Workshop and Lecture Review: Sex, Human Rights and Heritage. Public Lecture and Workshop with Ellen Hertz

by: Prof. Dr. Regina F. Bendix, University of Göttingen

On December 10 and 11, 2012, the CP team hosted Prof. Dr. Ellen Hertz from the Institute of Ethnology at the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, where she leads the synergia group entitled “Intangible Cultural Heritage: The Midas Touch?” (https://libra.unine.ch/Projets/Projets-en-cours/1310/L-en). Trained in both anthropology and law, Ellen Hertz’s presentations focused on questions of gender within heritage policy. She presented an evening lecture entitled “Sex, Lies and Heritage: Gender Equality -vs- Cultural Diversity, Round Three” – summarized in her abstract as follows:

Sex, lies and heritage: gender equality -vs- cultural diversity, round three

At first viewing, it is difficult to view the UNESCO-driven desire to safeguard intangible cultural heritage (“ICH”) and promote cultural diversity as anything but laudable. However, as many have pointed out before me, the preservation of what has been called “traditional culture” raises a number of issues for another excessively laudable series of U.N.-based initiatives: covenants designed to guarantee what have been labeled as “universal human rights”. This is particularly true, it seems to me, when it comes to gender equality, and notably the 1979 U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Gender differentiation is central in innumerable ways to all cultures, and discrimination, either explicit or implicit, often follows. Gender differentiation can take forms ranging from sex-based dress codes during rituals, to exclusion of women (or men) from certain areas of traditional knowledge, to the baring of women from certain trades or forms of cultural ownership, not to mention forms of bodily transformation such as excision that are clearly off-limits for heritage preservation efforts.

The state parties responsible for drafting the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of ICH were aware of these issues, and UNESCO even convened a working group that meet to produce specific recommendations on the subject. However, though the discussions were extremely interesting and sophisticated, they seem to have done more to illuminate problems at hand than to propose solutions. The guidelines and binding recommendations that were to have come from this work have not been issued or circulated. Indeed, the entire discussion seems to have disappeared from the UNESCO vitrine, and raising it today seems almost indecorous.
This paper is based on interviews with experts involved in these debates. It seeks to understand how the issue of gender inequality has been exited from the public sphere, and how it is handled in “private”, in the negotiations around specific propositions of ICH that reach the Paris office and the Intergovernmental Committee who screen UNESCO’s lists of ICH. It asks how UNESCO officials have in pragmatic ways “solved” a problem that I argue is fundamentally unsolvable if we respect the terms of the respective normative frameworks on the Conventions. I conclude by offering some suggestions as to a more productive framing of the problem of gender equality in a world where women disproportionately bear the burden of symbolizing and maintaining “cultural diversity”, and where the cause of sex equality is brandished by states for geopolitical aims.

Her afternoon workshop “Can Sex be Heritage?” was cast as a thought experiment. Using a cultural practice that is not part of ICH thus far and is not likely to ever be nominated permits one to understand what factors come together in the decision-making about “acceptable” ICH. Aside from issues such as UNESCO Puritanism, questions of scale and the nature of diplomatic negotiation, the concept of “patriomonial emotions” (borrowed from French ethnologist Daniel Fabre whose research team pursued this, documented in several workshops, in Paris: http://www.iiac.cnrs.fr/lahic/article186.html) proved particularly helpful in understanding what “emotional property” or characteristic a cultural practice needs to evoke in order to be suitable for heritage status. Lust is clearly not among them. The normative character of the heritage of humanity manifests itself thus even in this implicit guidance of aesthetic response. There was lively discussion intermingling with Ellen’s presentation, making us all look forward to if and when Ellen finds the time to write a book on a topic that will allow for a better understanding of heritage-making and its blind spots with regard to the humanity’s cultures.

Contribution to the Forum of ICH Researchers

On June 3, 2012, a forum of researchers working with intangible cultural heritage (ICH) will convene for a first meeting in Paris. ICH researchers were invited to participate or to submit their thoughts on issues relating to UNESCO’s ICH convention and its operational guidelines. Below you may find the contribution from the Cultural Property Research group in Göttingen. More information on the June 3rd event can be found here: http://www.ichresearchers-forum.org

Dear Prof. Kono, Dear Colleagues,

As none of us are able to participate in the first session of the Forum of ICH Researchers in early June, we submit here in writing a number of observations and concerns generated from the context of our research on the constitution of cultural property here in Göttingen. The forum plans to evaluate, as far as we understand, the implementation thus far of the Convention for the safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and its Operational Directives.

