Heritage, beyond materiality: intangible cultural heritage, collaborative methodologies and imaginations of the future
Location SOAS - Senate House S311
Date and Start Time 02 Jun, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Raluca Roman (University of St Andrews) email
  • Panas Karampampas (EHESS) email

Mail All Convenors

Short abstract

This panel discusses the ways in which Intangible Cultural Heritage is defined, shaped and recognised by communities, researchers and policy-makers and the collaborations and creative (or not) frictions between them at local, national and international levels.

Long abstract

This panel explores the relationship between Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), collaborative methodologies and local identity construction. The analytical drive of this panel is that of looking at ideas of heritage not only through museum representation but through the practices themselves: the ways in which the 'immaterial' itself is constitutive of local and international representations of identity and belonging. Therefore, a central focus point is the shaping and understanding of ICH on a local level: the ways in which ICHs are defined, shaped and recognised by communities, local and interventional.

A second aim of the panel is to better understand the collaborative relationships embedded within ICH knowledge-making in connection with the collaborative (and, at times, conflictual) relationships between the former and the practices of defining them as ICH.

We therefore invite papers that engage critically with the ways in which ICHs are defined, shaped and reshaped locally, as well as with the political implications of these processes. Some questions to be explore can be: What are the consequences of economic and other forms of 'crisis' regarding ICH? How do members of local communities themselves shape the discourse surrounding practices and knowledge deemed as ICH as well as the forms of participation in ICH policy-making? Finally, can ICH be a platform through which a broader, global connection is established between communities sharing similar practices?

We welcome both theoretical and ethnographic studies of ICH, with a particular focus placed on collaboration between local communities, researchers and policy-makers.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


A Clothing Dilemma in Inner Mongolia: Discourses and Practices Regarding the Inscription of an Ethnic Costume on the Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage"

Author: Aurore Dumont (École Pratique des Hautes Études ) email

Short abstract

This presentation explores the discourses and practices surrounding the inscription of a traditional costume on the Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage. We consider the implementation of the cultural heritage policies in a multi-ethnic area of China and their reception by local populations.

Long abstract

This presentation explores the discourses and practices surrounding the inscription of a "traditional ethnic costume" on the Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2014. It is based on fieldwork conducted since 2008 in Hulun Buir, a pastoral area situated in north-eastern Inner Mongolia, where numerous "ethnic minorities" live. The costume is a subject of sharp controversy between two minority groups, the Khamnigan (2 000 people) and the Buryats (8 000), who respectively claim its ownership. The costume's inscription on the national list of protected heritage for the benefit of the Khamnigan has exacerbated a long standing dispute between the two groups that Chinese ethnologists already recorded during the 1950s. Furthermore, the two communities are now trying to appropriate the clothing techniques and skills.

Considered as a material object supporting various practices and discourses, the costume will lead us to consider the implementation of the "intangible cultural heritage" policies in a peripheral and multi-ethnic area of China and their reception by local populations. How are local identities (re)defined and shaped by both Intangible Cultural Heritage's policy-makers and local societies? Indeed, faced with official institutions that recreate ethnic minorities' traditions for political purposes, how do local people take part into this process of identity construction? By analysing the local discourse and practices about a "traditional costume", we will show how a specific clothing became constitutive of local representations of identity and belonging.

Art Interventions in the Service of (In)Tangible Heritage - The Case of Kufr Birʽim Community

Authors: Irit Carmon Popper (Technion - Institute of Technology Israel ) email

Short abstract

Located in a national park in Israel, the remains of Kufr Birʽim village fall into ruin. Regularly yet temporarily, its Palestinian community performs participatory art interventions on site that counteract official preservation models by referring to tangible and intangible community heritage.

Long abstract

Bar'am is a national park in northern Israel that contains the remains of an ancient synagogue and the ruins of a Palestinian village. While the synagogue is preserved as a symbol of Jewish roots in antiquity, the houses of the village Kufr Birʽim, depopulated in 1948, are neglected and crumbling. This official discriminatory policy has led the village's former inhabitants to initiate independent activities to preserve its cultural heritage. The paper examines their artistic practices focusing on a series of participatory art interventions performed on site by a member of the displaced community, artist and architect Hanna Farah-Kufr Birʽim.

The artist's temporary interventions apply a dry connections technique so as not to interfere with the structural integrity of the ruins. He uses components that constitute an ephemeral alternative to lost architectural elements, such as cloth windows, a woven ceiling or a floor reorganized using kitchen materials. These are symbolically linked to daily culture, thereby enlivening the village's ICH and at the same time embodying its tangible historical presence by filling in the architectural blanks. In their necessarily temporary presence as "park visitors" in their own home, the participants themselves contribute an additional layer of meaning to the symbolic preservation act.

