Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage: Challenges and Approaches


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A collection of essays edited by Janet Blake

ISBN 9781903987100 | Published Jan 1 2007 | 226 pages

This book brings together a broad selection of essays from a variety of disciplines – anthropology, law, history – and from those with a professional involvement in areas that touch on intangible cultural heritage (ICH). The main stimulus for producing this volume has been the adoption of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2003. This is a subject that has aroused a great deal of interest from governments to practitioners around the world. However, it remains relatively poorly understood and requires further deep consideration and sharing of ideas and experiences for truly effective and appropriate safeguarding policies to be developed. The decision to develop a Convention for safeguarding ICH threw up some difficult questions as to the definition of this heritage, the scope of any safeguarding measures and the relationship that should be established in the Convention between the State and non-state actors (including practitioners and their communities). These were not by any means easy questions to answer and much conceptual and practical work is still required in order for the international and national safeguarding of ICH to be both effective and appropriate. This volume attempts to air some of these questions and provide useful responses to them.

It begins with an overview of the history and development of international cultural policy making in relation to ICH, followed by a detailed discussion of the conceptual development of the notion within an intergovernmental context, namely that of UNESCO. Negotiating the terms of participation in UNESCO’s cultural policy making, framed within a broader human rights/cultural rights discourse is then discussed. Moving from the international to the regional, an African view of cultural heritage is presented that challenges many of the ‘Western’ assumptions upon which international culture policy making as well as the normative work of UNESCO have been predicated. Focusing on the national level, the important question as to how States can deal with the novel challenges of safeguarding ICH – identification, inventory-making, institutional arrangements and negotiating the relationship between government officials and other actors, in particular cultural communities – are addressed. The notion of intangible values associated with properties inscribed on the World Heritage List and the question of interpreting their cultural significance is examined, highlighting the complex issues faced by policy makers when interpreting ICH and the impact of these on management approaches and community involvement strategies. Specific issues relating to the implementation the 2003 Convention are also examined – the inscription of ICH on international lists and the intellectual property (IP)-related issues related to inventorying ICH. Finally, the paradoxes and complexities of the interaction between human rights (especially cultural rights) and UNESCO’s work in safeguarding ICH are also considered, in the context of universalism, cultural relativism and cultural rights.

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