What is Cultural Mediation?


In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at the concept of Cultural Mediation as a process for the enhancement and protection of Cultural Heritage.

Cultural Heritage and Cultural Mediation

Cultural Heritage

Cultural heritage is an instrument for building citizenship, promoting peace and developing identities. It strengthens social cohesion by fostering cooperation between sectors of activity and territories, preserving historical memory and boosting values, geared towards the common good and based on solidarity and tolerance, resulting in reciprocal and lasting relationships.

Dynamics of transmission and safeguarding through Cultural Mediation

However, the dynamics of its transmission and safeguarding have changed as a result of globalization, new economic priorities and the alienation resulting from industrial and technological progress.

This has also changed the notions of identity and memory, not always in a constructive sense.

It is necessary to refocus efforts and give communities back their cultural heritage through up-to-date, interdisciplinary interpretation and mediation strategies, responsible for creating and maintaining systems of relationships (networks) that motivate and ensure their transmission.

This text refers to one of the ways in which cultural heritage is communicated – cultural mediation

Cultural Mediation

We can define Cultural Mediation as a form of communication, a purposeful intervention by an agent between two points (Montepetit, 2011) from which a pedagogical communicational relationship is established. Heritage Interpretation - a tourist looking to ruines

However, this Cultural Mediation definition is insufficient to grasp the significance of the link that is qualitatively established between the mediator of Cultural Heritage instruments (their fields of action and modes of articulation) and the public. We need to address and get to know those involved.

Cultural heritage | Concept, object of work and source of expectations

As a concept

Cultural heritage must be understood as encompassing two dimensions, including its material and immaterial expressions in an intrinsic and conciliatory way.

As a product

It must be authenticated and respected in its intrinsic renewal and negotiation, across all generations.

Above all, it is necessary to understand it as a process made up of a series of processes and, therefore, it cannot be defined and crystallized at a given moment, since cultural heritage is a social and cultural construction made up of products, practices and meanings over several generations, its construction being an active and dynamic process in time and space, dependent on additions and novelties (VARINE, 2012).

It is, therefore, a condition, an inheritance, material and immaterial, made up of a set of human references of a given society or community (SMITH, 2006).

Whatever the quadrant of Heritage and its geographical domain of management, it cannot survive over time without being interpreted/decoded and mediated.

Public. It is first Receiver and then Sender

Cultural mediation - art activity at an elemetary school

Rock art workshop for elementary school children

In quantitative terms, the public is a group of individuals or collectives (groups), irregular in volume, fixed or moving, with active or passive postures.

Qualitatively, it is a combination of behavioral patterns, shaped by their socio-cultural, economic and political environment, and with varying expectations of the object.

Even if, at a certain moment, this mix of singularities is predisposed to communing with a new cultural experience, it is essential that a prior study of its situation has produced an adaptation of strategies.

For example, it is necessary to take into account the age groups, the family connections between the individuals, the country of origin, possible motor or learning difficulties, the social group to which they belong, among other issues that contribute to productive mediation in the development of bonds and skills.

Concept of cultural heritage

Cultural mediation - activity of caligraphy

Hebrew calligraphy workshop at the Koscher market in Belmonte, Portugal. A town with a strong Jewish tradition and many traces of crypto-Judaism.

Heritage as a process

William de Souza and Giulia Crippa (2011) in “Heritage as a Process”, define the concept of Heritage through its etymology:”(…) the Latin words pater and monium, forming patrimonium. Pater means father, not only in the sense of physical paternity, but also socially and religiously, as something that is passed down and inherited from ancestors. Monium indicates condition, state, function. In this way, patrimony refers to goods that are passed down from generation to generation, whether it’s inherited wealth or acquired knowledge and customs. Despite being related to the idea of property, heritage is not just about what is material, but about everything that has remained over time between groups and generations.” (Souza, 2011: 249).

Collective Memory

Another author, Guilherme Martins (2011), adds the meaning of collective memory: “Heritage always represents something that corresponds to the cultural creation we received from the generations that preceded us. Hence, the dynamic concept of heritage forces us to link the creative element of culture to the transmission of an inheritance that gives meaning to memory, as something shared and lived by society and its citizens“. (Martins 2011, 31).

Concept – product – process

In short, cultural heritage is therefore a concept, a product and a process that differentiates Cover - online course Heritage Interpretation cultures and communities, an extension of personal and collective identity, the identity capital of nations, resulting from the will of social actors (SMITH, 2006).

All the decisions made in favor of its use are made in the present, with short- and medium-term intentions.

