Accepted Paper:

Imagining SIEF engagement with UNESCO ICH - providing expertise, facilitating community cultural self-determination and maintaining critical perspectives  


Robert Baron (Goucher College)

Paper short abstract:

UNESCO's ICH program relies upon "experts" while stressing community participation. While reconciling policy critique with ICH engagement is challenging, SIEF members can provide ethically grounded expertise for documentation, transmission and programs that enable cultural self-determination.

Paper long abstract:

Since its inception, the UNESCO ICH safeguarding program has relied upon "experts", while emphasizing the imperative of community participation. Mediating with communities as cultural brokers, ethnologists and folklorists are especially well equipped to facilitate access to resources, provide professional direction for documentation, cultural transmission and programming; and facilitate community cultural self-determination. We face challenges in reconciling policy critique as critical heritage scholars and involvement in ICH activities which can have substantial social and cultural impacts upon communities. While non-engagement might maintain putative academic purity, the ICH project will continue whether or not we are involved. Praxis grounded in professional expertise and ethics can contribute to cultural sustainability while expanding employment and the societal impact of ethnology and folklore.

We could imagine many ways SIEF can contribute to the UNESCO ICH safeguarding program. More substantive, ethnographically informed documentation could be a next stage beyond item oriented inventorying. We can shape documentary practices that are more technically proficient and contain community driven representational practices. Our understanding of how traditions are transmitted can be applied to teaching, mentoring and apprenticeships. SIEF can develop modes of presentation agentive for cultural groups, sustaining traditions while representing them to others on a community's own terms. We can help develop sustainable cultural tourism projects which limit damage to the ecology of traditions, informed by critical scholarship about tourism's cultural impacts. As an accredited NGO, we could evaluate applications for the ICH representative list and have a voice in policy grounded in our professional standards and ethical concerns.

Panel Heri02
UNESCO and entanglements of intangible cultural heritage [SIEF Working Group on Cultural Heritage and Property] [R]