The idea of patrimony, as it happens with most concepts related to social relationships, has a meaning and interpretation that is constantly updated and re-signified, but with a bias that shows a degree of belonging or participation in some social segments, intellectuals, traditions, ideologies, interests and/or regions. It’s because of it, and it couldn’t have been another way, that this writing is set up to show perspectives and realities that have been forming based on experiences and observations of a personal matter, local or regional, which implies that the ideas written here do not necessarily have a generalized reach and validity in, for example, other territories although, surely, they won’t be completely foreign.
The following is an attempt of a typology of the diversity of definitions and conceptions of patrimony, which recognizes eight variants, each of them with their own bias and argumentative bases to sustain and differentiate them.
From a Roman root, it’s linked to privately owned property, where only individuals or families have the right to enjoy them; this is because of hereditary rights, and they later on include the accumulation gained from every new generation.
Patrimony is seen as a selection of works produced in the past, and they are given an exceptional and outstanding status worldwide. As an example, we have the conception that sustained the definitions proposed in 1972 by the UNESCO for cultural and natural patrimony.
Social and communitary
For this characterization the emphasis is put on communitary belonging and the social function of patrimony without a distinction of the sectors of a community. Patrimony, especially its management; it’s constituted by the places that a society has and organizes to know itself. These references mark the meaning given to the patrimony in the territory and, in consequence, the orientation of patrimonial arrangement.
Ethnic or segmented
This conception of patrimony proposes that determined expressions of patrimony belong to an ethnic group, as they are created by their ancestors. The members of said ethnic group would be the ones best capable to guard, appreciate, assess and interpret adequately those goods. Especially from the last decades of the last century in Latin America, with the generalization of the identity policy, the adscription and assignment of patrimonial goods to an ethnic group usually supports argumentatively, in a decisive way, their demands of important claims for the group, such as the possession of lands in which the goods are identified.
Also segmented or sectorial, this variant corresponds to the highlighted goods associated with religious beliefs that are considered as belonging to institutions that, in each case, drive their destinies. It tends to happen, from a perspective of patrimonial management, that the division between public and private responsibilities is not very clear.
It is a variant of patrimony that enlists and encompasses almost all the cultural expressions of a social group. An example of this is the punctilious, very long and detailed description in the text of article 216 of the Brazilian constitution of 1988. The main difficulty in this type of definitions is that the protection of all the goods enlisted as patrimonial property of the population in the territory of reference, turns out to be basically inapplicable.
It contains what is strictly considered as patrimonial goods of a determined jurisdiction, the ones exclusively declared as such by a legal standard that, at least by name, corresponds to a political control. This way the quantity and representatively in what concerns to diversity of the goods included, is always limited, thus making the resultant listing in a factual fundament of the official culture. The legal consequences of the handling of patrimonial goods, and the level of actual application of the proposed norms, show as a result a degree of political will in these issues.
It reflects a conception of the present that states that the patrimony of a society is constituted by goods that, in the past or present, could be considered as susceptible of shrinking, with the purpose of being able to carry out a patrimonial management, consistent of actions that tend to value them, and it includes a transmission of knowledge about them. That is to say, in the selection not necessarily prevails a valorization based on historic or aesthetic elements. This characterization is about the inequality and arbitrariness of the devices that set the process of patrimony running, and everything that is at stake in their links with diverse sectors that make to the citizenship in a territory.
It’s likely that this listing of different meanings given to this concept, in itself already limited to Latin languages, has a wider number of variants. All of them, besides their dynamic and diverse characteristics, have in common that their use is current and they coexist today in different sectors of society, each with its own weight and scope of influence, that comes from the reach of the connotation placed on them.