Through ethnographic observation and textual analysis, this workshop addresses the global cultural politics of UNESCO. How do this agency's initiatives for the protection of heritage and cultural diversity arise, and how are they accommodated and subverted in national and local arenas world-wide?
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has evolved into a major player in contemporary cultural politics. This is due to its older conventions for the protection of cultural properties from war damage and illicit exportation and the hugely successful World Heritage Convention but also to the two new conventions for intangible cultural heritage and cultural diversity from the 2000s. The details of UNESCO processes and policies are often little known among the public, and UNESCO decisions have very limited binding power; yet still, they ramify into national politics and local arenas world-wide, inspiring high hopes but also unclear or mistaken ideas about UNESCO's expectations. Vaguenesses and contradictions in programmatic texts do not always help to counter the confusion.
This workshop, held only kilometres away from UNESCO headquarters, addresses the global politics of the only UN specialised agency responsible for culture, our disciplinary subject matter. Is there a connecting thread through the manifold UNESCO conventions, recommendations and other activities, and what are the hidden agendas? Why is globalisation castigated so fervently and culture imagined as so vulnerable here? How do UNESCO cultural policies arise, and how are they accommodated, resisted, and creatively subverted by member states or within targeted sites and communities? We welcome ethnographic forays both into UNESCO processes and into the national and local arenas of implementation, as we also encourage critical analyses of the UNESCO textual production. What can we expect from the one global institution that shapes common views of culture most strongly today?