Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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How does the legacy of colonialism in Southeast Asia manifest itself in contemporary regional attitudes and practices towards looting and collection?

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posted on 2021-12-07, 11:24 authored by Chong, Min Tse

Cultural property trafficking continues to be and is growing as an issue despite increased legislation, international agreements and public interest, particularly since the seminal 1970 UNESCO Convention. For criminology, the challenge is to take into account the distinct and complex characteristics of cultural property trade and trafficking in order to aid in controlling, regulating and preventing crime in a way that resonates with those it seeks to target. However, the mainstream approach to this issue relies uncritically upon a dominant and simplistic narrative of transnational cultural property movement from Global South sources to Global North markets, which renders significant regional and processes invisible and creates an incomplete model of reality. By incorporating a postcolonial framework and interviewing market actors in the cultural property world, this thesis aims to fill a gap in the discipline by examining how colonial narratives, frameworks and structures still inform modern attitudes to cultural property trade and trafficking, which has emerged from the same history. As a rich source region with a healthy cultural property market, Southeast Asia is the chosen case study; however, though the conclusions drawn originate in this specific context, the methodology used is applicable beyond this scope. The findings indicate that though cultural property collection is accompanied by a shadow of illicitness, market actors are able to justify their activities by not only relying on familiar colonial tropes and narratives of custodianship and education, but also pragmatically referring to the moralities and identities of a post-colonial age. Additionally, the social structures fundamental to the cultural property world are also, to some extent, the product of a certain history, and identity formation and projection through cultural capital are key concepts in understanding the impetus for collection. Ultimately, actors’ understandings of an authentic object as one that is of a particular style and, critically, of a particular age and condition, is synonymous with colonially influenced attitudes, and is inherently linked to the damage that anti-trafficking legislation seeks to mitigate.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Arts

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Mackenzie, Simon