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Making Meaning Together: Heritage site management and new approaches to meaning-making

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posted on 22.11.2021, 17:02 by Jemmett, Cindy

This dissertation looks at how those who manage and interpret heritage sites are incorporating into their practice, new thinking about the way visitors make meaning. Recent research has emphasised visitors' agency, and drawn attention to the cultural and political work of heritage performance. The ways visitors use emotion and imagination has also received greater attention. Rather than heritage value as intrinsic to sites, and best identified by the professional, recent theoretical understandings position visitors as active co-creators of heritage. How these new ideas might be applied in practice, and how organisations could most productively share authority for meaning-making, has not been sufficiently addressed. This research positions itself in that gap, and seeks to contribute to a conversation about how theory translates to practice.  The Department of Conservation (DOC) was selected as an information-rich case study. At the time of research, the Department was in its third and final phase of new policy work that places greater emphasis on working in collaboration with others. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with four DOC staff from across a range of roles. A further three interviews were undertaken with DOC partners and a contractor connected with sites discussed by DOC interviewees.  The findings show that while heritage managers accept that visitors will make a variety of meanings at a site, they do not currently have a robust understanding of the meanings their visitors are making; of what they think and feel, and what a visit to the site really means to them. Only recently has getting this knowledge really appeared a priority, and organisations are still working out how best to collect this data, and how it could then inform their practice. This lack of understanding has inhibited practitioners' ability to respond to visitors, and to recognise the cultural work they do. When it came to partnerships, organisations were more invested in both understanding and responding to the other party. In some cases, they were willing to add to or modify their own ideas about what the value of the heritage was, or what stories it could be used to tell. A flexible and reflexive practice is advocated, in which organisations are clear about their own goals, recognise and engage with the meanings visitors and partners make, and are open to the possibility of being changed themselves in the process.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Museum and Heritage Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Museum and Heritage Studies

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

Museum and Heritage Studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Davidson, Lee