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Retaining character: heritage conservation and the logic of continuity

Yarrow, Thomas

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In anthropology and beyond, discussions of character have more often focused on this as a quality of human subjects rather than of the material world. How is character figured as a quality of historic buildings, monuments and places? I situate this question through an ethnographic focus on conservation professionals in Scotland, tracing the practices through which ‘character’ is recognised, understood and conserved. My account explores the practices and dispositions through which practitioners attune themselves to this quality, and highlights the role character plays in resolving a central dilemma for conservation: how things can remain as they are, even while changing. This ethnographic focus questions some of the materially essentialist analytic frameworks that have prevailed in literatures on both conservation and character, while highlighting forms of practice that are elided more than illuminated by countervailing deconstructive approaches to these topics: actions, ideas and commitments that stem from heritage professionals’ own sense of character as ‘in‐built’.


Yarrow, T. (2018). Retaining character: heritage conservation and the logic of continuity. Social Anthropology, 26(3), 330-344.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 20, 2018
Online Publication Date Aug 7, 2018
Publication Date Aug 7, 2018
Deposit Date May 22, 2018
Publicly Available Date Aug 8, 2018
Journal Social Anthropology
Print ISSN 0964-0282
Publisher Berghahn Journals
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 26
Issue 3
Pages 330-344


Published Journal Article (129 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cite.

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