Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Holding Space for Communities in Heritage Practice: Relationships and Management of Underwater and Near Water Heritage in Taranaki, Aotearoa New Zealand

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posted on 2023-09-29, 00:03 authored by Susanne Rawson

Heritage spaces that are composed of sites and objects in coastal and riverine environments (described as underwater and near water or UWNW) of Aotearoa New Zealand are deteriorating due to natural and human activity. Passive management, reduced resources for managing agencies and poor legislative protection indicates that the future of identifying, preserving and managing heritage will be through concerted community effort. It is then necessary for heritage professionals to ‘hold space’ for these communities that interact with UWNW heritage spaces to understand the relationships and management approaches that exist in a regional context. This thesis seeks to identify how community relationships with UWNW heritage can be used to inform professional heritage practice.

Through a constructivist research paradigm based on grounded theory, I draw on qualitative social science research methods to make observations resulting in an inductive reasoning approach. I use the theory of Authorised Heritage Discourse to explore community as an outsider to professional heritage practice in ‘top-down’ approaches, countered with models of Communities of Practice and Community Engaged Research which seek to create inclusive environments and ‘thinking together’. Actor-Network Theory is applied to visualise the interrelationships between communities and UWNW heritage spaces demonstrating the complicated influences of actors over processes. I then conducted face-to-face interviews with 35 people from 18 organisations that represented communities with vested interests in this unique category of heritage to identify community relationships with UWNW heritage spaces. The interviews revealed that people indeed connect with heritage spaces in many ways including through storytelling, ancestry, childhood experiences, connections with nature, a sense of community and processes of collecting or fossicking. Māori participants highlighted the philosophical differences underlying their perspectives, pointing to their visceral relationships with the natural world and sites of significance through whakapapa (ancestry). Views on preservation were consistent with professional definitions and actions, that is, being interventive, preserving the knowledge embodied in the object, ability of objects to be use for sharing knowledge, adding longevity to materials and providing protection. Community perceptions are that there are no active heritage management processes in place. These observations resulted in two main research findings: communities relate to heritage in similar and different ways and passive management, through administration, is the only management taking place. An ’us’ and ‘them’ approach persists throughout management and engagement structures, particularly with regional issues, and there is little cohesion between agencies to provide protection and implement active management strategies. The research shaped my own professional practice and philosophy for heritage practice including creating an inclusive practice environment based on increased engagement with stakeholders of cultural materials conservation processes leading to a new Community of Practice approach.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License


Degree Discipline

Museum and Heritage Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

130402 Conserving collections and movable cultural heritage; 130405 Conserving the historic environment; 130499 Heritage not elsewhere classified; 130403 Conserving intangible cultural heritage; 210599 Ngā ratonga hapori o te Māori kāore anō kia whakarōpūtia i wāhi kē (Māori community services not elsewhere classified)

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Alternative Language


Victoria University of Wellington School

Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies


Davidson, Lee