At the UNESCO feast: introduction

Chiara Bortolotto and Benedetta Ubertazzi

logo-achs-2016-02fb0852c9bba8611484b453ddf964b8This introduction presents the establishment of foodways as a new field in global heritage governance outlining some of the questions that this development raises both in socio-cultural and legal perspective. What do the numerous controversies generated by this development tell us about our relationship with what we cherish and want to transmit to future generation? How can they shed light on the legal conundrums associated with the implementation of the Unesco Convention for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage? While the combination of legal and socio-cultural approaches allow us to explore different facets of culinary heritage, anthropological and juridical investigations have different objectives and methods. How can we establish an interdisciplinary dialogue?

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




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.


Lancement du projet UNESCO frictions


Lancement du projet « UNESCO frictions : heritage-making across global governance ».

Mardi 12 avril entre 12h00 et 14h00, EHESS, 190 av. de France, Paris (salle 002).

Ce projet explore les politiques du patrimoine culturel à l’ère de la gouvernance globale, en se penchant sur son domaine le plus récent et le plus débattu, celui du patrimoine culturel immatériel, et sur son principe central et controversé, à savoir la « participation » des « communautés » à l’identification et à la sélection du patrimoine. En suivant la vie sociale de la Convention pour la sauvegarde du patrimoine culturel immatériel, dès débats diplomatiques dans les salles de réunion de l’Unesco à la mise en œuvre de projets patrimoniaux à l’échelle locale, ce projet étudie la chaîne politique qui relie l’arène internationale où les standards sont négociés, les institutions nationales du patrimoine qui procèdent à leur adaptation, et les programmes locaux auxquels ils donnent lieu dans trois pays (Grèce, Brésil et Chine) choisis comme études de cas en fonction de la diversité de leurs régimes patrimoniaux nationaux. Pour suivre les traductions successives d’un standard international, le projet se concentre sur les coulisses de la confrontation entre ces différents régimes et explore les controverses qui naissent de leurs interprétations respectives du changement participatif introduit par la convention de l’Unesco.

UNESCO frictions est financé par l’Agence Nationale de la Recherche dans le cadre du programme @RAction et est hébergé à l’EHESS.

Fiches de poste pour le recrutements de trois postdoc (candidatures avant le 22 avril) :

Collaborative dilemmas


Policymaking and implementation across state institutions, international organisations and transnational networks of civil-society organisations are expanding fields of anthropological research. The complex positionalities that anthropologists adopt in these ethnographic contexts and their implications in epistemological, methodological and ethical terms are emerging as central issues in these fields.
This workshop explores different and often controversial forms of anthropological engagement with global policy worlds and the dilemmas that collaboration entails against the background of a dominant neoliberal research agenda.
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At the UNESCO feast: Foodways across global heritage governance

Photo: Chiara Bortolotto

Session organized by Chiara Bortolotto (EHESS/IIAC) and Benedetta Ubertazzi (University di Milano Bicocca) at the third Congress of the Association for Critical heritage Studies, Montreal, Canada, 6-10 June 2016.

With sustainable development gaining momentum as a priority of UNESCO heritage policies, an increasing number of food-related nominations are being submitted for inscription on the lists of the Convention for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage. The Mediterranean diet, traditional Mexican cuisine and the Japanese dietary culture of washoku are just some examples of this booming phenomenon.
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