Accepted paper:

Messy meetings: procedure and pragmatics in the UNESCO World Heritage Committee sessions


Christoph Brumann (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle)

Paper short abstract:

For a prominent global event, the sessions of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee often take surprisingly confused or even chaotic turns, straying widely from expected procedure. The paper tries to explore the reasons for the mess.

Paper long abstract:

In parallel with the rise of the UNESCO World Heritage title to a coveted distinction, the annual 10-day sessions of the intergovernmental committee in charge of the 1972 World Heritage Convention have developed into a major global event, attracting more than 1000 participants. Correspondingly, the procedures around the sessions for evaluating, monitoring, and reporting on World Heritage sites and candidates have been elaborated and systematised considerably in the 2000s, and audit culture is in full swing. Yet in relation to the 20,000 pages of documents on which the sessions are based, the actual conduct of the meetings often appears improvised or even downright chaotic to the observer.

Partly, the messiness of the sessions can be explained with the overloaded agenda and the huge political pressure on many of the delegates who try to protect their vested interests by all available means. But there also structural reasons, such as the large number of equal-ranked players and the selection of major functionaries (chairpersons, heads of Committee member-state delegations etc.) by other criteria than their World Heritage meeting experience. For negotiations that often look distinctly legal, there is a surprising lack of procedural knowledge among key participants. Many of these know, however, that in a general climate of live and let live, they can reach their objectives by other means.

panel P14
Meetings: procedure and artifacts of modern knowledge