Accepted Paper:

Investigating cultural expressions at the margins of the Intangible Cultural Heritage-concept: theatre projects in migrant contexts under a heritage perspective  


Miriam Cohn (University of Basel)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on a PhD-study the paper argues that anthropological research on topics at the margins of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) concept make valuable contributions not only to the investigated subject but also to the theorizing of ICH by challenging and enhancing notions of the convention.

Paper long abstract:

Theatre projects in contexts of migration might not be considered in a study on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). Even though they technically belong to the category of "performing arts" as listed by the UNESCO, other aspects of the convention - especially the rootedness in a community for several generations and the suggested interaction with the environment - make the appearance of migrant cultural expressions on an ICH list unlikely. However, the implementation process in Switzerland, which has started in 2008 with the ratification of the convention, so far has included discussions of migrant cultural expressions. This result implies that ICH is discussed in a more differentiated way as expected.

Indeed, the investigation of migrant theatre projects in Basel, Switzerland under the perspective of ICH furthers several insights: The research reveals the complexity of terms such as "community" and challenges notions of rooted locality and smooth continuity of transmission. It also shows the existence of multiple discourses on "culture" and traditions, in which discourses on migration/integration, ICH but also art appear sometimes converging, sometimes diverging. The different values that are attributed to these discourses in turn give insights in the logics surrounding the creation of an ICH inventory.

Therefore, anthropological research plays an important role in refining concepts belonging to the ICH-convention and by this can attribute to the theorizing of heritage. The investigation of issues at the margins of the ICH-convention can help to enhance concepts and to gain a deeper understanding which discourses influence the creation of an inventory.

Panel P06
Intangible heritage and the challenges for the theory and practice of anthropology