Working Paper 208

Capturing the Supra-State: the World Heritage Committee in 2021

Christoph Brumann

Department ‘Anthropology of Economic Experimentation’

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 208

This paper offers a close analysis of the 2021 session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee and its outcomes, including the decision to delete the Liverpool historic port and docks area from the World Heritage List. In recent years, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has abandoned its once strict standards for the inclusion of sites and instead has catered to the self-interests of the treaty states – namely, maximising World Heritage titles while minimising Committee interference with the sites. By looking at the interactions during the session, it is shown that the removal of Liverpool does not indicate a change in course. Bilateral lobbying and deal-making were conducted more openly than ever and the much-deplored dominance of European sites on the World Heritage List continued, while states from the Global South were complicit in sustaining what they officially question. As demonstrated by comparison with another property up for deletion, Liverpool was an outlier that might well have been avoided, had the United Kingdom done more for orchestrating support among Committee member states. In analogy to state capture, most members practice what can be termed supra-state capture: they harbour no multilateral ambitions, but rather than merely constraining the UN body, they appropriate its benefits for their own interests and that of their allies and clients.

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