Re-examining conservation precepts - implications for conservation eductation
Scott, Marcelle; Smith, Catherine Ann
The cross-cultural and interdisciplinary nature of cultural materials conservation has been a prominent feature of the field’s discourse in recent decades. However, in considering the cross-cultural aspects of conservation practice, the authors and others have argued that conservators’ consultation and collaboration with community groups and indigenous people is frequently mediated by others (see for example Smith and Scott 2009, Edmonds and Wild 2000). In practice, much interdisciplinary activity in conservation to date could be critically described as multidisciplinary, characterized by Petrie (1976, 9) as a situation where ‘…everyone [does] his or her thing with little or no necessity for any one participant to be aware of any other participant’s work.’ More recently, conservation as a social act has gained prominence in the literature. In the introduction to the book Conservation: Principles, Dilemmas and Uncomfortable Truths, Richmond and Bracker acknowledge that conservation ‘is a socially constructed activity with numerous public stakeholders and those of us who act in the name of conservation do so ‘on behalf of society’ (2009, xvi–xiv). Global concerns of sustainability, often discussed in terms of environmental, economic and social impacts, are now fundamental to conservation decision-making. In 2000 the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material (AICCM) introduced a new clause into the code of ethics to acknowledge the potential for conservation practices to negatively impact the environment, one of the few professional codes internationally to do so, although presumably this will change in the near future. In previous research by the authors (Smith and Scott 2009), members of the AICCM and the New Zealand Conservators of Cultural Materials Pu Manaaki Kahurangi (NZCCM) were surveyed on their views of the respective bodies’ codes. While the majority of respondents did consider the new clause important, a number were not sure that the clause itself had influenced practice. It was suggested that the changes which had occurred were as a result of general shifts in private and social philosophies and actions. While certainly reflecting a widely held opinion of the broader population, the AICCM acknowledgement of environmental impact is one of the few statements that translate personal practice into the professional conservation canon. These examples of the ways in which the field’s precepts and accepted norms are described, contested, advanced and refined demonstrate a change in focus and an expanding role for conservation, beyond the material and the single object focus. Drawing on the ICOM-CC 2011 conference theme this paper seeks to contribute to the burgeoning discussion calling for a broader, more inclusive role for conservation. The authors concur with the view that the future relevance and sustainability of conservation is dependent on a re-evaluation of our professional precepts, ethics, and working practices to more fully embrace and reflect interdisciplinary and cross-cultural ways of working, and that conservators must locate our practice within overarching global issues of poverty, human rights, ethics, climate change and sustainability. As more and more members of the conservation community are actively calling for broader engagement then it behoves educational programmes to incorporate these elements into the curriculum. This paper considers the implications of this changing role for conservation pedagogy.
Conference: 16th Triennial ICOM-CC Conference, Lisbon, Portugal
Keywords: Material culture; Conservation education
Research Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)