The paper proposes to critically engage with the ways in which ICHs are redefined and reshaped locally and with regard to policy-making. It draws on the intellectual climate the discipline of preservation shares with art, calling for the incorporation of values related to locality and community-based collaborations in the latter.

Collaboration and preservation of intangible heritage: The case of Haining Shadow Play, China

Authors: Yi Fu email

Short abstract

This paper discusses how multiple communities collaborate to construct the Haining Shadow Play as intangible heritage. It argues the audiences take the significant role in preserving Haining Shadow Play. They not only affect the presentation of shadow play but also the policy-making of governments.

Long abstract

Haining Shadow Play has transformed from theatre drama, religious ritual, propaganda performance to UNESCO intangible heritage since the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). As a cultural symbol of Haining, Haining Shadow Play mirrors the local history and constructs the local identities of Haining in Zhejiang, China. Preserving and transmitting Haining Shadow Play in contemporary Haining has become a collective cultural practice or process (Smith, 2006), which reflects the collaborative efforts of multiple communities including policy-makers of governments, heritage experts, shadow play artists, local community and other stakeholders. Based on the fieldwork combined with multiple research methods including direct observation, semi-structured interviews and documentary, this paper explores how multiple communities collaborate with each other to preserve and transmit Haining shadow play. The paper argues the audiences of Haining shadow play, both local residents and tourists, take the significant roles in the process of constructing Haining shadow play as intangible heritage. They not only affect the presentation of shadow play artists, but also affect the policy-making of governments. Thus, this paper also highlights the approach of community participation and tourism bring positive effects to the contemporary practice of intangible heritage.

Intangible Heritage and International Development Networks: Actors, Agency and Representation around Intangible Heritage for Development.

Author: Stefania Cardinale (London Metropolitan University) email

Short abstract

Through a case study presentation, the paper discusses the ways in which the practice of intangible cultural heritage safeguarding interlinks with development aims and creates larger and complex collaborative networks impacting the nature, actors and community of the intangible heritage.

Long abstract

The practice of safeguarding intangible heritage calls for researchers to look beyond scalar dichotomies of global-local, materiality and intangibility and to reach for a more fluid and fibrous interpretation of intangible cultural heritage networks. It is certainly not only a matter of defining the boundaries of the heritage community, as a departing point. It is much more important to focus on what kind of relations are established to highlight the nature and agency of these connections over the cultural element. To this end, the paper presents an ethnography of intangible heritage practice that interlinks with 'project of development' practice, focusing on a project implemented in West Bengal (2009-2011) and linked to the heritage of Purulia chhau dance. It discusses the extent to which key aspects of the network (power relations, actors' interests, project's ideas, etc.) enact the heritage of chhau into an alternative livelihood, positioning the heritage in the practice of culture for development. Through understanding how various actors make sense of their role under the project investigated we can shed light on the processes of negotiation that actors use in attempts to control the ordering of the intangible heritage as a livelihood for development. The paper suggests the heritage of chhau is also an effect of the project and that with regard to safeguarding practice and participation, there is limited scope for self-determination given to artists, when they are inscribed into an action as 'beneficiaries' and subjected to the 'project of management' structure, typical of international development action.

Opening the space for critical commentary in facilitation of UNESCO workshops on implementing the 2003 Convention

Author: Harriet Deacon (University of Coventry) email

Short abstract

This paper explores the collaborative construction of ICH through engagement between UNESCO facilitators, and local stakeholders including government officials, NGO staff and researchers, as well as 'community' representatives in the UNESCO global capacity-building programme.

Long abstract

UNESCO Intangible Heritage Section initiated a global capacity-building strategy in 2010, aiming to grow the capacities of government officials, NGO representatives, researchers, members of 'bearer' communities and civil society to implement the Convention at the national level. The programme contracted consultants (including the author of the paper) to develop materials and act as facilitators in country-level workshops in beneficiary countries. Workshops were developed on the topics of ratification, implementation, nominations, safeguarding, policy-making, gender, sustainable development and international assistance requests.

Participants in the workshops have to negotiate the tensions between:

1. Different perspectives, expressed by researchers, UNESCO, state agencies, commercial interests and civil society actors, on how specific ICH elements are characterized and associated 'communities, groups and individuals' identified; and

2. Different perspectives on the role of ICH safeguarding in sustainable development, expressed by the Committee, UNESCO, states parties, NGOs, researchers and 'communities concerned'.

