The Global Political Economy of Cultural Heritage

The Global Political Economy of Cultural Heritage

Researchers:

Christoph Brumann
Head of Research Group

Pierpaolo De Giosa
Ph.D Candidate
Melaka

Vivienne Marquart
Ph.D Candidate
Istanbul

Leah Cheung Ah Li
Ph.D Candidate IMPRS ANARCHIE
Xi'an


A paradoxical consequence of the spread of modernity and the belief in constant progress is the growing veneration for those things that have not changed. Cultural revolutions that break radically with the past are no longer the order of the day, and almost everywhere in the contemporary world, the preservation of specific past things and practices for future generations is seen as a moral imperative. The potential of cultural heritage for attracting visitors, generating income, bolstering political claims, and instilling self-esteem in present-day collectivities is increasingly recognised and exploited, and increasingly also, this occurs in a not only local or national but global framework influenced by distant agencies and their standards. Reference to heritage can have clearly instrumental purposes but as it is often coupled with a genuine interest in history, the past, and the things and practices in question, the close-up perspective of anthropology is uniquely suited to dissect the frequently contested social fields taking shape around it.
We address these issues in ethnographic research projects on UNESCO World Heritage as a transnational arena and on its articulation with the local situations of three World Heritage cities, Istanbul, Melaka and Xi'an. An older, open-ended project on traditions, democracy, and the townscape of contemporary Kyoto – also a World Heritage city – provides an important reference point. With its focus on the present-day uses of history and the past, this focus group complements the other departmental focus group on Historical Anthropology in Eurasia and the International Max Planck Research School Anthropology, Archaeology and History in Eurasia (ANARCHIE).

UNESCO World Heritage as a Transnational Arena

Researchers:

Christoph Brumann
Head of Research Group

As the flagship activity of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the "Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage" of 1972 has been ratified by almost all states, and more than 900 sites in more than 150 countries have been inscribed on the prestigious World Heritage List whose rise in public consciousness has exceeded all expectations. World Heritage strongly influences conservation policies as also lay conceptions of culture the world over, yet at the same time, the inner workings of the World Heritage system remain relatively opaque to outside observers. Christoph Brumann has therefore embarked on a multi-sited ethnographic study in which since 2008, he combines participant observation at World Heritage Committee sessions and other official meetings, interviews with key actors such as Committee and state delegates or the personnel of the convention secretariat and advisory NGOs, and a critical reading of the vast number of documents most of which are available on the internet.

One key focus is on the gradual change and "anthropologisation" of World Heritage which has moved from an initial emphasis on monumental and elite sites – palaces and pyramids, cathedrals and historic town centres – to a preference for everyday life (vernacular architecture, industrial sites, modern heritage), connections (routes, canals, bridges, railway lines, migration), cultural landscapes (everything from wine regions to sacred forests), human-rights symbols (Hiroshima, Robben Island, the reconstructed bridge of Mostar, the Bamiyan Valley, sites connected with slavery), and intangible aspects. All of this has significantly broadened the scope of heritage, also within the national states, thus refuting popular views of globalisation as the one-sided dissemination of Euroamerican standards. A second focus is on the tension between the universalist ideals of the convention and the self-interests of the treaty states. Given the growing prominence of World Heritage, the national states are ever more intent on having further sites listed, and particularly so in Europe which already occupies half the list. Giving free rein to such desires, however, endangers the "credibility" and "representativity" of an endeavour that critics see as already compromised, making for perennial debates about how to solve this dilemma.

This study tries to break new ground by dissecting the anatomy of a prominent transnational institution, bringing anthropological methods and sensibilities to a prominent arena of "world-making", that is the production of global standards and global consciousness. Given that most World Heritage sites are listed for their cultural rather than natural features, it is also an analysis of the ways in which culture – a key anthropological concept – is publicly deployed these days.

For a podcast with a German-language interview on this project and UNESCO, see here.

Related publications:

2018 (forthcoming)
Anthropological Utopia, Closet Eurocentrism, and Culture Chaos in the UNESCO World Heritage Arena. Anthropological Quarterly. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00141844.2018.1471514

2018 (forthcoming)
Creating Universal Value: The UNESCO World Heritage Convention in Its Fifth Decade. In: Neil Silberman & Angela Labrador (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Public Heritage Theory and Method. Oxford: Oxford University
Press.

