The potential of intangible loss: reassembling heritage and reconstructing the social in post-disaster Japan
Attitudes towards cultural heritage have long been characterised by an ‘endangerment sensibility’ concerned with preventing losses. Recently, however, critical heritage scholars have argued that loss can be generative, facilitating the formation of new values and attachments. Their arguments have focused primarily on material heritage, whose risk of damage and disappearance is accelerating due to growing environmental crises. After Japan’s 2011 tsunami, however, heritage scholars there began probing a related question: what happens when supposedly ‘intangible’ heritage is damaged? Taking this question as a starting point, Andrew Littlejohn asks in the article 'The potential of intangible loss: reassembling heritage and reconstructing the social in post-disaster Japan' in Social Anthropology how recent applications of assemblage theory in studies of heritage can shed light on destruction's role in forming and reforming places and peoples.
- Andrew Littlejohn
- 23 August 2021
- Article in Social Anthropology
Drawing on fieldwork in Japan’s disaster regions, Littlejohns argues that disassembly is a form of damage rendering both the things mediating heritage and its reciprocal mediation of social life matters of concern. He suggests that the potential of loss lies in how heritage can be made to translate other interests during its reassembly. By contrast, attempts to perpetuate pre-existing relations can render the social more rather than less precarious, depending on the context.
Members of the Minamisanriku Five Shrines Young Parishioner Association in 2016, before performing the Dance of the Seven Lucky Gods. Photo by Andrew Littlejohn.