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

Association of Critical Heritage Studies, Hangzhou, China, 1-6 September 2018


UNESCO frictions: the social lives of international heritage norms

UNESCO heritage policies are often associated with the spectre of cultural globalisation grounded on what Michael Herzfeld calls a  “global hierarchy of values”. Indeed, anthropological research on the social impact of the inscription on UNESCO World Heritage and Intangible Cultural Heritage lists provides evidence of the “UNESCOisation” (Berliner 2012) of local ways of representing culture and conceiving cultural transmission and emphasizes the top-down influence of “good” governance international principles on local logics and priorities.

At the same time, a close analysis of the institutional mechanisms and procedures underpinning the whole chainof the implementation of UNESCO heritage conventions sheds light on the agency of particular human and nonhuman actors involved in this process across the different scales of UNESCO-driven heritage governance : laws, institutions, policies, civil servants, local authorities, heritage experts, civil society, heritage “bearers”.

This session explores this agency, showing how international norms come to life through their national and local interpretations, uses and adaptations to different political, institutional, economic and socio-cultural situations.This session aims at exploring the different lives of international heritage norms focusing on the original outcome of the encounter between their universal aspirations and the diversity of the interpretations given to them, that is to say the “creative friction” (Tsing 2005) whichmakes these lives possible. We are interested in analyses that unpack the global/local dialectic looking in particular at the complex process of legislative, institutional, social and cultural translationsthat simultaneously globalize and localize international policies. How does the travel of an international standard change its meaning? How does an international norm engage and compromise with existing heritage regimes? What does the complexity of these practical interconnections tell us about the universal ambitions of global heritage governance?

Introduction (Chiara Bortolotto École des Hautes Études enSciences Sociales) 

ICH Backstage: Navigating the Heritage Bureaucracy in China (Philipp Demgenski École des Hautes Études enSciences Sociales)

Mobilizing for ICH safeguarding: The political and social  indigenization of UNESCO norms in China (Christina Maags SOAS, University of London)

When the connections are not obvious: diverted meanings in heritage-making between the global, the national and the local in Brazil (Simone Toji Instituto do Patrimônio Histórico e Artístico Nacional (IPHAN) École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS))

Following the 2003 Convention social life in the Portuguese panorama ( Ana Carvalho, University of Évora, Portugal)

Intangible Heritage (Contra)Versions: From ‘Folklore’ into Best Safeguarding Practices (Pedro Antunes ISCTE-IUL; FCSH-UN

Space F(r)ictions. The Politics of Scale and the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage List (Bernard Debarbiex & Hervé Munz, University of Geneva)

The Flight of the Condor: A Letter, a Song, and a Couple of Lessons on Intangible Cultural Heritage (Valdimar Tr. Hafstein University of Iceland)

Musique et patrimoine immatériel : le cas du “samba de roda” de Bahia

Conférence de Carlos Sandroni, « Midis de Brésil(s) ». Séminaire mensuel pour le débat brésilianiste coordonné par Amanda Dias, Camila Georgetti et Mônica Raisa Schpun

En 2004, le ministère de la Culture brésilien a décidé de soumettre à l’Unesco la « samba de roda » de la région du Recôncavo, dans l’État de Bahia, dans le but de l’inscrire sur la troisième Déclaration des œuvres du patrimoine immatériel de l’humanité. À cette fin, il a été nécessaire d’élaborer un dossier de candidature avec des informations, des photos, des vidéos et des enregistrements. Un ethnomusicologue a été recruté pour diriger la réalisation de ce dossier. Au cours de ce processus, d’innombrables questions ont émergé concernant la samba et la représentation des cultures subalternes, sur l’identité nationale, les politiques publiques liées au patrimoine culturel, et l’idée d’une ethnomusicologie « engagée ». La candidature brésilienne a été acceptée par l’Unesco à la fin de l’année 2005. Depuis lors, les débats autour de ces questions reste vivant et prend de nouvelles dimensions.

Lundi 28 mai 2018, de 12h à 14h
salle B204, EHESS

54 bd Raspail, Paris 6e