In the following we offer a few generalized concerns in the hope that they might be helpful in considering particulars. Our own empirical research has on the one hand looked at the international level (negotiations of international conventions) and on the other hand drawn insights from a number of specific case studies – not exclusively on ICH, but in the implementation, the different heritage conventions often come into contact with one another. We draw from work in Cambodia, Czech Republic, Germany, and Indonesia, and from extensive conversations with colleagues from France, Italy, and Portugal, as well as from an international conference we held here in Göttingen where we also had participants discussing cases from Barbados, China, Cuba, Ireland, Lithuania, Mali, Morocco, Spain, Switzerland and Uzbekistan.

In our work, we have noted the following issues:

1) State ratification of UNESCO conventions brings forth diverse and complex systems of regulation, often dominated by the needs of bureaucratic cultures and actors representing them. We ultimately witness a great deal of activity on the part of actors capable of interpreting both state and UNESCO requirements with regard to dossier construction and, in the case of a successful nomination, nomination implementation. These interpreters – some of whom are indeed ICH researchers, some are NGO representatives, lawyers, etc. – represent again diverse ideologies of safeguarding. The operational guidelines have brought forth complex processes with *enormous* paper or digital trails and supportive audiovisual materials. Occasionally it seems that all of this – Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has called this meta-cultural operations – exceeds in size that of the intangible heritage to be honored and safeguarded. It is time to think about

  • the investment in labor that heritage making and safeguarding measures require and
  • evaluating whether this investment is what the conventions were truly aiming for.

2) The ratification of the ICH convention brings into the control of the state a plethora of traditional cultural expressions and cultural knowledges that previously often were simply part of a local or regional expressive and aesthetic economy and politics. Depending on what kind of state one is looking at, this has a minor or major impact on the dynamics of the nominated cultural forms and their carriers. With minor intervention we might label the creation of inventories (which, however, in the bureaucratically necessary use of forms with categories and subcategories do have a disciplining effect); a major intervention would be the creation of controlling agencies that monitor who is permitted to carry out or participate in a particular intangible heritage and thus in effect lead to a policing of producers and beneficiaries. Mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion are, of course, common group practices, esp. also in the realm of cultural traditions, but we think it is important

  • to notice that through the ratification of the ICH convention, states have the opportunity to become actors in this arena where before they might not have taken notice.
  • to acknowledge that the opportunity to compete for ICH listings create economic incentives not just for communities but also for states
  • to witness that the arising questions of ownership of ICH also contribute to questions of cultural property (as discussed in WIPO’s IGC on cultural knowledge, traditional cultural expressions and genetics) – which very likely was not one of the intentions of the ICH convention.
  • to be aware that all heritage conventions have the potential to create friction within and between states, as they contain potentials for empowerment that may be considered fruitful from an international perspective but whose consequences for parties seeking empowerment cannot be foreseen.

3) The intervention and mediation in ICH nominations is complex indeed and requires additional measures of reflexivity in fields of research (generally ethnographically working fields of scholarship) where reflexive considerations with regard to the impact of researcher presence in the field are customary. The training of cultural researchers is not identical in every country, nor are cultural researchers in every scholarly tradition used to or even willing to submit to national guidelines. It would thus be important

  • to witness what kind of professionals are engaged in assisting communities with heritage nominations in given countries
  • how heritage researchers are trained – in many countries, “heritage chairs” have been created at universities which exist alongside what one might term cultural researchers in ethnographically based fields that adhere rather to a school of critical heritage studies; thus one has different professionals who have quite different opinions on heritage regimes, but whose “resistance” to heritage measures remains marginal.
  • to gain a better awareness of what kind of agency heritage researchers choose to or have to take. In some states, there are national and regional institutions that employ cultural researchers to carry out the work of shaping dossiers in accordance with operational guidelines, indeed, in times of academic downsizing some cultural researchers are dependent on these kinds of jobs while at the same time they have ethical quandaries about the nature of this work. In other countries it is clear that state decisions are to be implemented.

