The main difference between approaches to Cultural Heritage Protection, as discussed by Muller, namely between “object-centrism” and “functionalism” is associated with the fact that the first approach regards the cultural object and its protection as a value in its own right, while the latter focuses on the cultural object in the context of its meaning for society and its processes of acculturation and socialization. Object-centrism advocates primacy of the cultural object rather than its value, be it artistic or economic (Muller, 1998).
Artworks of the past are seen as valuable treasures, and the integrity of entire set of objects produced by a certain culture has to be protected. Object-centrism scholars “focus on the primacy of the heritage object, considering that it has a value existing independently of people that should not be susceptible to any change” (Loulanski, 2006, p. 215). This approach also argues for the necessity of protection of information about a given culture, and cultural objects serve as a source of such information.
Thus, while archaeology is a typical example of the philosophy of object-centrism, anthropology also fits in the picture by virtue of preserving information and data about cultures. As concerns the answer to the question which is at the heart of the debate on Cultural Heritage Protection, namely whether nation state or international community should be the guardian of cultural heritage, object-centrism only cares about the safety and integrity of the cultural object and not the nature of its stewardship.
Proponents of object-centrism argue that practical value of the cultural object is hard to determine, since it might have little utility now but be of great importance for future generations. And in the light of little connection between ancient and modern societies, ancient heritage is worth preservation in it own right.
However, this approach has come in for much criticism: “Although the object-centric approach seems more sensible for guaranteeing the rights of existence for all cultural heritage, and modern because it prioritizes the integrity of cultural heritage, it proves to be somewhat illogical and unrealistic” (Loulanski, 2006, p. 216). Cultural objects are inherently connected to human societies and histories, thus it is unproductive to view them outside of their natural context.
Rather than regarding heritage as a set of cultural objects, it should be regarded in the light of public good it is able to create: “Increasingly cultural heritage is seen as a much broader phenomenon which can contribute to political ideals, to economic prosperity and to social cohesion” (Council of Europe, 2000, p. 3). Cultural heritage has been linked to national unity, citizenship, appreciation of diversity, cultural identity and memory, amenity, sustainable development and quality of life.
Graham (2002) suggests “the concept of heritage as a social construction, imagined, defined and articulated within cultural and economic practice” (p. 1003). In my view, functionalism is a more productive approach to cultural heritage protection. However, it poses dome difficulties for historical interpretation, since it denies the idea that cultural objects have value in their own right. Each nation has its own approach to assigning value to and defining functions of cultural objects. Thus, international community might disagree with interpretations suggested by nation stares.
It imperative to separate historical interpretation from other forms of interpretation: “Historical interpretation must be based on a multidisciplinary archaeological and/or historical study of the site and its surroundings, yet must also indicate clearly and honestly where conjecture, hypothesis or philosophical reflection begin” (Pathways to Cultural Landscapes, 2002 p. 5). The solution to the problem is to engage all interested stakeholders in the process of historical interpretation, be they different groups within one society or different countries in the global community.