What Is Community Heritage?

Heritage as a Cultural Process

Heritage goes beyond physical artefacts, built structures and historic sites. It is also an interplay of time, memories and emotions as experienced and valued by individuals, groups and communities.

What is a Community?

A community can be loosely defined as a group of people who share a complex set of principles and beliefs.

A sense of community can be described as having feelings of belonging to a group, derived from emotional connections surrounding shared interests, experiences, history and beliefs (McMillan, D. W., & Chavis, D. M. 1986).

Members of a community might demonstrate a sense of belonging and commitment to a place or territory through active participation in community activities and activism projects, conservation planning processes as well as socio-political discourse.

What is Heritage?

Heritage is defined in the dictionary as property that is or may be inherited; valued objects and qualities such as historic buildings that have been passed down from previous generations; and relating to things of special architectural, historical, or natural value that are preserved for the nation.

Generally speaking, heritage can be grouped into two broad categories.

  • Tangible heritage: sacred sites; physical spaces home to natural and cultural heritage; artefacts; and other material resources.
  • Intangible heritage: rituals; traditions; histories and social memories; relationships and dynamics within communities; and the idea of place and community.

My Community works with a specific definition of heritage as elucidated by heritage and museum studies scholar Laurajane Smith (2006). She states that heritage is “a cultural process that engages with acts of remembering which work to create ways to understand and engage with the present, and that sites themselves are cultural tools that can facilitate, but are not necessarily vital for, this process”.

My Community’s focus is on uplifting intangible heritage. It believes that tangible heritage, such as objects and places, are physical homegrounds and representations of intangible values derived from a generally ignored cultural process involving remembering, experiencing and establishing identities to understand and engage with the present.

Community Heritage

A community approach to heritage is, therefore, a participatory process where we discover and negotiate our sense of self, place and community.

It uplifts and celebrates “unofficial heritage” comprising everyday practices and narratives, local and personal histories, and vernacular buildings and institutions. It purposefully deviates from mainstream and official brandings of heritage assembled and endorsed in legal charters and the like. It goes off the beaten path to support the growth of community heritage.

The emergence of amateur historians and citizen chroniclers, as well as the sector-wide acknowledgement for the need to develop diverse, unofficial, common man historical sources, represents a general shift in focus from the usual canon of national history and heritage towards a more localised narrative for research studies and commemorative activities in Singapore.