2018
Slag Heaps and Time Lags: Undermining Southern Solidarity in the UNESCO
World Heritage Committee. Ethnos.

2017
How to Be Authentic in the UNESCO World Heritage System: Copies, Replicas, Reconstructions and Renovations in a Global Conservation Arena. In: Corinna Forberg & Philipp Stockhammer (eds.) The Transformative Power of the Copy: A Transcultural and Interdisciplinary approach, pp. 269-287. Heidelberg: Heidelberg Publishing. http://vg07.met.vgwort.de/na/5f6bf6eb660d4291b589577272cf27b8?l=http://heiup.uni-heidelberg.de/reader/download/195/195-69-78635-1-10-20170727.pdf


2017
The Best of the Best: Positing, Measuring and Sensing Value in the UNESCO World Heritage Arena. In Ronald Niezen & Maria Sapignoli (eds.) Palaces of Hope: The Anthropology of Global Organizations, pp. 245-265. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

2016
Imagining the Ground from Afar: Why the Sites Are so Remote in World Heritage Committee Sessions. In: Christoph Brumann & David Berliner (eds.) World Heritage on the Ground: Ethnographic Perspectives, pp. 294-317. Oxford: Berghahn.

2016
(with David Berliner) Introduction: World Heritage – Grounded? In: Christoph Brumann & David Berliner (eds.) World Heritage on the Ground: Ethnographic Perspectives, pp. 1-34. Oxford: Berghahn.

2016
UNESCO-Welterbe, ostasiatische Nachbarn und japanische Altlasten [UNESCO World Heritage, East Asian Neighbours and Japanese Legacies]. In: David Chiavacci & Iris Wieczorek (eds.) Japan 2016: Politik, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft [Japan 2016: Politics, Economy and Society], pp. 93-115. Munich: Iudicium.
2015
(with Lynn Meskell) UNESCO and New World Orders. In: Lynn Meskell (ed.) Global Heritage: A Reader, pp. 22-42. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley-Blackwell.

2015
Community as Myth and Reality in the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. In: Nicolas Adell, Regina F. Bendix, Chiara Bortolotto & Markus Tauschek (eds.) Between Imagined Communities and Communities of Practice: Participation, Territory and the Making of Heritage, pp. 273-286. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag Göttingen.

2015
Cultural Heritage. In: James D. Wright (ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences (Second ed.), vol. 5, pp. 414-419. Oxford: Elsevier.

2014
Shifting Tides of World-Making in the UNESCO World Heritage Convention: Cosmopolitanisms Colliding. Ethnic and Racial Studies 37:2176-2192.

2014
Heritage Agnosticism: A Third Path for the Study of Cultural Heritage. Social Anthropology 22:173-188.

2013
Comment le patrimoine mondial de l’Unesco devient immatériel. Gradhiva 18:22-49.

2012
Multilateral Ethnography: Entering the World Heritage Arena. Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Working Papers 136.

2011
Unser aller Kulturgut: Eine ethnologische Annäherung an das UNESCO-Welterbe. Sociologus 61: 19-44.

UNESCO World Heritage in Urban Contexts: Istanbul, Melaka and Xi'an

Researchers:

Pierpaolo De Giosa
Ph.D Candidate
Melaka

Vivienne Marquart
Ph.D Candidate
Istanbul

Leah Cheung Ah Li
Ph.D Candidate IMPRS ANARCHIE
Xi'an


Complementing the focus on the transnational arena, three research projects study the interaction between global, national, and local-level forces at specific World Heritage sites. All three are urban sites with impressive imperial pedigrees and major hubs of past – in Istanbul, also present – globalisation, as reflected in the built fabric and its multi-ethnic and multi-religious provenance. None of them is a capital today but all are their country's premier historical cities (an honour that Xi'an shares with Beijing) and main destinations for cultural tourism. Correspondingly, they also were and among their nation's first-listed cultural World Heritage properties. Cultural heritage in these places comprises a large range of both elite and commoner buildings (from mosques and palaces to merchant quarters and vernacular houses), distributed over vast areas. It therefore has an impact on a broad range of people and institutions, and these are engaged in a lively debate about the costs and benefits of heritage status when modern development is an equally pressing need. In contrast to many previous ethnographic studies, our projects will treat the UNESCO designation not just as a side aspect but as a key research problem, and they will build on the insights and contacts developed through the other research focus of the group on the transnational level of the World Heritage institutions. Fieldwork is currently ongoing in Melaka and Istanbul and planned for 2013—14 in Xi'an.

