Accepted Paper:

Evolving pasts: the anthropologisation of UNESCO World Heritage  


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

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses the recent development of UNESCO World Heritage, showing why it has moved to both a more dynamic and a more "anthropological" conception of culture and heritage in recent years.

Paper long abstract:

UNESCO World Heritage now includes 851 sites in 142 states and has developed into a major global brand name that bestows prestige upon participating nation-states and is a significant resource for tourism. The general success of the program, however, fosters rather than decreases concern about the "credibility" of the list that almost from its inception has been castigated as overly Eurocentric. I will show that the countermeasures taken have led to both a more dynamic and a more "anthropological" conception of heritage. Instead of immutable witnesses of the past, recent position papers and nomination rounds emphasize "living" cultures and milestones within narratives of ongoing technical, scientific, or political progress. At the same time, conceptions of culture have been broadened, authenticity is defined in a cultural relativist way, and sites from everyday rather than elite backgrounds are increasingly listed. The recent expansion into immaterial heritage promises to strengthen these two trends even further. Besides analysing the underlying factors of this development, the paper also looks into the consequences for anthropological practice.

Panel W019
The anthropology of the United Nations