Negotiating methods and navigating positions: between expertise and research on UNESCO heritage policies

Kristin Kuutma and Chiara Bortolotto

This paper presents a first reflexive analysis of collaboration with our research partners within the UNESCO apparatus as a methodological approach to study International Organisations. By investigating UNESCO from within, we contemplate a world organisation as a field and elaborate on the method and accountability of anthropological approach. The discipline of social anthropology holds the study of organisations at the heart and has a long record of exploring organisations as sites where systems of meaning are produced and circulated. Our analysis is based on long lasting fieldwork and observant collaboration to explore policy-making and governance related to the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). For us, the field has been a site for collecting data as well as a space that embodies strategic intervention in organisational activities, which allowed us to investigate procedural and arbitrational mechanisms or negotiations in order to unravel the entanglement of relationships at play and to recognize also subjective factors in the process. The international policy setting scene of the Intergovernmental Committee meetings to the Convention and its subsequent ad hoc consultative or subsidiary bodies becomes extended to organisational formats and policy-setting activities for implementing the Convention. By drawing on our outsider inquisitive perspective and insider collaborative approach, we propose to unravel different aspects and diverse experience in collaborating with the UN staff. We pose questions about positionality and the process of reflexive knowledge production.