Featured People: Sophia Labadi

Dr. Sophia Labadi received the 2008 Cultural Policy Research Award for her work evaluating the socio-economic impacts of selected regenerated heritage sites in Europe. Using four case studies from the UK, France and Poland, Sophia's research Evaluating the socio-economic impacts of selected regenerated heritage sites in Europe made a timely contribution to the critical analysis of socio-economic impact evaluation methods in the selected sites and drew attention to methods of evaluation and their results, in juxtaposition with the goals and expectations of the community.

Following this very relevant publication for those working on the social cohesion and integration of communities, Sophia has published her next volume titled UNESCO, Cultural Heritage, and Outstanding Universal Value in 2013, offering an insightful analysis of the World Heritage Convention. Following up on her work conducted through Cultural Policy Award and in light of her newly released book, a co-edited collection titled Urban Heritage, Development and Sustainability (2015), and the upcoming French version of her CPRA book, we talk to Sophia about the impact of the award, international heritage, and on her future plans.

ECF: Your Cultural Policy Research Award winning evaluation of regenerated heritage sites in Europe aimed to provide a degree of clarity within a field that often suffers from what you aptly call “optimism bias”. Can you tell us about some of the reactions to your research from within academia as well as the cultural sector?

SL: The reactions were rather positive from both the academia and the cultural sector, mainly because of the critical nature of this CPRA publication. In this publication, I criticise in particular the 'optimism bias' that tends to characterise many reports on the impacts of the regeneration of heritage sites in Europe. In my report, I call for more balanced evaluations that recognise that heritage-led regeneration is not necessarily only positive, as examplified for instance by processes of gentrification of historic centres all over the world.

We hear French publisher L’Harmattan has offered to publish your CPRA book in French. This is great news. Congratulations! Are you expecting any unique reactions stemming from the perspective of French cultural policy? 

It is too early to know what the reactions to this French and revised version will be. I have discussed this publication though with a number of French academics, with whom I would like to start implementing some of the recommendations from this report. In particular, I intend to work with Jean-Michel Tobelem on identifying the social and economic impacts of recently opened French cultural institutions, including Le Louvre-Lens.

In your estimation, did the priorities, or evaluation schemes for cultural regeneration projects have shifted in the intervening years?

Not really, no. Quite interesting too, the recommendations from my report are the same as the ones from the latest report on the impacts of heritage conservation, entitled: 'Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe' (June 2015). Both our reports call in particuliar for improving data collection and to move from a short-term to a long-term approach to assessing impacts of heritage projects.

Your book Cultural Heritage, and Outstanding Universal Value (AltaMira, 2013) focuses on the differences between the category of the “Outstanding Universal Value” inscribed in the international law by UNESCO, and its varying interpretations and national definitions. What would be your advice/recommendation to the international community and to the states members, for addressing this tension/issue? 

In the conclusion to this book, I present the upstream process as being the way forward to solve a number of the issues identified in this study. The upstream process is about defining actions to improve processes and practices prior to consideration of a nomination by the World Heritage Committee (for more information on the upstream process, please consult the Forum of Heritage and Society from May 2014). I have also recently worked with UNESCO on a draft policy to integrate a sustainable development perspective within the processes of the World Heritage Convention. I strongly believe that the implementation of this policy will resolve a number of issues identified in this book.  

Can you identify any new or alarming significant trends in international heritage and cultural diplomacy?

The unsustainable development approach to heritage conservation is rather alarming. Hence the importance of the UNESCO policy I just mentioned in the previous question.

Can you tell us about your upcoming co-edited volume Urban Heritage, Development and Sustainability?

This co-edited volume (with Professor Logan from Deakin University, Australia) is a continuation of the reflection on heritage and development I started in my CPRA research. I wanted to focus on cities though, because they provide the locale for many of the great issues of our time, including exponential growth or uncontrolled mass tourism. These issues impact dramatically on the conservation and management of urban heritage. Yet, at the same time, the sensitive management of urban heritage may be part of the solution to these city problems. This edited volume discusses these two aspects of the heritage versus development dilemma: it focuses on innovative approaches to managing the developmental pressures faced by urban heritage, as well as the ways in which taking an ethical, inclusive and holistic approach to urban planning and heritage conservation may create a stronger basis for the sustainable growth of cities into the future.

Building on your rich and insightful research, what would you identify as the most impactful strategy for institutions such as the European Cultural Foundation when approaching cultural heritage?

Adopting an ethical, inclusive and holistic approach to heritage conservation and management, could be a good start.

What are some of the research areas you are looking forward to tacking in the future?

I am currently finishing a book on Museums, Immigrants and Social Justice in Europe. I will then continue my reflection on heritage and development, but this time I will look at this topic from the angle of international aid.


About CPRA

The annual Cultural Policy Research Award was launched in 2004 as a joint venture of ECF and Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and aims at encouraging young European researchers to carry out applied comparative research projects in the cultural policy field.