The UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage heralded the beginning of a new era pertaining to global (and local) cultural politics. It clearly departed from previous, more rigid definitions and understandings of cultural heritage, instead promoting an understanding of culture as evolving, integrated, subjective and diverse. According to the Convention, it is the communities, groups and individuals—the heritage “bearers”, not experts—that define ICH, imbue it with meaning and value and work towards its safeguarding and management. Today, the Convention has already been ratified by almost 180 State Parties and the concept of ICH is globally operational. However, as the international standard encounters respective national heritage regimes, many controversies and tensions arise pertaining to its interpretation, translation and actual implementation at local levels. Heritage actors in different countries are often struggling to reconcile already existing heritage frameworks with the principles of the ICH Convention, which frequently results in the global standard being subject to transformation and reconceptualization in its implementation process.
The challenges and paradoxes become particularly noticeable in the encounter between the abstract ideal and the concrete uses and manifestations of ICH. One specific and often-discussed issue here concerns the marketization and economic considerations in and of ICH. This is because ICH is by definition “living heritage,” it belongs to its “bearers” and is deeply entangled with their daily lives. Unlike tangible heritage, it is also explicitly allowed to change over time. Hence, as long as it is some “bearers’” wish, marketization may be perfectly in line with the spirit of ICH. At the same time, however, heritage policy-makers, administrators and experts often stress that uses of ICH for the market must be avoided, with the boundaries between what might be acceptable degrees of marketization and what would be over-marketization remaining anything but clear-cut. Similar situations and debates exist pertaining to the issue of staging ICH, which often detaches cultural practices from their original environments and contexts and explicitly turns ICH into a tourism resource.
This workshop is the outcome of a collaboration between the “UNESCO Friction” project based at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris, France and the Institute of Anthropology of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. Researchers on both sides have engaged in empirical studies on how the concept of ICH is operationalized and put into practice, including the many challenges that this involves. The “UNESCO Friction” project explicitly traces the social life of the UNESCO 2003 Convention, investigating the entire policy chain that links the international arena with national heritage institutions and local heritage programs in China, Greece and Brazil. Researchers at Zhejiang University have conducted studies on how ICH is implemented in China at national and local levels. We both believe in an engaged approach to the study of ICH and so this workshop is designed to bring together different actors involved in the ICH field—scholars, administrators, policy-makers and “bearers”—to engage in a discussion and exchange about the tensions that exist between the normative ideas and principles underlying ICH on the one hand and its uses and manifestations on the other. The workshop aims at generating a better understanding of what the challenges are that different involved actors at different levels face in bringing to life an idea that was conceived at the global level and subsequently travels down to national and local levels, often being appropriated, reinterpreted and even transformed in the process. Specifically, the workshop wants to understand: how do different ICH actors at different (administrative) levels and in different capacities
- reconceptualize ICH?
- use ICH for the market in the context of its safeguarding and management?
- evaluate/assess the marketization of ICH?
To address these questions, the workshop includes, but is not limited to the following five themes:
- Understandings of ICH and its market uses at different (administrative) levels.
- Community participation: marketization as heritage self-determination.
- Staging intangible cultural heritage and tourism.
- Transmitters of ICH: Benefits, reputation and competition.
- Cultural Industry: Intangible Cultural Heritage Production-oriented Safeguarding Bases (非物质文化遗产生产性保护基地).