Working Paper 136

Multilateral Ethnography: entering the World Heritage arena

Christoph Brumann

Department ‘Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia’

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Working Paper 136

Ethnographic fieldwork as a key anthropological method has been successfully applied to organisations, and this working paper argues that it can also be used profitably for the structured ‘arenas’ unfolding between organisations, in this case the UNESCO World Heritage Convention of 1972. After a brief description of its rise to global prominence, I describe the constituent organisations and their patterns of interaction, refuting the idea of a centralised system. There are few obstacles to doing ethnographic research at World Heritage Committee sessions and meetings, and doing so is rewarding not only during official session time but also for following the intense informal conversations around it. Formal interviews with key participants both profit from session insights and motivate new observational sensibilities. Written documents remain a key source of information but omit important aspects of the sessions and read differently with background knowledge of the people and issues involved. Feeding back into the arena through one's comments and publications is impossible to avoid but adds only one further voice to a dense discursive field. Particularly when studying the constituent organisations in great depth is not an option, concentrating on the arena between them is therefore a fruitful ethnographic option.

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