Istanbul

Vivienne Marquart
Doktorandin

The historic peninsula of Istanbul – imperial capital for almost two millenia – was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List already in 1985. But according to critics, preservation measures have not been effective, with sustainable strategies, the coordination of responsibilities and a management plan for the property lacking. While tourist promotion focuses on a few representative buildings, such as Hagia Sophia, Süleymaniye Mosque and Topkapı Palace, the vernacular houses of the historic neighbourhoods are in decline or being demolished for urban modernisation projects, resulting in deteriorating living conditions and the displacement of many inhabitants.

Since the early 2000s, local NGOs have addressed these problems. The World Heritage Committee too has criticised the developments, to the point of debating Istanbul's entry on the List of World Heritage in Danger, which has prompted local reactions and an intense public debate. Controversy centres on a number of huge infrastructural projects (such as Haliç Metro Bridge, Marmaray Railway Tunnel, and Yenikapı Station) and private high-rise developments which could affect the historic peninsula's famous skyline. Fieldwork will explore these urban transformation projects and examine the interplay of the various global, national and local powers in a contested and politically charged urban terrain, against the backdrop of current massive investments in a global boom town.

Melaka

Pierpaolo De Giosa
Ph.D Candidate

In 2008, Melaka was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage property, in tandem with another Malaysian historical city in the Straits of Malacca, George Town. This has been the crowning achievement in a strategy of remaking Melaka as the Bandar Raya Bersejarah (Historical City) of the nation, emphasizing continuity with the grandiose past of the first sultanate of the peninsula and the urban fabric left by Portuguese, Dutch, and British colonial overlords. National, federal-state, and municipal agencies have cooperated in promoting the 'universal' characteristics of the city, embracing also the contributions of Chinese, Indian, and mixed-descent communities. The purportedly harmonious coexistence of traditional townhouses and shophouses, temples of diverse faiths, urban festivals, and several ethnic neighborhoods or kampung has been supported by revitalisation projects, and Malaysia has shown particular World Heritage commitment by adopting a national law and successfully running for a World Heritage Committee seat in 2011. Along with the protection of the historic core, however, modern construction development is ongoing.

Research on the ground will focus on the urban heritage of Melaka between conservation plans and real estate development. Intangible aspects such as urban rituals and parades or 'new' urban performances will be significant too for analysing re-imaginations of the past, projections toward the future, and discourses on tradition between invention and creativity. Ethnographic fieldwork will explore a broad range of actors: transnational agencies, nation and nation-state, local bureaucrats and experts, NGO's, ordinary Melakans, and the tourist industry.

Xi'an

Leah Cheung Ah Li
Ph.D Candidate IMPRS ANARCHIE

Xi'an, the former Chang'an – 3100 years old and capital to 13 dynasties of Chinese emperors – experienced World Heritage fame in 1987 when the mausoleum of the first Qin emperor with the stunning terracotta army was listed. The city centre too is full of famous heritage buildings of which, for instance, the Wild Goose Pagoda, the Tang dynasty palaces, the ancient city wall, or the Forest of Steles are World Heritage candidates. The glorious history characterises the city and dominates the mindset of its inhabitants. However, here as well, due to rapid modernisation, the cityscape is as much shaped by high rises as by historical buildings today. Based on a review of the literature, archival studies, participant observation, and interviews, this project intends to explore the interaction between modern development and historical preservation in the city.

Both modernisation and the advance of heritage and heritage tourism have a strong impact on the social life of the residents. The project therefore seeks to understand how historical and archaeological sites are displayed and in what ways this has changed in recent years along with the general social and economic transformation of Xi'an. How do different social actors understand heritage, perceive their own history and remember their past, and how do they react, negotiate, or compromise in situations when modernity, history and heritage cannot be reconciled so easily?

World Heritage on the Ground: Ethnographic Perspectives

In addition to the group projects on urban World Heritage sites, Christoph Brumann has collaborated with David Berliner (Université libre de Bruxelles) in convening a workshop "World Heritage on the Ground: Ethnographic Perspectives" at the Max Planck Institute in October 2012. In the first ever such meeting, thirteen anthropologists with long-term field experience at places inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List presented papers on the local consequences of that increasingly prominent global distinction.