In discussing how these areas of 'friction' have been negotiated, the paper will describe the use of strategies such as the use of external case studies, 'sample' nominations and safeguarding 'scenarios'. In the workshops, facilitators and participants have to shift between acknowledging that ICH is a product of social construction in a specific political and economic context, and the idea that ICH elements identified by 'communities' are valid and real objects for safeguarding.

The Lost City: How do we learn from spaces and places that no longer exist? an exploration of London's genius loci and sites of emotional heritage

Author: Jenny Wedgbury (UCL, Institute of Education) email

Short abstract

I'm interested in stripping back the notion of heritage sites being vessels of emotion by looking at heritage places that no longer exist. If no stones, brickwork remain, how can we learn of a site's past? Do places where events have taken place retain some kind of embedded emotional experience?

Long abstract

In this paper I'd like to critically explore the ways in which we describe heritage sites as 'holding' or 'containing' a spirit of place or genius loci. I want to explore and examine the way we talk about spaces and places being receptacles for past emotions, where past actions have seeped into the very stonework of a building or public space, into the grass, mud, pavement.

I want to examine the way in which we talk about places holding echoes of fear, love, power, greed, pain etc. Is this just a narrative hook we use to engage audiences or is there something more in terms of seeing emotional heritage as akin to other types of intangible heritage? Can the vestiges of past emotional experience be read in a way in which we can group them together as part of our shared intangible heritage?

The Process of Preservation and Re-construction of Musical Heritage in Contemporary Cambodia

Author: Francesca Billeri (SOAS) email

Short abstract

This talk aims to show the ways in which the Cambodian intangible cultural heritage, with a focus on traditional music and theatre genres, is shaped, promoted and restored by local NGOs and performers from different ages and backgrounds in an effort to re-construct the Khmer cultural identity.

Long abstract

The on-going process of preservation and revival of traditional performing arts in Cambodia leads to a phenomenon of canonization of music; this heritage building process can be defined as the use of music as a trait of cultural identity in order to characterize local communities within a larger nation and, at the same time to foster economic process of which local communities may benefit. It is a controversial trend that implies nationalistic views and the freezing of cultural process with the aim of keeping repertoires and practices that are gradually disappearing with a different function. Connected to this issue is the term of heritage including the controversial action of UNESCO with its Intangible Cultural Heritage. Despite the community and non-government sector efforts to restore and protect traditional performing arts, many traditional musical genres are endangered. It is estimated that 90% of the Khmer artist were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime and those alive are few in number. In addition to the limited knowledge for traditional arts, the rapid process of social and technological change, urbanisation and modernisation draw the cultural crisis of Khmer arts sector. UNESCO attributes the endangerment and disappearance of intangible cultural expressions to "long-lasting conflicts, the declining number of performers and the clear tendency among the younger generation to cultural influences from outside the country". This talk aims to show the ways in which the intangible cultural heritage is shaped and restored by local NGOs and performers in an effort to re-construct the Khmer cultural identity.

The role of the UNESCO declaration in developing an ethno-nationalism in the Andes

Author: Jonathan Alderman (St Andrews) email

Short abstract

This paper examines the role of UNESCO, through ICH, in projects of ethnonationalism. It focusses on the 2003 0UNESCO declaration of Kallawaya culture as Oral Heritage of Humanity, and the ethnonationalist project that followed, alongside the redefinition of Bolivia as a plurinational state.

Long abstract

This paper will examine the role of ICH in the development of ethnonationalism. In 2003, UNESCO declared 'The Andean Cosmovision of Kallawaya Culture" as Oral Heritage of Humanity. The Kallawayas are a collection of indigenous Andean Bolivian communities best known for exercising their profession as healers. Exercising their profession as healers was illegal in Bolivia until 1987, and the Kallawayas were often regarded either as charlatans or wizards and witches (because their healing frequently involves making offerings to the local mountain gods). The postulation to UNESCO to recognise the value of Kallawaya culture was part of a concerted effort made by Kallawaya authorities over several decades to rehabilitate the reputation of the Kallawayas. From 2006, in the lead up to the writing of Bolivia's most recent constitution, which redefined Bolivia as a plurinational state, the Kallawayas have been identifying as a nation. The declaration by UNESCO is seen by many Kallawayas as significant in the construction of an ethnonational consciousness, because by giving the Kallawayas a platform to revindicate their cultural practices, it not only assisted a blossoming Kallawaya self-confidence, but became a weapon in a struggle to decolonise local social relations. The candidature was part of a deliberate effort to manage the image of the Kallawayas, and to change the discourse regarding what it means to be Kallawaya. However, it can also be seen as creating an orthodoxy of Kallawaya practices and freezing Kallawaya culture.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.