Please upgrade your browser

For the best experience, you should upgrade your browser. Visit our accessibility page to view a list of supported browsers along with links to download the latest version.

A permanent state of decay: contrived dereliction at heritage mining sites

Tourism and the Shifting Values of Cultural Heritage: visiting pasts, developing futures

This conference presentation was delivered at ‘Tourism and the Shifting Values of Cultural Heritage: Visiting Pasts, Developing Futures’, held in Taipei in 2013. The conference was organised by Ironbridge International Institute for Cultural Heritage and National Taiwan University, in association with UNESCO’s UNITWIN international network for cultural tourism development.

This paper addressed the issue of site presentation at heritage mining sites. Oakley identified the similarities between modes of presentation given alternative names and rationales, arguing that these rely on a common visual aesthetic of decay, which is actively but covertly maintained for audiences.

The paper was underpinned by field research conducted at preserved mining sites and related heritage destinations in California, Alaska, northern Sweden, Cornwall and Wales between 2008 and 2012. The research methods were primarily participant-observation, interviews and informal discussions with staff on site, augmented by digital and library research.

Oakley argued that the appearance of dereliction at such sites relied on extensive and continual interventions on the part of site managers to support underlying site narratives linked to wider cultural constructions. These interventions are tangential or run counter to dominant conservation conventions. They are, however, key to the successful reception of such sites by visitors, who value the experience of encountering apparent abandonment and decay. The introduction of a novel term – ‘contrived dereliction’ – foregrounds the actions entailed by, and rationale behind, this type of presentation. These outputs offer a new perspective on practices currently being frequently employed, yet rarely acknowledged, in heritage mining site management.

An early version of the argument, titled ‘A mine of information’, was presented at the 2010 European Archaeological Association annual conference held in The Hague as part of the ‘Reanimating industrial heritage’ panel. Oakley has developed the concept of ‘contrived dereliction’ in a chapter for ‘Reanimating Industrial Spaces’ (Left Coast Press, forthcoming 2014).