Discussants Ulf Hannerz (University of Stockholm), Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin (University of Göttingen), and Michael Rowlands (University College London) greatly helped with teasing out the commonalities and parallel developments. The case studies ranged from Chichén Itzá (Mexico) to Borobudur (Indonesia), with African and Asian sites predominating, and included cities, archaeological sites, and cultural landscapes. Recurring topics were the important role of national rather than transnational actors and institutions and the consequences for resident populations that reach all the way from new economic opportunities and empowerment to silencing and eviction. The huge hiatus between the World Heritage decision-making machinery and the social reality of the sites was also addressed. An edited volume with a selection of revised contributions will appear with Berghahn:

Christoph Brumann & David Berliner (eds.) 2016. World Heritage on the Ground: Ethnographic Perspectives. Oxford: Berghahn.

Call for Papers

Programme

Participants

Tradition, Democracy, and the Townscape in Contemporary Kyoto

Christoph Brumann
Head of Research Group

Cultural heritage has also been a key aspect in this open-ended research project which has centred on the conflicts around the townscape and other public traditions of Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan and acknowledged stronghold of national heritage. Ethnographic field research in 1998/99, 2001, and 2007 (funded by the German Research Foundation [DFG] and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science) focused on two celebrated traditions, the historic town houses (kyô-machiya) that, after long neglect, are now being renovated for all kinds of modern purposes and the Yamaboko junkô float parade of the Gion matsuri, one of Japan's oldest and most famous festivals. I found that the standard assumptions often held against heritage in social scientific analyses – that it falsifies, petrifies, deprives of substantive content, and socially encloses the things and practices so designated, privileging the official owners and bearers – do not apply here. Instead, history is left relatively undistorted, houses and festival are not forever fixed but allowed to evolve, they are valued not only for their age but also for their other, substantive qualities, and their appreciation has eroded rather than fortified former social boundaries. I relate this to the urban, relatively sophisticated and cosmopolitan background of both traditions that allows for more creativity and eclecticism in dealing with past things than in other cases. For this claim, I find supporting evidence in the (re-)appreciation of urban vernacular architecture and urban festivals elsewhere in the world. I also raise the suspicion, however, that heritage appreciation is often a more complex affair than the standard assumptions lead us to believe.

In addition to the kyô-machiya and the Gion matsuri, my research in Kyoto also dealt with the townscape conflicts peculiar to this city, known as keikan ronsô in Japanese. Landmark building projects such as the proposal to copy the Parisian footbridge Pont des Arts in Kyoto but also ordinary high-rise condominiums have aroused heated opposition, and a wide range of local government agencies, civil society groups, real estate and construction representatives, professional experts, and ordinary Kyotoites have been engaged in a lively public debate about how to best reconcile modern development with Kyoto's historic townscape. Through photo tests and other methods, I could ascertain a widespread consensus among Kyotoites that historic and Japanese-style architecture suits the city best whereas modern high rises are generally unloved. In what I found to be a commons problem, however, most players benefitted from the lack of detailed planning and coordination that, at least in the short term, maximised individual profits. Therefore, public awareness did not translate into public action for the collective good, also because the debate was long left to lower-level bureaucrats and citizen activists while other important actors stayed aloof.

Only in 2007 did the city assembly introduce new building rules, urged on by national legal changes and ministry personnel but also responding to the widespread dissatisfaction articulated by the citizens' groups and major business leaders. Once underway, however, the reform process resulted in the strictest planning regime of any Japanese city, reducing building heights substantially and prescribing historical and vernacular design features. Resistance has been minimal, and investors rush to comply with the new order.

The consequences of this mood shift and other future developments in Kyoto – now widely regarded as a model case in Japan – will be the subject of regular restudies. Kyoto will also be an important comparative case for the research group's other case studies of Istanbul and Melaka. With these, Kyoto shares important features such as its glorious imperial past, its status as former rather than present-day political centre, the lively civil-society debate on how to deal with cultural heritage, and the diversity of this heritage that spans multiple ages and elite as well as commoner structures and is spatially dispersed throughout the cities. We therefore expect both a refined understanding of the single cases and more wide-ranging conclusions on cultural heritage in urban contexts.

Related publications

2014
Heritage Agnosticism: A Third Path for the Study of Cultural Heritage. Social Anthropology 22:173-188.

2012
Tradition, Democracy and the Townscape of Kyoto: Claiming a Right to the Past. London: Routledge. [Supplementary material]

2012
Re-Uniting a Divided City: High Rises, Conflict and Urban Space in Central Kyoto. In: Christoph Brumann & Evelyn Schulz (eds.) Urban Spaces in Japan: Cultural and Social Perspectives, pp. 53-73. London: Routledge.

