Placing ICH, owning a tradition, affirming sovergnity: the role of spatiality in the practice of the ICH Convention

Chiara Bortolotto, « Placing ICH, owning a tradition, affirming sovergnity: the role of spatiality in the practice of the ICH Convention », in P. Davis et M. Stefano The Routledge Companion to Intangible Cultural Heritage. London & New York, Routledge, 2016: 46-58

The 2003 Convention has opened up new scenarios in the representation of heritage as it defines it in ethnographic rather than topographic terms (Hafstein, 2007, p. 93). By positioning ICH expressions in relation to communities rather than places, the 2003 Convention shifts away from territorial definitions: ‘intangible cultural heritage means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage […]’ (UNESCO, 2003, Article 2). In avoiding a territorial definition of communities,1  it establishes an ‘open’ relationship between heritage, communities and place whereby community membership is not ‘naturally’ established by local roots, thus promoting dynamic representations of culture and identity. This, however, clashes with the political mechanisms of the Convention, based on negotiations between States bent on promoting national interests, as well as with the identity and economic uses social actors make of heritage, often depending on precise geographical delimitation of cultural resources. In this chapter, I explore the tension arising from these two ways of making sense of space based on an ethnographic study of the international arena in which the 2003 Convention is implemented.