Sandra Massey, Research Program Coordinator

In their book, Treasures: the stories women tell about the things they keep, Kathleen Cairns and Eliane Silverman reflect on the stories they heard while conducting research into how objects are used to tell the story of our lives and connect us to others. They invited women to talk about “four to six of their most treasured possessions - the things they would save first in a disaster.” Think about it - what would you save in a disaster and why? No doubt such an exercise will reveal what matters most. At the same time, it will reflect your Living Heritage: your values, beliefs and ways of living that shape your sense of identity, belonging and place.

John Holden, previously Head of Culture at the British think tank, DEMOS, wrote in a 2006 paper, Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy: Why culture needs a democratic mandate, about three types of cultural value:

“Intrinsic values are the set of values that relate to the subjective experience of culture intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. . .”

“Institutional value relates to the processes and techniques that organisations adopt in how they work to create value for the public. Institutional value is created (or destroyed) by how these organisations engage with their public; it flows from their working practices and attitudes, and is rooted in the ethos of public service. . .”

“Instrumental values relate to the ancillary effects of culture, where culture is used to achieve a social or economic purpose. They are often, but not always, expressed in figures. This kind of value tends to be captured in ‘output’, ‘outcome’ and ‘impact’ studies that document the economic and social significance. . .”

Holden’s definition of intrinsic, institutional and instrumental values correspond with the value of Living Heritage; in the ways our sense of identity, belonging and place are shaped and shared, which in turn reflects not only our cultural values but also our social, economic and environmental values. In this way our Living Heritage; the values, beliefs, and ways of living also shapes how we think about and respond to contemporary social concerns.

Holden also provides a definition of economic value, making an important distinction between economic value and commercial value. According to Holden,

“Economic value is determined by the extent to which something enhances or detracts from our well-being. Something has economic value if its benefits to the well-being of society (including future generations) are greater than or outweigh its costs. Though it encompasses commercial value – as expressed through monetary exchange within markets – economic value is not restricted to values that are revealed through markets. The full schema of economic value incorporates commercial (or market) value; use values not captured within markets; and non-use values.”

The question of values is also explored in the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) research report Assessing the Values of Cultural Heritage of 2002. In Randall Mason’s paper, Assessing Values in Conservation Planning: Methodological Issues and Choices, he makes an important distinction in how the word value(s) is used:

“Values is most often used in one of two senses: first, as morals, principles, or other ideas that serve as guides to action (individual and collective); and second, in reference to the qualities and characteristics seen in things, in particular the positive characteristics (actual and potential).”

A slightly more recent discussion of the word value(s) was written by CSoP Research and Consulting, in a 2009 paper, How Canadians Value Nature: A Strategic and Conceptual Review of Literature and Research, commissioned by Environment Canada. The authors, Randolph Haluza-DeLay, Nathan Kowalsky, and John Parkins, suggest:

“two important distinctions . . . need to be considered in doing research on values. First, will values be considered exclusively as objects (held by someone), or will values also be viewed as social processes? Second, are values just another word for preferences, or do values have some relationship to something(s) greater than preference?”

Their discussion is related to nature in particular, but the exploration of different types of value(s) could be applied to just about any topic making the paper a valuable contribution to the ongoing conversation about values. When it comes to valuing nature they suggest there are psychological and philosophical approaches, as well as economic and socio-cultural approaches. The authors tell us, “Social processes affect which values we end up holding . . . Social processes also affect how we act on these values, particularly if our values are not supported by existing structures, or if those values are somehow devalued.” They recommend that research projects begin with an understanding of “how values are produced, what values come to be held, and how they are manifested.” In other words, researchers need to understand Living Heritage.

In today’s pluralistic society, a peaceful future depends on our ability to negotiate a set of values in the sense of morals, principles, or other ideas that serve as guides to action where individuals and groups have the opportunity to realize their full potential and contribute to the common/greater good. Only with an understanding of Living Heritage, our own and others, can we participate in a meaningful way and create the future we want.


Haluza-Delay, Nathan Kowalsky, and John Parkins, How Canadians Value Nature: A Strategic and Conceptual Review of Literature and Research, CSoP Research & Consulting, June 2009.

Holden, John, Cultural Value and the Crisis of Legitimacy: Why culture needs a democratic mandate, DEMOS, 2006.

Mason, Randall, Assessing Values in Conservation Planning: Methodological Issues and Choices in Assessing the Values of Cultural Heritage, Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) research report, 2002.