“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. http://blog.westminster.ac.uk/contemporarychina/when-it-comes-to-intangible-cultural-heritage-everyone-is-always-happy-some-thoughts-on-the-chinese-life-of-a-unesco-convention/

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 : https://books.openedition.org/editionsmsh/15990)

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. https://doi.org/10.1111/1469-8676.12741.

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.

“Intangible Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Development: Concepts, Uses and Challenges” Sesc Centro de Pesquisa e Formação – São Paulo, Brasil

International Workshop – Resilience and Marketisation: Uses of Intangible Cultural Heritage in times of economic “crisis”

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 definitions and understandings of cultural heritage, promoting a dynamic and subjective understanding of culture. According to the Convention, communities, groups and individuals —rather than the heritage experts— are supposed to recognise and identify ICH and work towards its safeguarding and management. Today, the Convention has already been ratified by 178 State Parties and the concept of ICH is globally operational. However, as the international standard encounters different 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 reconceptualisation in its implementation process.

These challenges become particularly noticeable in the encounter between the abstract ideals of the Convention and the concrete uses and manifestations of ICH in the context of the so-called “Greek crisis”. Times of “crises” can create momentum and become a ground for changes and for new decisions to be made. This is also valid in the field of ICH in which people as a response to the economic “crisis” heightened their engagement with ICH in connection to the market and as a device to build up resilience. This workshop will explore the economic aspects of ICH looking at how safeguarding plans introduce ICH into the market in the context of economic austerity. This is a controversial point in the implementation of the Convention because the market is regarded as a threat to ICH and, at the same time, as a tool that keeps heritage “living” and open to change. Within this context, tourism is a key example of the marketisation of ICH.

This workshop, organised by the project “UNESCO Frictions: heritage-making across global governance” and the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) in Paris with the collaboration of the Directorate of Modern Cultural Heritage of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports and the Museum of Modern Greek Culture (Athens). The workshop took place on the 3rd and 4th of September 2019 at the lecture theatre of the Museum of Modern Greek Culture. The “UNESCO Frictions” project 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. This workshop is designed to bring together different actors involved in the ICH field in Greece—scholars, administrators, policy-makers and “heritage bearers”—to engage in a discussion on the uses of ICH in times of crisis. Specifically, the workshop wants to understand: how different ICH actors at different levels

  • reconceptualise ICH to build up resilience in the context of economic austerity;
  • frame ICH safeguarding and management in market and tourism
  • are more broadly motivated by the “crisis” to engage with ICH

Download the programme here