The Resilience of Vernacular Heritage in Asian Cities


Thursday, 22 May, 2014 (All day) to Thursday, 31 July, 2014 (All day)


This conference focuses on the interplay between cultural practices and the production of urban space and place-making that creates the living vernacular heritages of neighborhoods and communities of the city. Emphasis is given to community efforts and collective empowerment through heritage preservation practices that are found to enhance sustenance of the natural environment as well as resilience towards environmental threats. The attention given to the vitality of vernacular heritage for its own sake and in creating foundations for disaster resilience is an as yet understudied dimension of research on such contemporary issues as the right to the city and spatial justice. Papers on disaster risk reduction for monumental heritage preservation would also be welcomed as long as they discuss the role of ordinary people and communities in constructing their everyday lives in and around these monuments, through which the monuments become meaningful spaces for their everyday life-spaces.

Among the contemporary challenges to the resilience of cities in Asia are those that arise from the disarticulation of relationships among cultural heritage preservation, the production of the urban built environment, and the capacities of ordinary people to engage in city-making by and for themselves. Heritage discourses tend to focus on sites thought to be of World Heritage importance while paying little attention to the living heritages of neighborhoods, artisanal craft and art districts.

At the same time, widening social inequalities occurring throughout urban Asia contribute to a devalorization of the vernacular city and its living urban heritage.Along with this is an on-going systematic elimination of living heritages from cities, with which has also come lower social capacities for cooperative action and the loss of local knowledge about how to build and adapt to such environmental conditions as flooding, high winds and landslides that are now increasing in numbers and impacts on cities.

While the neglect of living urban heritages and the forgetting of the city as a realm of social conviviality diminishes prospects for resilience, efforts are emerging everywhere to counter the destruction of the vernacular city and the socially alienating forces of contemporary urbanization. Proactive projects to build upon living heritages are also emerging from the ruptures of environmental disasters through new forms of cooperation to rebuild neighborhoods while resisting evictions and destruction of heritages embedded in communities.

“The Resilience of Living Heritage” asks questions of urban theory as well as directs attention to taking action in exploring possible alternatives to conserve and sustain urban heritage in re-establishing the idea and practices of cities as theatres of social action that are resilient towards urban disasters. The following are research questions that underscore key aspects of the conference theme:

  • How does the vernacular production of houses, neighborhoods, artisanal clusters and other vernacular spaces relate to competing concepts of urban heritage, including the idea of the city?
  • What are the theoretical bases and useful conceptual tools to critically examine the everyday production of urban spaces as cultural heritage in the contemporary city in Asia?
  • What are the relationships between living urban heritage and resilience toward environmental disasters?
  • What are the social, material and ideological resources of inspiration for communities to collaborate and take action for heritage protection as a common good and in the time of environmental crises?
  • How have local governments responded to grassroots initiatives for neighborhood heritage protection and resilience in disaster prone areas?  How can local governments better support these grassroots initiatives?

We invite those interested in participating in the conference to submit original paper proposals. We expect to publish selected papers from those accepted for presentation in a monograph/special journal issue.

Paper proposals should include a title, an abstract of 250 words, a short biography of 150 words, and should be submitted on the attached form and sent to Ms Valerie Yeo at by 31 July 2014. For a copy of the submission form, click here. Successful applicants will be notified by 15 August 2014 and are required to send in a completed draft paper (5,000-8,000 words) by 1 October 2014.

Based on the quality of proposals and the availability of funds, partial or full funding will be granted to successful applicants. Participants are therefore encouraged to seek funding for travel from their home institutions. Full funding will cover air travel to Singapore by the most economical means, plus board and lodging for the duration of the conference.



Prof Mike Douglass
Asia Research Institute and Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore 
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Dr Rita Padawangi
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
E |

Ms Valerie Yeo
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
E |




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