Heritage Regimes and the State

In the project “Valorization and Commoditization of Heritage: A Comparative Study of Choice and Modalities on the State Level”, we are interested in how different political systems impact the implementation of UNESCO’s international conventions. While UNESCO’s initiatives offer an impetus and guidelines to follow, the heritage regimes developed within individual states differ. Our work builds on insights garnered during the first three years of research within our interdisciplinary team. The quite stark differences discovered on the ground in our ethnographic ongoing case studies made us realize that political systems have an enormous impact on the propertization of cultural heritage. While questions of ownership and thus the play of interest groups in generating a heritage nomination certainly play a role, the bureaucratic apparatus unleashed to carry nomination and implementation are marked by historically shaped notions of how to control and administer political processes.

We began the project with an international conference entitled “Heritage Regimes and the State” where examples of heritage practices from states as diverse as Mali, Lithuania or Ireland were juxtaposed (the results of this conference will be published in the Cultural Property Series in the second half of 2012 with Göttingen University Press). We are undertaking a systematic analysis of the data presented within this conference, drawing both on expertise from cultural anthropology and international law. On the backdrop of this comparative evaluation, we are continuing with two case studies. One of them follows the nomination and implementation processes of intangible cultural heritage in Cambodia. The other documents the efforts at a bi-national cultural heritage nomination in Germany and the Czech Republic. In both cases we seek to identify which actors are enabled /disabled to pursue their goals within the heritage making enterprise. States spell out these opportunities in rather different ways, they institute rules and regulations based on their particular political tradition and in the process create (in-)transparencies and (dis-)empowerment that warrant careful scrutiny if one hopes to understand what kinds of socio-cultural and economic values have been introduced into the world through the UNESCO heritage programs. The project is framed by questions genuine to the entire research group, in this case an interest in the heritage regimes role in global governance processes in the realm of cultural property.

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