Working Paper 39

Cultural Heritage: property of individuals, collectivities or humankind?

Erich Kasten

Abteilung ‚Resilienz und Transformation in Eurasien’

Jahr der Veröffentlichung


Working Paper 39

Knowledge that gives meaning to practices, objects and land is often specific to, or associated with, certain groups. Transmitted through generations, it is regarded as cultural heritage to which members can assert privileged claims. This knowledge is often displayed and transferred as cultural property through symbols, as a means of communicating social networks and for securing a ceremonial dialogue with the supernatural. Depending on the context, cultural property can be imbued with additional and more complex meanings. A cultural tradition is today often promoted or even invented as a way of legitimising native claims to territories or other resources, or a cultural tradition can be turned into an economic resource or commodity itself, when its use becomes restricted or a matter of privilege. This paper seeks to explore the extent to which a particular cultural tradition, or parts of it, can be interpreted as the exclusive property of certain individuals or collectivities, or when, in contrast, it may be seen as the cultural heritage of humankind. The question is whether flexible concepts of ownership may better reflect the often multiple origins of a cultural tradition and shared responsibilities in maintaining it.

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