Alternative Futures with Dr. Elisa Tamburo

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Reimagining: heritage-making: ‘living preservation’ in urban Taipei

Friday 6 May 3.30pm-5.00pm
Online event 

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As part of our Alternative Futures seminar series, we are delighted to host this online seminar with speaker Dr. Elisa Tamburo, Kings College LondonDr. Tamburo is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Social Anthropology at King’s College London on the ERC-funded project “Cosmological Visionaries”. Her current research focuses on climate change at the ethnic borderlands of Southwest China. Elisa’s doctoral research at SOAS, University of London, focuses on the social aspirations and losses mobilized by the relocation of a historical urban settlements in Taipei, Taiwan, and its heritage-making process. Her work appeared in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (forthcoming), Focaal – Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology (2020), and the Journal of Current Chinese Affairs (2018).


Preserving urban settlements presents several challenges especially when the inhabitants of city historic quarters are relocated elsewhere. In Taiwan, military dependents’ villages are historical makeshift settlements intended to temporary house the Chinese Nationalist Government’s military personnel who had been exiled from the mainland to Taiwan in 1949 in the wake of the Chinese Civil War. Once their inhabitants are relocated into high-rise buildings in the 1990s, these vacated settlements become an easy target of marketization, whereby heritage sites become heavily commercialized. But the empty quarters also reveal themselves as contested heritage sites for the preservation of varied versions of history. Through ethnographic material collected during 18 months of fieldwork in one of the last inhabited military villages in Taipei, I will show how preservationists in Taiwan have been envisioning alternative pathways to preservation. With the so-called ‘living preservation’ (huo baocun), preservationists set out not only to preserve historical buildings but rather to foster an ecosystem of people and place. Yet, even then, whose heritage should be preserved and for whom remains an open question. 

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First published: 14 April 2022