Author:Áki Guðni Karlsson (University of Iceland)
Paper short abstract:
UNESCO’s ICH program has its counterpart in the World Intellectual Property Organisation where ethnologists are hard at work on possible conventions for the protection of traditional culture. I will discuss the role of these experts and the impact of their knowledge on the current debate.
Paper long abstract:
Since its adoption in 2003 UNESCO's ICH program has (among other things) influenced a number of other UN initiatives, including the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the recent World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) committee on Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Traditional Cultural Expressions (formerly known as "Folklore"). In fact, until the mid-1980's UNESCO and WIPO actively collaborated on this specific issue. A number of ethnologists, anthropologists and folklorists have participated in the debates on intellectual property-type protection for folklore at the WIPO headquarters in Geneva, in both the current intergovernmental committee or IGC (since 2000) and previous instances of this debate in the 20th century. These people have participated in their role as activists, NGO representatives, participants in various capacity-building programs and as expert advisors to both NGO and government parties. Although WIPO is traditionally a forum for experts in intellectual property law and the debate often seems to revolve more around either legal-technical issues of international policymaking or diplomatic prestige than the essentials of the subject-matter, it is clear that ethnographic knowledge gets instrumentalised in various ways in the discussions where it acquires a value that may sometimes seem far removed from what ethnologists are used to attribute to it. Based on my own participant observation at the WIPO IGC I will discuss the part played by these "ethnographers" in the forum, and their influence and possible impact on the texts being proposed and debated.
The program of intangible cultural heritage, a market niche for ethnographers or a symptom of their infirmity in the early 21st century?