4) On a larger level it is worthwhile to ask the question: what – if anything – is different about international conventions addressing areas of cultural practice as compared to for instance environment, security, trade, traffic and so forth. All conventions, once ratified, result in administrative procedures with attendant bureaucratic measures; many generate new offices and officers in charge of implementation. Implementing new norms in complex social systems has this consequence. Cultural practices and the professionals engaged in research about them (see point 3 above) are, perhaps, not ideal customers for normative measures. Nonetheless, a birds’ eye perspective, taking in account the broader landscape of international norm setting, would be helpful before further steps are taken to improve on the operational guidelines of UNESCO heritage conventions.

Sincerely

Prof. Dr. Regina Bendix
Speaker of the DFG Research Group on Cultural Property

Preservation Analogies: Food and Culture

In March 2012, the cultural property research team undertook a joint excursion to Munich and the Allgäu region and focused our collective attention on geographic indications or G.I.s. We visited the ministry of agriculture, interest groups in the realm of beer and cheese production as well as a small cheese dairy to gain some insight on how actors at different levels of food production pursue European Union G.I. protections and related instruments in order to promote and protect particular food products. These encounters and conversations yielded important insights on the governance structures and practices that are emerging around this particular instrument. But spending time with everyone and mulling over the other project foci our research group pursues, comparative thoughts began to emerge. As we were standing outdoors on the last evening around a spring time fire, inhaling the scent of burning, slightly wet wood, one colleague jokingly noted that we were all getting smoked like a good sausage. This set one’s mind in a Lévi-Straussian mood, contemplating the analogies between preserving food and preserving culture.

The territorially bounded foods we had been talking about – several types of cheese, a particular sausage, beers brewed in particular fashion – were with few exceptions (a locally grown horseradish and a regional type of asparagus) the result of recipes geared to transform raw foods into more durable and value-added products. Setting aside the fact that G.I.s themselves honor the traditional knowledge that generates these products and encourage the preservation of this knowledge through the exclusivity of awarding a G.I., it may be a worthwhile – if not entirely serious? – endeavor to examine the types of food preservation techniques: what analogies to food preservation do we find in the realm of cultural preservation, spearheaded at present by the heritage regime but looking back at a long history? And what effects do these techniques have comparatively, applied to cultural practices as opposed to food? Food preservation has as one major purpose of slowing down or stopping the natural process of putrefaction by removing the substance within which agents of decay multiply. There are some preservation techniques, such as cheese making, that transform a raw food with limited preservation potential through the addition of an agent that brings forth a new food which can, in turn, be preserved. The following list is neither exhaustive nor precise in the kind of structuralist matrix we are familiar with from The Raw and the Cooked; it is meant to stimulate thought and encourage reply:

Beginning with the more modern methods, let us look at freezing: Cold is applied to stop putrefaction – a method that has outdistanced drying and conserving with the advent of electric refrigeration. Foodstuffs will alter slightly in taste and texture but often maintain a good deal of their fresh consistency. Freezing happens – at least outside the supermarket context – within firmly closed contraptions and one can see here an analogy to cultural artifacts and traditional expressions which have vanished in museum storage or which remain in the custody of “culture bearers” who seek to not share them beyond their own group.

Then there are sterilizing, pasteurizing and homogenizing: These processes assist in prolonging the shelf life of foods, in particular liquids; bacteria are eliminated through the application of heat and further cooking in sealed containers contributes to the conservation process. A successful sterilization process of, for instance, fruit, also requires the removal of some of its parts (e.g. the skin, pit or seeds). The classic museum display represents a preservation analogy – with objects behind glass and cabinet after cabinet resembling rows of conserves in a pantry.

However, it is worthwhile looking at some older methods of preserving foods (themselves, of course, worthy of intangible heritage or G.I. status…):

Drying: this removes water from foods such as fruits, mushrooms as well as meat and fish, to halt the putrefying process. Preserving traditional performances – of oral histories and verbal art, dance, music and so forth – on paper, tape, photo, film, or digital media – removes the liquid entailed in the full sensory experience of participating and witnessing a live performance. Is it possible to add water to make these cultural expressions palpable again? Carrier media remove the observer from the experience, the question is what sort of “liquid” reintroduces a dynamic that performers and audiences – albeit with boundaries – constitute.

