Economics and cultural heritage: old issues and new challenges
Instinctively one would say that built cultural heritage is at the ‘core’ of cultural economics, being the most tangible expression of a community culture and identity. This does not seem to be the case. In spite of its numerous applications, raising issues of normative and positive analysis, cultural heritage has received a decreasing attention in cultural economics, especially in most recent years. In contrast, bibliometric evidence shows a bourgeoning specific investigation in other social sciences such as sociology, geography, management. One wonders why the economic analysis of heritage seems to have passed its momentum. Instead, the scattered evidence emerging from the field, e.g. the enlargement of the scope of heritage both at international and national level, the increasing attention of international organizations for its effects on sustainable development, the high appreciation of the general public or the extensive presence of heritage on the Internet, seems to point to a different direction, suggesting an increasing interest for heritage and its role for society. The economists’ disregard may appear rather myopic.
This presentation offers some thoughts on this topic from a public economic perspective, suggesting that new interesting insights for policy-making can originate from the economic analysis of the ‘glocal’ features of cultural heritage. A multidisciplinary approach is called for to grasp the implications of heritage for society’s wellbeing. Heritage is place-bound. It results from a public decision-making process that constructs meanings through time and reflects the changing weight of memories as well as the potential related conflicts, especially in increasingly multi-ethnic societies. Concepts such as social capital, trust, identity deserve attention. Useful hints can be ‘borrowed’ by the literature on the effects of culture on economic and political outcomes, and by behavioural economics, on the one hand, and by the contributions of geography, cultural studies, psychology and sociology, on the other hand.
Heritage policies are a longstanding political economic issue and their investigation has to take into account also the new challenges deriving by the development of information and communication technologies. Technological changes shape the decision-making process, enhancing the importance of its institutional features, impact on the sustainability of heritage policies and have significant distributional effects among individuals, social groups and geographical areas. Whether the claimed ‘democratization’ brought about by technology overall improves outcomes is an open question. New policy ‘recipes’ are required which may benefit from the contribution of cultural economists willing to challenge themselves with a truly multidisciplinary approach.