Current research in the ocean sciences focuses on the (natural) science-policy interface. As highlighted at the first global planning meeting of the UN Decade of Ocean Science, the social sciences are clearly under-represented. Furthermore, the conceptualization of the oceans as a resource in the term Blue Economy conceives of the oceans and coasts as utilizable assets. However, coastal sites are spaces influenced by the evolution of human cultures and the impact of diverse, human social behaviour. In this regard, the proposed research seeks to investigate, document, analyse and publish on the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of selected coastal communities in Africa. The proposed work hopes to deepen existing palaeoanthropological and social research done on early and contemporary human communities on the southern and eastern African coast.  The work also seeks to understand the role and value of autochthonous, First Peoples and other potentially vulnerable communities (especially women and African descendants) in ocean sustainability, as well as contemporary issues such as the current efforts of business and municipal interests to monetize the discoveries of early human sites along the African coastline.

Globally, national governments have focused on the conservation of tangible heritage and inland heritage management. By focusing on intangible heritage at the coast, the proposed work hopes to deepen and critically enhance the efforts of UNESCO and other heritage organizations seeking to advance the democratization of heritage management and practice.

The proposed research is focused on predominantly African coastal communities, using social science research tools, especially anthropology to research gendered and local experiences, uncovering African intangible cultural heritage (ICH) which is insufficiently understood and investigated in relation to oceans and coastal management. It will deepen policy regarding the preservation of ICH, and it will deepen discussion on the relevance of ICH beyond conservation for cultural education and the conservation of diversity. The problem of an authorized (Western) heritage discourse is also addressed, noting the political distinction between universally valuable heritage and commonplace cultural practices. The Chair recognizes that authorized heritage discourses have, in many ways, silenced African ICH and understanding of ICH value beyond its conservation for diversity management. Finally, the proposed project will also produce knowledge regarding the diversity of ICH and its social implications in Africa. It will address the policy implications and relevance of foregrounding ICH in the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA), National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), the Provincial Eastern Cape Strategy for the Oceans Economy and the South African strategy of Operation Phakisa. An investigation and documentation of ICH in relation to coastal and oceans management is therefore worthwhile, as it is likely to reveal alternative, grounded perspectives and approaches to the management of coastal regions and resources.

The primary goal of the research is to explore, investigate, identify, document, report on, debate and advance national and global knowledge of a diversity of ocean cultures and heritages in South Africa, Africa and selected regions of the world.

Contact information
Prof Rose Boswell
Research Chair in Ocean Cultures and Heritage