Smoking and curing: these are methods that also dehydrate, but that preserve food further by sealing the foodstuff with smoke or salt and thus also stopping or halting processes of putrefaction; simultaneously they endow such foods with a distinct flavor that is appreciated by many eaters and foster experimentation such as using particular types of wood for a special smoke production or flavoring the salt used for the curing process. Restoration of heritage sites invariably is “of the present” (even if it relies on historical research to restore using methods of a given past) and thus adds a flavor to the objects of monuments preserved. One might see this analogously to a cured or smoked ham which tastes quite different from fresh pork: flavor is created but it also marks the distance from the immediate present (in contrast to the more neutral freezing). Smoking gives a “past-in-the-present” flavor, perhaps comparable to a yellowed photograph. More metaphorically speaking, one might talk of “smoke and mirrors” that are constructed around cultural monuments which have mostly vanished yet are to be made graspable and palpable to visitors – through reconstructions, interpretative panels, 3-D animation and so forth.

Pickling: Raw foods, in particular vegetables but also fish and meats are set in acid substances such as vinegar (itself the product of a preservation process…) augmented with various herbs, salts and/or sweeteners, making it possible to extend their edibility and – again- render them different to suit often culture-specific tastes. This might – in terms of heritage regimes – suggest that rather than aiming for universal standards in restoration and preservation, pickling as a preservation measure might also generate a prickling diversity in what is to be visited by tourists from near and far.

Brewing, fermenting, distilling: These methods of preservation result both in a consumable product in liquid form as well as – in some situations – a disinfectant. The resulting products have the capacity to inebriate which opens interesting perspectives when considering potential analogies in heritage making. One could argue that “fermented” or “distilled” heritage represents creative adaptations and transformations of traditional cultural expressions, fostering thereby also a happy exuberance as long as one takes care to not imbibe too much.

These are naturally not all possible forms of food preservation – additional thought on some of the more smelly types of preserving or transforming foods will broaden further the range of options. Readers are encouraged to comment and spin these thoughts further! One important point to deliberate remains: Humans have devised a broad range of food preservation techniques, guarded by more or less secret knowledges, in order to transform raw foods in such matter as to keep it edible and hence consumable at a later date. The aim is thus always to eventually eat what has been preserved under the assumption that new raw food substance will grow. Heritage-making as a preservation activity is less straightforward. On the face of it, heritage is meant to be preserved in order to stay, and opportunity to “eat it” in order to make space for new cultural expressions, monuments, and landscapes to grow is limited by regimes ensuring the maintenance of all one has decided to celebrate, honor, marvel at from the past in the spirit of cultural preservation. If we did not eat up our preserved pickles, conserved peaches, cured and smoked meet, fish, and cheese, and frozen whatnots, they would, despite all our best efforts, eventually go bad and we would, furthermore, not have any space for the tasty, fresh foods growing anew every spring. It might be worthwhile examining the ever more bureaucratized heritage regime from this vantage point: how much space does it leave in the human pantry for putting up what is growing freshly, and perhaps differently?

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.
Continue reading

Policy Paper: Verbundförderung für interdisziplinäre Gesellschafts- und Kulturwissenschaften: Eine Kritik

