“Halfie” anthropology of global heritage governmentality: from methodological anxieties to heuristic discomfort

 

Capture d’écran 2016-04-27 à 00.43.07PROGRAMA DE DOUTORAMENTO FCT EM ANTROPOLOGIA: POLÍTICAS E IMAGENS DA CULTURA E MUSEOLOGIA

FCSH/NOVA • ISCTE-IUL

18:00 ISCTE-IUL, Edifício II, Auditório B203

This paper considers the methodological challenge of exploring global heritage governmentality as a “halfie” anthropologist belonging at once to the academic community and to the epistemic community associated with the implementation of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.

As intangible cultural heritage (ICH) domains overlap with the traditional objects of anthropological research (oral traditions, rituals, craftsmanship), anthropologists are “natural” interlocutors for heritage organisations and bureaucracies at international, national and local levels. This often-serendipitous complicity is a key methodological condition for exploring global heritage governmentality by following the social life of the UNESCO ICH Convention along the trajectory of its implementation. Collaborative approaches are inherently embedded in research on the “contact zones” where the international standard is translated into national policies and laws or appropriated by local NGOs and cultural brokers. Access to field sites depends in fact on the anthropologist’s engagement, as an expert, with heritage policies and cultural brokerage.

The establishment of “symmetrical anthropology” as near orthodoxy has made investigation of policy-making institutions a legitimate subject of anthropological enquiry. Yet collaborative approaches that have become canonical in the exploration of the worlds of marginal, dispossessed or dominated interlocutors are regarded as suspect when the subjects in question are powerful organisations. We know how useful it is to study the colonizers, but engagement with governmental agendas and dominant institutions exhumes anthropology’s skeletons in the closet, raising difficult questions about ethics and power.

Drawing on autoetnographic data, this paper describes the constant movement back and forth between different positionalities, far from the comfort zone of the “hands-off” approach. Considering the methodological anxieties stemming from an intellectual commitment to both communities leads me to interrogate the heuristic potential of ethnographic uneasiness, as reflexive analysis of these anxieties allows the researcher to investigate the tension between action and knowledge, thereby contributing to broader anthropological, social and political debate.