4.3.3 Social

Social value encompasses the collective meanings and values (significance) attached to heritage practices, places and objects by a contemporary community or communities (Jones and Leech 2015, para 1.6; see Section 5.2.1 for a discussion in relation to ‘ownership’). This contrasts with academically informed historic/artistic perceptions of past significance (Section 4.3.1). It is more a process of valuing than a fixed value category (Jones 2016). While its importance is increasingly recognised in international heritage instruments and policies (Jones and Leech 2015), it proves difficult to give consideration to this in practice, particularly when national regulatory practices may not be fully aligned with a (comprehensive) values-based approach. This is also because the social value of heritage in general is little researched, and because of the challenges of addressing this (Jones 2004, 67).

Contemporary communities in this context can be understood as communities that self-identify in some way. Social value is not exclusive to local communities, as it is most usually interpreted; it may include academics (all sorts, with very diverse perspectives) and other specialists who engage with and may enjoy working with carved stones for their professional duties, pilgrims, tourists, the diaspora (interested in gravestones and genealogy), and special interest groups, such as the PAS. Such communities may be remote/virtual as well as ‘on the spot’. However, it is the non-specialist views that risk being left undiscovered, not articulated and considered alongside the longer-established values.

The practical, conceptual and methodological problems in working with social value are not unique to carved stones but carved stones in Scotland have acquired an international profile in pioneering studies of social value because of their topicality, specifically the Hilton of Cadboll Pictish cross-slab (Contemporary social value: Case Study 14). Historic Scotland grant-aided Siân Jones to produce a research report that explored the values attached to early medieval carved stones, particularly the relationship between meaning, value and place. This evidence-based report was informed by, among other things, ethnographic research (Jones 2004; Foster and Jones 2008). Jones demonstrated why understanding social value is relevant, but each case is different and needs its own research. Nonetheless, she was able to also identify a number of wider implications relevant to early medieval carved stones in general, and for heritage management in general. Critically in this context, she teased out the different foci and values of the local community and those carrying out their professional duties working for heritage organisations, and what lies behind these. She also pinpointed the different modes and opportunities for negotiating knowledge and authority, in other words for exploration of different values and seeking a common purpose and way forward.

In general, we lack precise information about how people value carved stones, both generally and in specific instances. There is also a lack of understanding of the impact of research on how different communities of interest then value carved stones. What difference, for example, did the Hilton of Cadboll research project make to local understandings, and why? What difference has the redisplay of the collections of early medieval sculptures at Whithorn had, whether on residents, tourists or, for example, those working within the heritage agencies? Knowing this will help us to structure audience development and to find the most effective tools for improving engagement. To what extent do such redisplays increase the awareness of underappreciated collections on the part of academics (and thus act as a catalyst for new research)?

We do not know if there is something about carved stones that makes people value them in a different way from other monuments in their landscapes. How differently are carved stones perceived in different settings, such as at ecclesiastical sites (Figure 85), or prehistoric carvings on the hillside? If communities particularly value stones, is it particular stones, and if so why? Are there perceived differences between ‘natural’ and cultural (worked) stones? Can folklore studies help with this? What are the traditions of stewardship? How do the discourses of different groups vary, and why? With the potential for local significance arguably untapped (e.g. for local ‘stories behind the inscriptions’ in graveyards), is there any appetite for local communities to value their carved stones beyond the local, and if so in what ways and why?

A photograph of a man crouching on the ground pointing out to a little girl details on a large cross slab within a graveyard

Figure 85: The Pictish cross-slab at Elgin Cathedral, with visitors. © Sally Foster

Historic and aesthetic values, in particular, are affected by the condition of a stone. Much of the research into stone conservation is about arresting the loss of fabric and managing appearance, such as the impacts of weathering and vegetation growth. But how is the changing form of carved stones or physical measures for their protection affecting their social value (Figure 84; Jones 2006b; Douglas-Jones et al. 2016)?

The ACCORD project has been researching the social values invested in replication and 3D models of archaeological material, as both physical replication of digital materials and as original artefacts in own right. Several local community groups selected carved stones for these exercises (Jeffrey 2015; Jeffrey et al 2015). The laser scanning of carved stones has therefore become a vector for researching the value of the co-production of digital resources by community groups and professionals with heritage and technical expertise.

More generally, with analogue and digital replicas being a tool for understanding, protecting and presenting Scottish carved stones since the late 1830s, there is a case for better understanding how people value and engage with replicas. This has implications for understanding the ways in which authenticity is negotiated, and harnessing that understanding (see Section 5.3.2). Museums that may hold collections of replicas, mainly historic plaster casts of carved stones, also need guidance on how to curate these, particularly if they are under pressure to rationalize their collections/storage spaces. In what ways are such replicas of value (Foster and Curtis 2016)?

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