Heritage as Resistance : Preservation and Decolonization in Southeast Asian Cities

Sham, Desmond Hok-Man. 2015. Heritage as Resistance : Preservation and Decolonization in Southeast Asian Cities. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This dissertation is about Inter-Asia Cultural Studies and postcolonial studies, with cultural heritage as the subject of examination. It examines how postcolonial heritage preservation can function as an actual decolonization project, with specific reference to the Southeast Asian context, by articulating the relationship between the understanding of history, place-attachment and decolonization. The dissertation suggests that heritage needs to be understood in a trialectic relationship of time, space and identity and not in purely temporal or economic terms, such that the complexity and possibilities of cultural heritage can be articulated. It also argues for the importance of differentiating between depoliticized and radicalized versions of “collective memory”, where the latter provides the space for resistance. Elaborating on the “Inter-Asia” approach and on previous studies of “port cities” as cosmopolitan urban spaces closely related with each other long before the era of “global capitalism” and often marginalized in the nationalist discourses, this dissertation proposes and demonstrates how looking at port cities can be operative as “method”. This methodology allows different locales to become each other’s mutual reference point in an equal way, based on their common historical experiences. With examples mainly drawn from three former British colonial port cities in Southeast Asia—Hong Kong, Singapore and Penang—this dissertation articulates the following issues: (1) Colonial heritage: How is colonial heritage treated in postcolonial societies and how are nationalism and global capitalism implicated within the decision-making process? Why are anti-colonial nationalism and the demolition of colonial heritage not effective ways of decolonization? How might a decolonization process that challenges both nationalism and global capitalism be possible through the preservation of “colonial” heritage? (2) Heritage of port cities: How have heritage places and urban landscapes that embed the histories of port cities been treated in postcolonial societies? What are the ideologies represented behind these treatments? What is the significance of the heritage of port cities for reflections on multiple vernacular modernities, multiculturalism, cultural hybridization and race relations in postcolonial societies? (3) Possibilities of cultural heritage as resistance: How is it possible for cultural heritage to operate as forms of resistance against displacement, neoliberalization and undemocratic decision-making processes? How can the “depoliticized” face of cultural heritage be used as the channel to smuggle in dissent from the dominant paradigm of society? By discussing these themes, the dissertation argues that critical negotiation with the histories embedded in heritage, place-based memory and sense of place associated with heritage, and the association of heritage with “right to city” are significant for the preservation of cultural heritage to function as a project of resistance and decolonization.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, postcolonial studies, decolonization, port cities as method, multiple vernacular modernities, heritage preservation, right to the city

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Centre for Cultural Studies (1998-2017)


30 June 2015

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

23 Jul 2015 14:08

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 15:22



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