The Decorated Farms of Hälsingland in transition - a study of a World Heritage process in Hälsingland
On July 1st, 2012 seven agricultural properties in Gävleborg County in the province of Hälsingland, in Sweden were approved and inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list under the collective name “Decorated Farms of Hälsingland” (hälsingegårdarna). The thesis describes and discusses the processes and negotiations that arose in connection with a number of events and actors who showed an interest in these properties and other cultural environments being nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage list. Adding natural or cultural objects to the World Heritage list often involves long-term cooperation between actors who in different ways exhibit interest and involvement in such a process.
The efforts to nominate hälsingegårdarna to the World Heritage list began in the mid-1990s with support from different project including restoration activities, information campaigns and exhibitions. With the process, the farms and the brand Hälsingegårdarna were expected to fulfil a variety of features, including branding and as a symbol for the whole region.
The thesis describes and analyses two parallel processes in the work with hälsingegårdarna. One is a regional support process initiated by the Regional Council of Gävleborg aimed at preparing, marketing and promote the prospective World Heritage nomination in connection with development perspectives. Within the framework of a project which was entitled “Hälsingegårdarna – Kulturarv och Utveckling” (Hälsingegårdarna: Cultural Heritage and Development) the work with a local anchoring process took place. The other process was a bureaucratic one which included work with the nomination process, written documentation and the selection of which farms to include. This work was guided by formal regulations in the Swedish administrative system and UNESCO processing forms and ideals.
The empirical data shows that the definitions, use, and management of this cultural capital took place within the context of specific social orders and bargaining games in which questions of definition of rights and interpretative prerogative were important. The analytical processing is based on a theoretical framework where concepts such as symbolic capital and social fields are key tools. These concepts are derived from theories developed by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.
The World Heritage work within Gävleborg County has been driven mainly from two different positions of strength. On the one hand, a developmentoriented position where stakeholders in the tourism sector with the aid of a World heritage site attempted to increase their financial revenues. Some actors in this position also had a regional political agenda with ambitions to reverse a negative trend of emigration, rising unemployment and falling property values.
On the other hand, there was a position oriented towards preservation in which cultural values were a claim to form a symbolic capital not subject to demands for utility or financial returns from various social actors.
The two positions created a variety of discourses articulating both cultural resources and economic development, and were played out in negotiations around the hälsingegårdarna and their world heritage status.
The social fields in which players seek positions are in many respects shaped around a hierarchical management structure that defines regulations and legislation in the areas of cultural environment and world heritage. Various formal regulations in the preservation of international cultural environments created space for negotiations and various struggles between participating actors. An example is when the arguments for conservation, management and use of cultural heritage sites are adapted to a broader development discourse in which cultural values are assumed to be converted into financial resources for competing interests in an open market.
The World Heritage issue in Gävleborg shows that a regional and comprehensive cultural or natural phenomenon, nominated for the World Heritage list, may spawn disagreements which are not necessarily accentuated in relation to the UNESCO requirements demanding local support. One incentive for concealing conflicts and local tensions is concern among stakeholders that open conflicts may lead to a questioning of the nomination.
In the World Heritage process, we can also detect signs of a dichotomy between a centre and a periphery, between urban life and rural and local economic needs. The work on hälsingegårdarna was by many actors described as a topdown project and this has, therefore, also led to conflicts. In other words, the initiative, nomination work and the local anchoring process have mainly been prompted by regional authorities, and local and private interests have been invited to participate in the processes as recipients of planning, resource allocations and decisions.
These circumstances provide scope for questions about how power relations are associated with cooperation and common goals in relation to the region’s development. The interplay between the various actors in the development project “Hälsingegårdarna – kulturarv och utveckling” can also be seen as an interaction between actors at various levels of society. In projects funded by regional development funds, different actors often have given roles and positions. Officials and politicians manage resources, administer and take crucial decisions while individuals and non-profit organizations often take on the role of the executive party. Such a project-culture involves a test of positions, creating a playing field in which stakeholders are struggling for resources, recognition and interpretative prerogatives.
Hälsingegårdarna and their World Heritage status were also highlighted on the basis of an overall regional strategic discourse on values. This deals with questions about growth and development, inter alia by encouraging strong business life in the region. Increasing number of businesses and job opportunities in the so-called cultural branches of business and in this way appearing attractive to different kinds of establishment is an important goal. In such a perspective, hälsingegårdarna and the World Heritage fit in well, because these phenomena are closely linked to culture, business and tourist enterprises. They are even linked to themes where knowledge is important, such as in architecture, ethnology, art history and building.
Although the hälsingegårdarna are local in the sense that they are located in one place and provide livelihood opportunities in local society, local needs tend to given less emphasis, when these farms become part of a regional development strategy. The impact of such a move will have additional strength when, with support from UNESCO, the entire process becomes part of a globalized economy. When hälsingegårdarna are constructed as a “strategic resource” at regional, national and global levels, positions are defined in novel ways.
While the interest and involvement in history and the heritage of places and their environments has increased, values in relation to such heritages and their history will also become integrated into policy areas linked to regional development. Hence, when the World Heritage issue appeared in Gävleborg, many actors considered this to be an opportunity to link this to various conceptions of development.
This study of the process of hälsingegårdarna and their world heritage nomination shows how local mobilization can be developed in conjunction with a World Heritage nomination, where individual and organized actors at local and regional levels encounter a management culture which promotes and monitors bureaucratic and formal aspects of world heritage.
The region of Gävleborg is slowly abandoning a resource-based industrial economy, adapting to an experience economy where supply and demand for cultural services increases. Many actors in Gävleborg consider the nomination process as a tool to adapt to this structural transformation. At the same time, there have been signals from national cultural policymakers regarding restrictions on new environments and objects to be nominated for World Heritage status. Hälsingegårdarna have come to be seen as an important tool for organizing the region’s development interests as well as a contested symbol in the interaction between the actors involved, where each farm has its own unique career as a private residence, a production unit or as part of the tourist industry.
The results point out that the farms of Hälsingland and the World Heritage nomination evolve into a strong driving force in organizing regional interests and regional competition. The distribution of influence and power between different networks and actors was in many respects a matter of asserting the right to define what the process was all about and about identities in the social field. The study highlights the importance of social and cultural capital in encounters and negotiations at different levels of society, from local festivals and exhibitions to meetings between representatives from the provincial government, the regional museum and outside experts.