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Intangible Cultural Heritage: The Midas Touch?
Project responsable Ellen Hertz
Daniel Fabre
Marc Olivier Gonseth
Philippe Geslin

Andres Kristol

Walter Leimgruber
   
Team member Andrea Jacot Descombes
Bernard Knodel
Julie Perrin

Yann Laville

Hervé Munz

Laurence Joyce Bodenmann
Grégoire Mayor

Aurélie Reusser Elsingre
Miriam Cohn
Florence Graezer Bideau
Lara Duc

Leila Baracchini
Julie Rothenbühler
Fabrice Gerber
Federica Diémoz
Silke Andris
   
Abstract The concept of intangible cultural heritage (hereinafter "ICH") has been in circulation since the 1970s and has spawned a number of measures, culminating in the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. It is the fruit of the realization that previous measures to protect heritage have unduly favored rich, industrialized countries, with their monumental constructions, over countries in the "South" in which cultural products often take more intangible forms: rituals, musique, belief-systems, etc, that deserve international protection. Switzerland ratified this Convention on July 18th, 2008. Under its terms, the government is obliged to create an inventory of Swiss ICH. Given the relative novelty of the ICH paradigm, its broad political mission and the latitude granted to signatory states, one would think that the application of the UNESCO Convention in the Swiss context would be open to widely diverse interpretations. In fact, a certain number of commonsense understandings of ICH, promoted by associations for folk traditions, are largely determining the ways in which Switzerland positions itself in relation to its treaty obligations. The broadest aim of this multidisciplinary research project is to keep reflections on ICH open at this initial stage by critically examining what it might mean, whom it might benefit and what might be worth inventorying and preserving under its auspices. The project explores these questions through a series of targeted empirical case studies. We ask: How we can meaningfully distinguish material from immaterial cultural expression? How can we reconcile the use of media (writing, recording, photography and film) necessary for the constitution and preservation of ICH with the charged norms of orality, immediacy and authenticity underlying the ICH paradigm? Are items of ICH distributed in space and time according to the community-based UNESCO model, and if not, what are the relevant units of analysis? What is the relation of ICH to the various forms of culture, including elite culture, already supported by other institutions? Which groups does ICH favor, whose cultural expressions are included and whose are excluded? Finally, how does the bureaucratization of cultural preservation alter its object, creating new understandings of culture and new resources for which social actors will be inclined to compete? The project brings together research teams from the Universities of Basel, Lausanne and Neuchâtel, the Museum of Ethnography (Neuchâtel), the CNRS (Laboratoire d'anthropologie et d'histoire de l'institution de la culture, Paris) and the Haute Ecole-Arc (Institut horlogerie et création).
   
Keywords heritage, culture, UNESCO, folklore, museums, story-telling, theater, hip hop, folk medecine, know-how, multimedia
   
Type of project Fundamental research project
Research area Ethnologie
Method of financing FNS - Encouragement de projets (Div. I-III)
Status Completed
Start of project 1-10-2009
End of project 30-9-2012
Overall budget 1'638'409.00
Additional info http://p3.snf.ch/projects-127570#
Contact Ellen Hertz