Bridging Development and Heritage: Expert Gaze, Local Discourses, and Visual Aesthetic Crisis at Hampi World Heritage Site
Publication Type:Journal Articles
Source:Journal of South Asian Development, Volume 16 , Issue 1 (2021)
Keywords:conservation, development, experts, Hampi World Heritage Site, local people
In this article, I explore the complex trajectory of two bridges that were proposed for construction across the River Tungabhadra in the early 1990s at locations that now fall within the boundary of Hampi, a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site (WHS) in India. The proposed bridges were considered improper forms of infrastructure development in the visual context of a WHS, and the site was placed on the World Heritage in Danger List in the late 1990s. Popular media framed the controversy as a ‘classic clash’ between heritage and development where conservation goals and developmental needs opposed one another. Heritage experts, agencies, and activists read the crisis as one of ‘heritage or development’, normatively typecasting residents north of the river as ‘uneducated, ignorant locals’ wanting development at the cost of heritage. However, drawing on ethnographic fieldwork and archival material covering nearly three decades, I demonstrate that residents wanted the bridges not as physical infrastructure towards some obscure development goals, but as the means to link their overlooked contributions to the founding of the Vijayanagara Empire, the capital region and its contemporary remaking as a WHS. In this instance, the binary opposition lay in the ‘expert gaze’, not in local discourses. It was experts, rather than ‘local people’, who saw conservation and development as inherently opposed to each other. I explicate how various views on what constitutes heritage and development intersect with each other and suggest that dissonance need not be the inevitable result but may be built into the gaze of expertise.