As a result of the debates held during an international workshop that took place on March 9th and 10th 2020 in São Paulo, Brazil, the special issue “Intangible Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Development” explores the present challenges associated with these themes, bringing together the contribution of public policy managers, researchers, experts and professionals in cultural heritage.

The special issue is an initiative of the “UNESCO frictions: making heritage across global governance” project, based at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris, which was embraced by SESC Center for Research and Training Journal and had the support of the National Institute of Historical and Artistic Heritage (IPHAN), Ministry of Tourism.

Commercialization without over-commercialization : normative conundrums across heritage rationalities

Chiara Bortolotto, 2020. Commercialization without over-commercialization : normative conundrums across heritage rationalitiesInternational Journal of Heritage Studies 


In aligning its priorities around the Sustainable Development Goals, UNESCO officially acknowledges the need to reconcile the market and heritage. Yet inscriptions of commercial practices on the Intangible Cultural Heritage lists are qualified as ‘traumatic’ by actors that design normative principles for ‘good’ heritage governance. Based on ethnographic observations of the meetings of the governing bodies of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, I analyse the controversies generated by the ‘risks of over-commercialization’, shedding light on the disputed entanglements between ICH and the market. In exploring the notion of ‘commercialization without over-commercialization’ meant to resolve the tension between heritage and the market, I highlight how ‘over-commercialization’ refers to notions of ‘misappropriation’ and ‘decontextualization’ and the ways it, therefore, intersects with the logics of Intellectual Property. This allows to elucidate a constitutive ambiguity in the implementation of the Convention, torn between the rationalities of heritage and property regimes.


“When it Comes to Intangible Cultural Heritage, Everyone is Always Happy” Some Thoughts on the Chinese Life of a UNESCO Convention


Demgenski, Philipp. 2020. “When It Comes to Intangible Cultural Heritage, Everyone Is Always Happy” Some Thoughts on the Chinese Life of a UNESCO Convention.” Contemporary China Centre Blog. April 22, 2020.

Le patrimoine immatériel et le tabou de l’authenticité : de la pérennisation à la durabilité

Chiara Bortolotto ‘Le patrimoine immatériel et le tabou de l’authenticité : de la pérennisation à la durabilité’, in J. Csergo, Ch. Hottin, P. Schmit, Le Patrimoine culturel immatériel au seuil des sciences sociales. (On line :

Conçu historiquement comme objet de conservation dont le monument est l’incarnation exemplaire, le patrimoine est désormais défini comme « recréé en permanence » (Unesco 2003 : art. 2) et conçu comme une ressource dynamique où l’impératif de la transmission du vivant fait du futur le temps fort du patrimoine. Loin d’incarner banalement une coupure aberrante et artificielle entre matériel et immatériel, le concept de patrimoine culturel immatériel introduit par l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour l’éducation, la science et la culture (Unesco) est un avatar paradigmatique de ce glissement vers le vivant, mettant à l’épreuve les principes fondateurs de l’institution patrimoniale, telles les notions occidentales de pérennité et d’authenticité. Parmi les nombreuses implications de l’institution du patrimoine culturel immatériel (PCI) pour repenser le patrimoine, l’évacuation de l’authenticité des critères de l’identification du patrimoine ouvre des perspectives inédites qui posent un défi majeur à la rhétorique patrimoniale dominante tout en introduisant des nouvelles contradictions.

Proving participation: vocational bureaucrats and bureaucratic creativity in the implementation of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage

Bortolotto, Chiara, Philipp Demgenski, Panas Karampampas, and Simone Toji. 2020. “Proving Participation: Vocational Bureaucrats and Bureaucratic Creativity in the Implementation of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.” Social Anthropology 28 (1): 66–82.

This paper investigates the bureaucratisation of the (utopian) ideal of community participation in Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) safeguarding and management. The analysis considers the whole ‘policy life’ of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of ICH. Our ethnographic examples from UNESCO, Brazil, China and Greece illustrate how bureaucratic operations often disenchant the participatory ideal, alienating it from its original intention. At the same time, driven by their commitment to ‘good’ governance and informed by sentiments of frustration and disappointment with actual policy results, vocational bureaucrats at different administrative levels experiment with and conceive of new tools in order to produce evidence of participation. We demonstrate how this bureaucratic creativity has concrete consequences, which may differ from the intended utopia, but nevertheless bring to life particular interpretations of the participatory principle among the recipients for whom heritage policies were originally designed. Thus, we present a more nuanced picture of bureaucratisation in which officials’ emotions and engagement sustain their agency against structural constraints as well as the futility and fragility of administrative procedures.