Heritage and Identity

This selective process results in a form of identity, increasingly widespread with the arrival of Modernity, associated with nationalist sentiments – the way nations create means of identification with their population (SANTOS, 2002).

These means and strategies of identification will always be ideological and symbolic and therefore subject to transformation.

Behind this conception, many invented and re-invented traditions have emerged to bridge the gaps between rapid technological and urban evolution and the slow unfolding of past social identities, but also as a defense of their heritage (HOBSBAWM, 2002).

The instruments of cultural mediation

The resources or instruments of heritage cultural mediation can be material (movable, immovable or local objects), immaterial (traditions, ways of life, knowledge, living cultures) and, on a symbolic level, the concept of heritage itself (ESPERANÇA, 1997).

Cultural Mediation

The mediator. The communicator

He is the element that brings two actors together in the field where they converge. Their role is that of a pedagogical communicator: captivating and keeping the audience’s attention, converting the context of the object into accessible information, defining rules and limits, listening to questions, formulating answers, creating bonds.

To be successful in the Cultural Mediation they must have training in communication, animation and interpretation, an appropriate professional profile and frequently undertake research into their audience (because of their constantly changing interests and tendencies).

a guided tour at Route of the Romanesque

Guided tour of the Route of the Romanesque, Portugal

Professional training

Ana Pagarim Nunes’ (2015) thesis on the training of professionals in this area alerts us to the naturalness of the gaps present in the subject and in the professional profile, as it is an area in development.

“Animator”, “monitor”, “visitor guide”: so many different names for those who perform the same functions. This is because the field is relatively new and has structural gaps, despite the growing demand for its services. We are now at the stage of professionalizing the sector.” (Nunes 2015, 55).

In her proposal for Training Cultural Mediation and Education Professionals, Ana Pagarim Nunes sets out the first guidelines for the mediator’s professional profile, the requirements for their training and the pedagogical tools they should have at their disposal.

Heritage Cultural Mediation – Interpretation, transmission and change


The etymology of the word “Mediate” comes from the Latin “mediāre”, meaning to cut through the middle; to be in the middle of; to intervene.

Therefore, it is a connection created on purpose between two points which results in a communicational relationship.

But, as has been said, it is a depleted attitude to assume that mediating is a unilateral gesture, merely informative and with such a limited meaning. The banal emission and absorption of information without creating a motivation in its recipient has a disposable result, contrary to what should happen here. This should promote learning and logical and affective identification processes.

To do this, it uses strategies of interpretation, communication and protection of the object it uses.


Heritage Interpretation is a form of active conservation, it is the support, mediation is a set of pedagogical processes.

Interpretation is the moment of transformation and evolution, natural or artificial, of a cultural object or event, in the sense of human needs or the work of the institutions that protect cultural heritage, in a medium that is sometimes insufficient to reach the understanding of the public.

According to the European Association for Heritage Interpretation, the objectives of heritage interpretation are to promote new meanings, stimulate emotions (which legitimize human experiences) and curiosity, but above all, to inspire new ideas/concepts and even attitudes.

Heritage Interpretaion

Heritage interpretation, when positively conducted by the various stakeholders in a well-designed and planned project, inevitably serves local development, promoting knowledge about its history, both for visitors and local communities, increasing revenue from cultural tourism and, finally, improving the local image.

The Cultural Mediation Process

Cultural Mediation according to Tilden, is a triad of processes: interpretation-understanding; understanding-appreciation; appreciation-protection.

In practical terms, this triad translates the circuit produced during heritage cultural mediation :

  • transmitting specific information about a particular element (e.g. recipe, mill, landscape) or group (e.g. route),
  • mobilizing knowledge and using pedagogical strategies of interpretation and communication, giving it all the burden of a body of its own, duly contextualized in space and time, and framed in the contemporary concept of cultural heritage, integrating the public into the experience (from their prior study),
  • and finally, arousing interest and motivation to disseminate, perpetuate and add to it.

Pedagogical function

From this pedagogical function of cultural mediation comes the birth of a new symbolic dimension in the individual and in the sphere of their community, caused by the movement of knowledge. It is in this pendulum of roles, learning and values that the effectiveness of heritage cultural mediation lies, to the detriment of other cultural heritage communication and information strategies.

In short

In short, if, at the end of the cultural mediation exercise, the public becomes a transmitter of the result of their learning to other publics, without borders, if the mediator has acquired new knowledge or added new values to their experience or training that give them a greater reach, then the mediated heritage (e.g. work of art, play, monument) has fulfilled its function as an instrument of humanization and social development.

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