Authorized Heritage Discourse

The ‘Authorized Heritage Discourse’ (AHD) is a concept that was introduced by Laurajane Smith in the book Uses of Heritage in 2006. According to Smith, there is a hegemonic discourse that favors “monumentality and grand scale, innate artefact/site significance tied to time depth, scientific/aesthetic expert judgement, social consensus and nation building” (Smith, 2006, p. 11). In this sense, the AHD “focuses attention on aesthetically pleasing material objects, sites, places and/or landscapes that current generations ‘must’ care for, protect and revere so that they may be passed to nebulous future generation for their ‘education’, and to forge a sense of common identity based on the past” (Smith, 2006, p. 29). According to Smith, the AHD “is also a professional discourse that privileges expert values and knowledge about the past and its material manifestations, and dominates and regulates professional heritage practices” (Smith, 2006, p. 4). Consequently, for Smith, the AHD is connected to inequality, to questions about what it means to be an ‘expert’ or ‘professional’, and to Foucault’s concept of power/knowledge.

After the publication of Uses of Heritage, the AHD became a widely used concept in efforts to make cultural heritage more inclusive and participatory, and in critical publications regarding powerful institutions like UNESCO (Askew, 2010). In 2010, the Association of Critical Heritage Studies was founded, and in 2012, the association published its “preliminary manifesto” in order to start a debate about its aims. The manifesto engages with the AHD as follows: “The old way of looking at heritage – the Authorised Heritage Discourse – privileges old, grand, prestigious, expert approved sites, buildings and artefacts that sustain Western narratives of nation, class and science. There is now enough sustained dissatisfaction with this way of thinking about heritage that its critics can feel confident in coming together to form an international organisation to promote a new way of thinking about and doing heritage – the Association of Critical Heritage Studies.” (Smith, 2012) After this paragraph, the manifesto continues to explain how the association, and other people that want to get involved, should intervene in the AHD.


Askew, M. (2010). Heritage and Globalisation. In The magic list of global status: UNESCO, World Heritage and the agendas of states. Routledge.

Smith, L. (2006). Uses of Heritage. Routledge.

Smith, L. (2012). Editorial. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 18(6), 533–540.