as aspirations for different modes of being in the world today. Vital questions follow in relation to the Anthropocene, post-human politics or the future of cities.

Our enquiries connect the past with the present, and lead to questions of imagined and sustainable futures. We are committed to situating knowledge and expert practices within wider critical readings of empire, civilisation and new forms of colonialism, as well as encounters between indigenous, settler-colonial, and migrant approaches to place, landscape and environment.


Our key questions

  1. How can the complexity of 21st century urban life be negotiated in light of the challenges posed by the 'revenge' of nature, such as climate change, as rapid socio-cultural-religio changes in urban societies?

  2. What forms of invisible and visible cultural destruction impact identity politics, the preservation of memory and result in new configurations of power, privilege and powerlessness?

  3. To what degree do contemporary globally roaming institutions reinforce Western modernist discourses of nature/culture? How successfully have non-metropolitan and post-colonial thinking unsettled structures of governance founded on European claims of universalism?

  4. How can we conceive of alternative frameworks for human/non-human relationships that more productively address our current ecological crises?

  5. How can interdisciplinary approaches to culture be applied to excavate new insights from global meta-narratives (including, but not limited to, sustainability, transnational politics and nature building, religion and identity politics and reconceptualising human/nature relations)?

  6. In what way do trends in international law and intellectual property law contribute to the safeguarding of heritage or create new vulnerabilities for indigenous/local knowledge and cultural practices?

Our research sub-themes

Nature-Cultures

This theme explores the challenges associated with developing worldviews based on post-human, deep ecological and nature religion perspectives that destabilise human-centred conceptions of nature and culture.

In the face of rapid socio-technical change, the drive to conserve both nature and culture in their most pristine forms has never been stronger. The meaning of 'the environment' is changing fundamentally: is it a well-defined system or a shifting network, constantly altering humanity's relation to it? The definition of 'culture' also changes when old ways of thinking regarding human stewardship of the planet no longer hold true.

Material Culture and Knowledge Practices

This theme undertakes material culture studies in order for us to construct histories in text and in practice. We use today's knowledge practices within histories of colonialism, nation-state formation and transnationalism. We explore the encounter between modern/western, orientalist and indigenous approaches to landscape, environment and material culture.

The ascendancy of architecture, archaeology, history, art history and anthropology give rise to particular intellectual and governmental structures today. Their ways of understanding heritage and culture have created experts, policy, governmental and non-governmental institutions and advisory agencies, which fashion knowledge and methods into new instruments of cultural and social governance.

Heritage Politics and Cultural Institutions

We explore the various ways culture and heritage are politicised and politically constituted in the face of rapid environmental and social change. We take heritage and culture broadly to include themes such as religion, indigenous culture, art and cultural sector institutions. We emphasise awareness of the political essence throughout.

Focusing attention on institutions also addresses the key challenge of cultural governance and cross-cultural relations. We look at the relationships between intangible heritage and law, creative culture and socio-economic development, material culture and international relations, and the role of culture in shaping new forms of citizenry.

Sustainability and Urban Life

This theme focuses on the vitality of urban life energising global development agendas that promote its sustainability. While driving programs and practices for development and change in cities, the resultant meanings, values, affects and underlying principles are less clear.

The vitality of urban life in local places that is attuned to diversity in cultural, religious and historical contexts provides the potential to be inclusive of the needs of the poor, ethnic/ethno-religious minorities, women, indigenous peoples and other marginalised groups. However, they tend to treat ‘nature’ as a backdrop. To think about the vitality of urban life we broaden the concept of sustainability and seek to answer some fundamental questions around sustaining urban life.

Our key projects

Below are current research projects being led by researchers who are members of this stream.

Cool Living Heritage in Qatar: Sustainable alternatives to air-conditioned urban development

In response to the rapid uptake of air conditioning in Qatar and across the Gulf, this project seeks to promote more culturally and environmentally sustainable form of urban development through the revival of a ‘cool living heritage’. For most countries around half of all carbon emissions come from building, and in Qatar and throughout the Gulf a significant proportion of that energy consumption is associated with electronic cooling. Addressing such issues, this project’s interdisciplinary methodology will first integrate a diverse array of material culture designs – spanning architecture, furniture, clothing, fanning and gardens – with examples of everyday customs, habits and social practices from Arab culture.

