The last four decades have witnessed the remarkable extension of enthusiasm in cultural heritage or property from the perspective of international laws, or international legal framework, such as the multilevel legal instruments for safeguarding, protection and maintenance of cultural heritage, property, or rights. In our project, the identification of “cultural heritage” employs specific discourses, codes, transcending values, and images that conceal assumption about members of a people comprising a people within a nation. Cultural heritage narrates constructions of belongings that become tethered to negotiations for power and resistance over time and throughout a people’s history leading to powerful discursive narratives. While such likeness may be preserved, conserved or even perpetuated, the idea of “cultural heritage” may be socially, politically, culturally, and historically contested to reveal competing pasts, presents, and futures, esp. with innovation in arts leading to new social norms and identities. One of such innovations is digital culture and the notion of digital cultural heritage. Besides, the visual decoding of heritage is evocative and ideologically representative with meanings that prescribe a story of Protection, Regulation and Identity, since these meanings are subject to multiple interpretations and reinterpretations related to Rights, among the integrity of heritage right and human rights, and the integrated framework of right in rem and right in personae. However, the interpretations of cultural heritage are far from being objective. It can be clearly seen from the analysis of discussions whether some tangible or intangible cultural object should be protected or not, that the protection of diversity and tolerance are far from the postulated ideal.
“Beyond the traditional psychological concentration on mental structures and functions ‘inside’ an individual it considers the personal appropriation of signs by persons within their social contexts of learning and signing. Beyond behavioural performance this viewpoint also concerns patterns of sign use and production, including individual creativity in sign use, and the underlying social rules, meanings and contexts of sign use as internalized and deployed by individuals” [4: p. 68].
The competing and conflicting interests of communities, who want to protect their cultural heritage and communities and appropriate or even destroy them, collide. The story of Aalast festival and its appearance and disappearance from the UNESCO heritage list may serve as an example here. Yet, through semiotic accumulation, evolution and confrontation, there may be different interdisciplinary paths leading to different truths, to tensions (contestation and/or negotiation), and applications of significance. We should then investigate these transmitted values, discourses over time and space:
“Heritage is no longer cold stones or the glass separating us from exhibits in a museum. It is also the village lavoir, the little country church, local dialects, the charm of family photos, skills and techniques, language, written and oral tradition, humble architectures […] Cultural heritage embraces everything that human effort has left us during the course of history, music, dance and song, literature and folk customs, paintings and archives – in short, everything that bears witness to humanity down the path of time” (French Minister for Culture and Communication Jean-Philippe Lecat quoted in [6: p. 211]).
Accordingly, heritage is a process not only of sign-meaning and sign-making but also of sign-confrontation, which needs cultural mediation—i.e. “cultural process” .
A cultural process that engages with acts of remembering that work to create ways to understand and engage with the present, and the sites themselves are cultural tools that can facilitate, but are not necessarily vital, for this process [8: p. 44].
In this special issue, the authors focus on theoretical problems of transmitting and protecting cultural heritage. They highlight a social stratification in transmitting, preserving and conserving cultural heritage among others, showing that liberalism and communitarianism are frequently exclusive. The second group of papers, focusing on heritage and postcolonialism, deals with the right for the preservation and conservation of a people’s memory and legal frameworks at national and international levels enabling or hindering such protection. The third category of papers is devoted to the notions of heritage and culture and their evolution. The authors aim at answering the question: How cultural heritage is interpreted within legal settings or international legal framework from temporality and spatiality? The last four papers focus on the problems connected with the transmission of heritage and the interactions between cultural heritage and human rights within the diversity and tolerance within socio-legal contexts. As it turns out the new narratives are created by communities to diminish the value of some types of heritage despite their collective and cultural values. The narratives are far from being objective and frequently deny the tangible and intangible heritage the right for protection solely on the grounds of being contrary to modern life styles. The cognitive and symbolic aspects of Cultural heritage pervading through different temporal and spatial parameters are disregarded or even boycotted. This shift in understanding and interpreting cultural heritage from one space to another leads to censorship of some types of heritage. Therefore, the question may be posed about the relationship between law and “heritage” (tangible or intangible elements) and the role of law in protection of cultural heritage. In an objective way, it may be preserved for future generations that may follow a different path of assessing the shared collective and/or cultural memory of their predecessors.