UNESCO Frictions - Heritage making across global governance

This project explores cultural heritage policies in the era of global governance, focusing on their most recent and debated domain, that of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH), and on its controversial key development, namely, the “participation” of “communities” in heritage identification and selection.

In tracing the social life of the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage from diplomatic discussions in UNESCO boardrooms to the implementation of local heritage projects, this project investigates the entire policy chain that links the international arena where standards are negotiated, national heritage institutions where they are domesticated, and local heritage programs where they are implemented in three case-study countries (Greece, Brazil, and China), chosen on the grounds of the diversity of their national heritage regimes.

An ethnographic exploration of complex world governance sheds light on the interactions of particular actor networks in observable situations across multiple scales, thus allowing our analysis to go beyond the simplistic opposition between “global norm” and “local reactions”. In order to follow the successive translations of an international standard, the project focuses on the scenes of the encounter between different heritage regimes and explores the controversies arising from these regimes’ interpretations of the participatory shift introduced by the UNESCO convention.

As anthropological expertise overlaps with the field of ICH, we access these contact zones by engaging with ICH policy implementation as actors in the process we are observing. This combination of multi-scale and comparative enquiry with collaborative ethnography aims at introducing new developments in fieldwork design and ethnographic practice. A reflexive analysis of the radical complicity between researchers and research subjects interrogates the theory/practice gap in heritage and beyond it, as it ultimately addresses the role of the anthropologist in society.

For more information please visit the UNESCO Frictions Project Website


CoHERE project

About: The CoHERE project seeks to identify, understand and valorise European heritages, engaging with their socio-political and cultural significance and their potential for developing communitarian identities. CoHERE addresses an intensifying EU Crisis through a study of relations between identities and representations and performances of history. It explores the ways in which heritages can be used for division and isolation, or to find common ground and ‘encourage modern visions and uses of its past.’ The research covers a carefully selected range of European territories and realities comparatively and in depth; it focuses on heritage practices in official and non-official spheres and engages with various cultural forms, from the living arts to museum displays, food culture, education, protest, commemorations and online/digital practice, among others. CoHERE is funded through Horizon 2020, and responds to the Reflective Societies programme.

‘Heritage’ and ‘Heritages’: We take a broad but delimited understanding of heritage (mindful of the notorious difficulty of assigning a consensus definition) as a representational, discursive and performative practice involving conscious attempts to valorise aspects of the past in the present. Within the purview of CoHERE, heritage can be official or unofficial, tangible or intangible, or mixtures of these. It may not always be a social good productive of perceived-to-be progressive identities, respectful intergroup relations or benign moral positions, suggesting the existence of plural ‘heritages’ that are sometimes in conflict with one another, rather than a monolithic ‘common heritage’. Likewise, contemporary connections with events, cultures and sites from prehistory to the recent past may all be important for identity construction, and this is recognised in the temporal depth of the research.

Key aims of the research

1) To interrogate the meanings, frameworks and expressions of European heritages both in theory, practice and policy;

2) To develop relational perspectives on heritages and cultural politics in Europe;

3) To provide intellectual, creative cultural and practical instruments (including digital ones) for valorising European heritages and promoting communitarian identities.

Our key approaches

1) The relational study of productions and experiences of heritage at institutional, social and personal levels, including research into people’s activities and attitudes;

2) Research by practice and the provision of public-facing dissemination activities;

3) The critically-informed development of instruments (e.g. models for policy, curricula, museum and heritage practice) intended to promote reflection on and valorisation of European heritages and to engender socially-inclusive attitudes.

The project is multidisciplinary, including museum, heritage and memory studies, cultural history, education, musicology, ethnology, political science, archaeology, ethnolinguistics and digital interaction design. The consortium comprises 12 partners over 9 countries, including universities, an SME, two museums and a cultural network. The research covers diverse European territories and realities comparatively and in depth.

To learn more, please visit the website - http://research.ncl.ac.uk/cohere/contact/ - or contact CoHERE Project Manager, Thereza Webster


"Museums and Controversial Collections. Politics and Policies of Heritage-Making in Post-Colonial and Post-socialist Contexts"

Conceived in relation to a wider field of scholarship that has in the last decades interrogated the role of museums in a postcolonial and postsocialist context, the project’s main premise is to consider museums as loci of memory and heritage, but also as fundamentally political places, where the relationships between the past, the present, and the future of a society are forged. It aims to consider a series of topical questions to current museum practice: What is the relationship between the postcolonial-era museum and the “source” communities of the objects exposed? How do/ can post-colonial museums deal with the legacy of the colonial past? What interactions exist between the colonial archives and current artistic practices? Moreover, the research will adopt and develop the abundant post-colonial analysis of museums to the research context of problematic museum collections in Eastern Europe. How can post-colonial studies help understand museums in the post cold-war era? Can similar practices be observed in these museums as they deal with very different, difficult pasts?

The aim of the group is to open the possibility of a comparison between the case studies undertaken by each of the six members of the team, including the two associated doctoral students. Studies already concern the Museum of the Romanian Peasant in Bucharest, the Museum of Ethnography in Stockholm, the Staatliche Museen in Berlin, the British Museum in London, the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren, the Institute of the National Museums of Congo in Kinshasa, the Iziko Museums of South Africa, and several national and international networks and associations of museum professionals.

The project consists of a network of researchers from several countries, including Romania, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy and the UK, and funded by the Romanian National Authority for Scientific Research and Innovation, CNCS – UEFISCDI, project number PN-II-RU-TE-2014-4-2368, New Europe College, Bucharest.

In the coming months, members are organizing an itinerant summer school in urban anthropology (Istanbul - 2016, Cape Town - 2017), several conferences and workshops (e.g. "Reluctant heritage: Revisiting museums and memory sites in Central and Eastern Europe in a transnational perspective", November 2016, Bucharest, "What do Contentious Objects Want? Political, Epistemic and Artistic Cultures of Return", October 2016, Florence) and MA courses : https://enseignements-2016.ehess.fr/2016/ue/1729//.

For more information please contact Damiana Otoiu


"Lapland’s Dark Heritage" - Funded by the Academy of Finland

About: This project seeks to understand the diverse cultural values and meanings of the material heritage associated with the German military presence in northern Finland (Lapland) during WWII. A range of innovative approaches are employed to analyse and interpret the different ways of signifying and engaging with difficult heritage, including such ‘alternative’ engagements as searching for and collecting of war paraphernalia. The significance of northern Finland’s dark heritage will be considered against the historical, cultural and environmental context of Lapland. The research is situated as an interdisciplinary field of study, drawing from archaeology, anthropology, ethnology, history, criminology and sociology.  The research centres around different types of materials. We survey, document and excavate German sites, conduct interviews,  observations and media analysis. In addition, community archaeology will be integrated in this research. Fieldworkconcentrates on the areas of Rovaniemi and Inari.

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