Learn more about this project

Hazards, culture and Indigenous communities

The natural hazard sector is broadening its agenda to prioritise disaster resilience, including a greater emphasis on community engagement, and the risk and resilience issues of culturally diverse peoples. Industry priorities for this work include: to reduce hazard risk to these groups; to increase resilience in these groups and the wider community; to meet societal and policy expectations about cultural engagement; and to broaden the knowledge base utilised in natural hazards management. However, this is a complex cultural context to navigate, not least with respect to Indigenous peoples living in southern Australia.

Learn more about this project

Place and displacement in Aboriginal Australia: A Warlpiri visual cultural enquiry

At a time of social turbulence and hyper-mobility, this project examines Aboriginal people’s transforming relationships to place. From ancestral places, to the nation and beyond, it analyses how Warlpiri people of central Australia have pictured themselves in a changing world. 

Learn more about this project

Solving challenges that threaten international heritage conservation

This nationally funded Australian Research Council Discovery project is developing recommendations for solving challenges that threaten international heritage conservation.

In this project we're developing recommendations for solving challenges that threaten international heritage conservation. We're responding to the current crisis in international heritage conservation at a time of shifting global power. The flagship of heritage conservation, the world heritage system, faces multiple pressures and agendas that endanger sites and politicise decision-making at all levels from local to global.

This project focuses on four iconic sites:

  • Abu Simbel
  • Angkor
  • Bagan
  • Sumatran rainforests.

We hope to reveal how pressures have grown and shifted since World War II, how they operate at multiple scales and what new expertise might be introduced. 

This research is funded by ARC Discovery. Our investigators include Professor Tim Winter, Dr Brett Bennett and Professor Lynn Meskell.

Exploring the relationship between urban development and religion

This nationally funded Australian Research Council Discovery project is developing recommendations for solving challenges that threaten international heritage conservation.

This project argues that religion influences urban development in India and must inform policy. India's scale and speed of urbanisation makes its sustainable urban development critical globally, yet modernist urban planning has failed to address slum growth, poverty, gender inequality and ecological crises.

Using interviews, archival research and fieldwork in six walled cities that clearly display the interactions of religion and modernity, our project will show how religion also shapes these issues and must be part of their solution. It will also show how religion impacts power relations in planning and how engagement with religion can lead to the development of planning policies that respond to the needs of cities.

This research is funded by ARC DECRA and investigated by Dr Yamini Narayanan.

Heritage Destruction in Iraq and Syria

This project sets out to document and interpret the heritage destruction that has occurred in Iraq and Syria following the Iraq War of 2003, the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011 and particularly since the rise of the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and Syria’ (ISIS).

Each of these events have triggered mass humanitarian tragedies and also proved fatal for many of the world’s most invaluable cultural heritage sites.

This project seeks to measure and interpret this heritage destruction over two distinct phases. The first phase concerns the period of US occupation in Iraq from 2003-2011. It documents the heritage destruction done not only by occupational forces but also by various terrorist groups and sectarian militias.

The second phase focuses on both Iraq and Syria after the onset of the Syrian civil war and the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, both in 2011. While several key actors have conducted large scale heritage destruction, the primary focus will be on the havoc unleashed by ISIS on various heritage sites.

This research is funded by ARC DECRA and investigated by Dr Benjamin Isakhan.

Our books

The Legacy of Iraq Associate – Professor Benjamin Isakhan

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Religion, Heritage and the Sustainable City – Dr Yamini Narayanan

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The Sweetland Project: Remembering Gallipoli in the Shire of Nunawading – Dr Steven Cooke

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Shanghai Expo – Professor Tim Winter

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Contact us

Research Chair Of Cultural Heritage 
Professor Tim Winter
+61 3 9251 7110
Email Professor Winter

Associate Professor (Research) 
Melinda Hinkson
+61 3 9244 3837
Email A/Prof. Hinkson

Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation
Faculty of Arts and Education
Deakin University
221 Burwood Highway
Burwood, Victoria 3125