This paper analyzes international heritage conservation charters through the post-structuralist lens of relative and perspective-driven “truths,” fragmentation, and dramatic settings. The “SPAB Manifesto,” the Athens Charter, the Venice Charter, the Burra Charter, and the Nara Document on Authenticity are evaluated within the framework of discursive theories established by Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jürgen Habermas, and Gilles Deleuze in regard to cultural meanings and absolute and relative truths. Preservation doctrine through the Venice Charter engages in a positivist truth based on the substantiation of material fetishes. These early doctrines imbue the materiality of the object with truth as an absolute rather than relative truths existing in the realm of cultural meanings and values. In other words, the object communicates the one, single reality in which it should exist. Beginning with the Burra Charter in 1979, there was an unselfconscious shift toward post-modern relativism. The Nara Document built on the ideas of cultural relativism, expressing a strong desire to respect diversity as embodied in the discursive act of semiotic communication. It eschewed judging the authenticity of heritage as a fixed concept and instead encouraged an evaluative process within the context of individual cultures. The question of future interpretive acts within the dramatic scene of cultural heritage must reconcile the positivist past of pre-Burra Charter documents with the relativism of later documents. At some point the material fetish of the Venice Charter must give way to the pluralism of truth rooted in cultural and not material contexts.
Wells, Jeremy C., "The Plurality of Truth in Culture, Context, and Heritage: A (Mostly) Post-Structuralist Analysis of Urban Conservation Charters" (2007). School of Architecture, Art, and Historic Preservation Faculty Papers. Paper 19.