2010
(with Rupert Cox), Making Japanese Heritage. (Japan Anthropology Workshop Series). Abingdon: Routledge.

2010
Introduction. In: Christoph Brumann & Rupert Cox (eds.) Making Japanese Heritage. (Japan Anthropology Workshop Series), pp. 1-17. Abingdon: Routledge.

2010
Houses in Motion: The Revitalisation of Kyoto's Architectural Heritage. In: Christoph Brumann & Rupert Cox (eds.) Making Japanese Heritage (Japan Anthropology Workshop Series), pp. 149-170. Abingdon: Routledge.

2010
The Limits of Invention: Traditions in Kyoto. In: Susanne Klien & Patrick Neveling (eds.) Tradition within and beyond the Framework of Invention: Case Studies from the Mascarenes and Japan, pp. 177-201. Halle: Zentrum für Interdisziplinäre Regionalstudien.

2009
Outside the Glass Case: The Social Life of Urban Heritage in Kyoto. American Ethnologist 36:276-299.

2009
Traditionen und Kulturerbe in der Japanforschung: Ein Überblick. In: Günther Distelrath (Hrsg.) Referate des 13. Deutschsprachigen Japanologentags. Vol. 2, pp. 369-388. Hamburg: EV-Verlag.

2008
Weite Himmel über der Kaiserstadt: Die Kehrtwende in Kyotos Stadtplanung. Japanstudien 20:103-128.

2007
Copying Kyoto: The Legitimacy of Imitation in Kyoto's Townscape Debates. In: Rupert Cox (ed.) The Culture of Copying in Japan: Critical and Historical Perspectives, pp. 213-229. London: RoutledgeCurzon.

2006
Whose Kyoto? Machizukuri, Local Autonomy and Pâtonashippu in an Old City. In: Carola Hein & Philippe Pelletier (eds.) Cities, Autonomy, and Decentralization, pp. 139-163. London: Routledge.

2005
A Right to the Past: Tradition, Democracy, and the Townscape in Contemporary Kyoto. Habilitation thesis, University of Cologne, Faculty of Philosophy. (revised book manuscript under review).

2005
Kyotos Dilemma: Das Stadtbild als commons [Kyoto's Dilemma: The Townscape as Commons]. In: Werner Pascha & Cornelia Storz (eds.) Wirkung und Wandel von Institutionen: Das Beispiel Ostasien [Institutional Effects and Institutional Change: The Case of East Asia], pp. 133-168. Stuttgart: Lucius & Lucius.

2004
Der urbane Raum als öffentliches Gut: Kyoto und die Stadtbildkonflikte. Zeitschrift für Ethnologie 129:183-210.

2003
Pont des Arts no hakushi tekkai to shimin undô: Kyôto no furansu-bashi wa naze kakaranakatta no ka [The Withdrawal of the Pont des Arts and the Citizen Movement: Why Kyoto's French Bridge Wasn't Built]. In: Hirochika Nakamaki & Mitchell Sedgwick (eds.) Nihon no soshiki: Shaen bunka to infômaru katsudô [Japanese Organisations: The Culture of Associational Ties and Informal Activities], pp. 23-36. Osaka: Tôhô shuppan.

2002
Deconstructing the Pont des Arts: Why Kyoto Did Not Get Its Parisian Bridge. Senri Ethnological Studies 62:15-24. 2001 Machiya vs. manshon: Notizen vom Kyotoer Häuserkampf. Japanstudien 13:153-192.

2001
Machiya vs. manshon: Notizen vom Kyotoer Häuserkampf. Japanstudien 13:153-192.

2001
Die Stadt als Feld: Ethnographische Feldforschung in Kyoto [The City as a Field: Ethnographic Field Research in Kyoto]. In: Hilaria Goessmann & Andreas Mrugalla (eds.) 11. Deutschsprachiger Japanologentag in Trier 1999. Band 1: Geschichte, Geistesgeschichte / Religionen, Gesellschaft, Politik, Recht, Wirtschaft, pp. 595-606. Hamburg: Lit.

2001
Die Blumen von Edo: Zur Brandgeschichte japanischer Städte [The Flowers of Edo: On the Fire History of Japanese Cities]. In: Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland GmbH (ed.) Feuer [Fire], pp. 426-442. Köln: Wienand.