International Workshop on “Intangible Cultural Heritage: Reconceptualization, Uses, Marketization” (18.-19. May 2019, Hangzhou, China)

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:

  1. Understandings of ICH and its market uses at different (administrative) levels.
  2. Community participation: marketization as heritage self-determination.
  3. Staging intangible cultural heritage and tourism.
  4. Transmitters of ICH: Benefits, reputation and competition.
  5. Cultural Industry: Intangible Cultural Heritage Production-oriented Safeguarding Bases (非物质文化遗产生产性保护基地).

International Journal of Cultural Property

Volume 25 – Issue 4 – November 2018

Editorial: Foodways as Intangible Cultural Heritage

Chiara Bortolotto, Benedetta Ubertazzi 

Mapping the Potential Interactions between UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage Regime and World Trade Law

Tomer Broude

Food As a Collective Heritage Brand in the Era of Globalization

Julia Csergo  

Food as Heritage and Multi-Level International Legal Governance

Lucas Lixinski

Japan’s Washoku as Intangible Heritage: The Role of National Food Traditions in UNESCO’s Cultural Heritage Scheme

Voltaire Cang

Safeguarding the Art of Pizza Making: Parallel Use of the Traditional Specialities GuaranteedScheme and the UNESCO Intangible Heritage Convention

Harriet Deacon 

Select How to Protect Traditional Food and Foodways Effectively in Terms of Intangible Cultural Heritage and Intellectual Property Laws in the Republic of Korea

Gyooho Lee 

From the Mediterranean Diet to the Diaita: The Epistemic Making of a Food Label

Antonio José Marques da Silva

Issue available here:

#PizzaUnesco or the embarrassment of heritage alienability

Food as a cultural heritage: challenges, processes and perspectives

Conference organised by the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food (IEHCA, Tours, France)

In its classic definition, heritage is the inalienable possession of a group, often imagined as a nation. With intangible cultural heritage (ICH), UNESCO introduced key shifts in this understanding. Based on ethnographic observations of the meetings of the statutory organs of the Convention for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage and focusing in particular on the case of the “Art of Neapolitan Pizzaiuolo”, this paper explores the controversies generated among heritage policy-makers and administrators by « risks of over-commercialisation » of ICH. For heritage entrepreneurs denying commercial dimensions is nothing but prudery. How is this economic component, intrinsic to many ICH elements, articulated with the heritage one in UNESCO narratives? How is the “paradox” of alienable heritage affecting our representations and uses of it? How does the definition of heritage as a community resource, rather than a national symbol, affect its commodification? I argue that the embarrassment prompted among heritage policy-makers and implementers by the overlapping of commercial and heritage values reveals the liminal nature of ICH and its potential to mirror broader social, economic and political aspects of neoliberal globalisation.

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

Session Title:

The Global Intangible Cultural Heritage Regime and the Politics of Community Participation in China

Philipp Demgenski

Since ratifying the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) in 2004, China has embraced local culture as an important resource for domestic social and economic development and has been eagerly submitting its ICH elements to be included in the international lists. In this process, the participation of communities, groups and individuals in heritage safeguarding and management– a key idea and defining feature of the 2003 Convention– must be demonstrated and complied with.

In China, min (民), the word for people, is a central and frequently used term and notions such as “folk culture” (minjian wenhua), “ethnic culture” (minzu wenhua) or “folkways” (minsu) are inherently part of the Chinese ICH discourse. This focus on min as the fundamental component of ICH resonates with the UNESCO concept of “community” as the bearer of heritage. But how and to what extent are the ideas of min and “community” actually similar or different? And how is the concept of “community participation” (shequ canyu) localized in China?

This session discusses and scrutinises how the UNESCO ideas of “community” and “community participation” are translated into practice in China, whether and how they may divert from indigenous understandings and how they are understood, interpreted and utilised at different administrative scales and among different ICH stakeholders, at the national/institutional level, among heritage experts or at the level of so-called communities. We particularly investigate case studies on ICH elements that are prepared by China for submission to UNESCO and on those that have already been inscribed on one of the lists. We also particularly welcome contributions on different geographical regions in China.

This session is based on the premise that the notions of “community” and “participation” are never unproblematic or neutral, but inherently political. So instead of asking questions about the efficacy of community participation in heritage safeguarding or whether communities are really empowered by the Convention, what we would like to address and investigate are questions of what community participation actually means to different ICH stakeholders, how the idea is used and for what purposes, who benefits from it and in what ways. In short, we are looking to gain a better understanding of how the 2003 UNESCO Convention shapes and informs a distinctive politics of community participation at national and local levels in contemporary China.

The Participatory Principle in UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage and in China: An Introduction (Philipp Demgenski)

Mass Participation and Commodification of Intangible Cultural Heritage: A Case Study of Quyang’s Stone-Carving Skills in Heibei, China. (Prof. Selina Ching Chan)

Fading Divinity and Rising Glory: Rediscovering “Huangshan” in a Heritage Context (Dr. Luo Pan)

“Leaning on the Big Tree, Sheltering with its Shade”: Mazu as Intangible Cultural Heritage and Local Temple Reconstructions (Dr. Huijuan Ma)

Making “Community” in the Context of Patrimonialization: A Case Study of the Dance of Nuo in Leizhou Peninsula (Shanshan Zheng)

Contested Communities: Negotiating the Politics of Participation in Intangible Cultural Heritage Safeguarding in a Yao Village in Guangdong, China (Daina Chen)

Universe, Windmill, Museum: Diverse Ways of Intangible Cultural Heritage Knowledge Production (Wu Jie)

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)