PhD Defence: Monument of Nature? Marlous van den Akker

Universiteit LeidenDate: 25 May, 2016
Time: 16:00 – 17:00

Promotor: Prof. Peter Pels

Summary: In her dissertation ‘Monument of Nature. An Ethnography of the World Heritage of Mt. Kenya’ Marlous van den Akker examines the World Heritage status of Mt. Kenya, an alpine area located in Central Kenya.  In 1997 Mt. Kenya joined the World Heritage List for its extraordinary ecological and geological features. Nearly 15 years later Mt. Kenya World Heritage Site expanded and came to include a nearby wildlife conservancy.

Both Mt. Kenya’s original World Heritage designation and later adjustments were exclusively formulated in natural scientific language. This should not only be understood in relation to the qualities of Mt. Kenya’s landscape, this work demonstrates, but reverts to a range of conditions that shaped the World Heritage nomination and modification processes. These conditions include:

  • the World Heritage Convention’s rigid separation of natural and cultural heritages that reverberates in World Heritage’s bureaucratic apparatus;
  • the ongoing competition between two government institutes over the management of Mt. Kenya that finds its origins in colonial forest and game laws;
  • the particular composition of Kenya’s political arena in respectively the late 1990s and the early 2010s; and
  • the precarious position of white inhabitants in post-colonial Kenya that translates into permanent fears for losing property rights.

This dissertation argues against studies that claim that World Heritage is a state tool that chiefly serves the dissemination of nationalist propaganda. Instead it suggests unpacking World Heritage’s technical and non-political rhetoric to begin understanding how and why individual sites come about. This may reveal that World Heritage sites do not necessarily or inevitably support state ideologies. In fact, the opposite may be true.