Studying UNESCO Heritage Machineries from the Inside
An international workshop entitled "Inside the UNESCO Heritage Conventions: ethnographic and historiographic approaches" explored the possibilities of interdisciplinary research on the most popular international-rights instruments for heritage conservation
On 23-24 January 2014, Aurélie Élisa Gfeller (The Graduate Institute, Geneva) and Christoph Brumann (MPI for Social Anthropology) organised the international workshop “Inside the UNESCO Heritage Conventions: ethnographic and historiographic approaches” at the Max Planck Institute. This workshop focused on the two most popular UNESCO activities in the field of heritage conservation, the 1972 World Heritage Convention and the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The historians, geographers, and anthropologists attending the event share a special methodological approach. Reaching beyond the official documents and the dynamics of individual heritage sites, they have been conducting ethnographic and archival research on the central decision-making institutions of the two conventions, scrutinising in detail how heritage experts, diplomats, and UNESCO bureaucrats go about shaping policies and decisions.
The papers and debates, including two roundtable discussions, explored the merits and constraints of having multiple roles, such as when scholarly observation is combined with an official function in a state delegation or advisory body. Different disciplinary requirements regarding the identification and protection of individuals and sources became apparent. The papers also demonstrated how concepts and ideas are translated and reshaped in multiple ways when they travel across scales (from global to national/local and back), institutions, and time periods. It clearly emerged from the papers and discussions that the institutional arenas of the two conventions cannot be taken as black boxes but require in-depth study. Contributions will be published in due course.
Workshop ‘Inside the UNESCO Heritage Conventions: ethnographic and historical approaches’