Accepted Paper:

Making Swiss intangible cultural heritage: tensions between the centre and its peripheries  


Florence Graezer Bideau (EPFL)

Paper short abstract:

The process of listing “living traditions in Switzerland” highlights political challenges with regards to the relation between centre and peripheries. This paper will explore Swiss federalism as an original model for the making of intangible cultural heritage and the production of national knowledge.

Paper long abstract:

Switzerland ratified the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2008. This paper explores the making of intangible cultural heritage in a particular political context -Swiss federalism - and analyzes the kinds of knowledge created through this process.

In 2010, after two years of negotiations with experts from different political levels (federal, cantonal, city), a national program was launched for identifying Switzerland's "living traditions". The program emphasizes the need for bottom-up procedures for identifying these traditions, the aim being to come up with a list of approximately one hundred items supported by "civil society". According to the principle of subsidiarity that governs Swiss cultural policy, the Federal Office for Culture is responsible for conceptualizing the program and making the final decisions about which items will figure on the national list; for their part, Switzerland's 26 cantons are responsible for identifying the relevant items and submitting them to the Federal Office.

This paper analyzes the precise mechanisms by which inventories are currently being constituted. It argues that this process reflects the tension surrounding the sensitive place of culture within a federal state, and examines the (typically) Swiss compromise that tries to resolve this tension, sorting items into three types of lists: a highly selective list for international purposes (UNESCO); a "representative" but exclusive list to be used as a national platform; and numerous residual cantonal "portaits", on which local items excluded from the international and national lists may figure, satisfying, it is hoped, the "bearers of tradition" who proposed them.

Panel P312
Making heritage, making knowledge