Regina Bendix/Kilian Bizer

Interdisziplinarität ist nicht nur ein Etikett, das die zeitgenössische Universität, geprägt durch Exzellenzinitiative, W-Besoldung, leistungsorientierte Mittelvergabe und vielem mehr, nutzt, um sich auszuzeichnen als besonders fortschrittlich, weltoffen und -zugewandt. Interdisziplinär angelegte Forschung ist auch eine Herangehensweise an die komplexen Herausforderungen einer heterogenen, globalisierten Welt, und tritt dem Bild des Elfenbeinturmes, in dem sich seine WissenschaftlerInnen verschanzen, wirkungsvoll entgegen. Interdisziplinarität wird unterschiedlich theoretisiert; sie lässt sich gemäß der hier beigezogenen Analyse von Barry, Born und Wszkalnys als ein Kontinuum charakterisieren, das von Multidisziplinarität über Transdisziplinarität bis hin zur Interdisziplinarität im engeren Sinne reicht. Während ersteres ein Nebeneinander von Disziplinen meint, die am gleichen Themenkomplex arbeiten und einander punktuell zuarbeiten, adressiert Transdisziplinarität ein gesellschaftlich wahrgenommenes Problem und vermittelt bzw. kooperiert mit gesellschaftlichen Akteuren. Interdisziplinarität im engeren Sinne inkludiert eine auch methodische Zusammenarbeit, die die Grenzen zwischen den Disziplinen zumindest ansatzweise verschmelzen lässt. Diese Form der Interdisziplinarität ergänzt den methodischen und ideologischen Kanon der jeweiligen Disziplin, um das adressierte Problem einer besseren Lösung zuzuführen.

Dieser Beitrag untersucht, auf welche Weise Interdisziplinarität in der gesellschafts- und kulturwissenschaftlichen Forschung zu gestalten ist, um einen Beitrag zur gesellschaftlichen Problemlösung zu liefern. Dabei stellt er Defizite in der Vergabepraxis interdisziplinärer Verbünde insbesondere durch die DFG fest und entwickelt daraus Empfehlungen für die Fortentwicklung der Förderrichtlinien. Abschnitt 2 konkretisiert zunächst, warum Interdisziplinarität einen Mehrwert verspricht. Abschnitt 3 fragt nach den Bedingungen für das Funktionieren von Interdisziplinarität. Abschnitt 4 formuliert Empfehlungen anhand von Beispielen für die Förderung von Verbundvorhaben. Abschnitt 5 dient der Schlussbetrachtung.

Das vollständige Paper kann als PDF heruntergeladen werden.

Scholarship and Policy: Moderator’s Comments II (Regina Bendix)

Rather than summarizing the opposing points of view, let me point to the crevices of interdisciplinarity that become apparent in this debate: the social significance or even legitimacy of intellectual inquiry look very different for an economist’s and a cultural anthropologist’s point of view. The former has several decades of research experience and participation in endeavors that not only suggest but demand policy recommendation and he demands – not without caveats – that investigating the constitution of cultural property result in policy recommendations. Society as the client ultimately paying for our work might otherwise just decide that work such as ours might not be worth funding anymore. The cultural anthropologist in the process of finishing his dissertation delimits the boundaries within which he could permit recommendations. He draws on the foundational history of humanistic inquiry and updated stances of post-war critical theory. Both to him combine into a sufficient bulwark against forgetting the power asymmetries existing within the very problem that we investigate.

Are there possibilities to reach common ground – or at the very least productive cooperation – between disciplines as different as law, economics, cultural anthropology and ethnology? We would like to think or imagine that there are, and in the days ahead of us, we hope to illustrate where we have found the possibility of working in tandem or at the very least next to one another in addressing arenas within which cultural property is constituted.

On Friday morning, finally, we will return to this debate and further input on how this group has experienced interdisciplinary research between fields of inquiry not usually teaming up together and we will – this at least I would like to promise – seek to come up with policy suggestions for funding organizations and universities with regard to fostering interdisciplinary work.

Scholarship and Policy: Moderator's Comments I (Regina Bendix)

The two parties have offered their first positions on the motion “This research group holds that scholars have a social/global responsibility to provide policy recommendations in contexts and negotiation bodies concerned with cultural property.”

I will begin by noting the conflicting or contradictory use of the term “positive” as employed by Mr. Bizer and Mr. Groth respectively. Mr. Bizer coins the notion of “pos-people” for disciplines engaged in documenting and interpreting what is there. Mr. Groth invokes the concept of positivist heuristics for an approach to research that allows one to ignore all the anomalies. One might then rephrase the players in the two groups as “positivist norm-guys” and “critically problematizing guys and gals”.

Both debaters invoke a scholarly past, but to different ends. Mr. Bizer, not without irony or perhaps longing, references a past within which scholarship faced less expectation. He observes a fundamental shift in the sociopolitical parameters within which social scientists work. Society no longer wants to support scholarship without immediately recognizable use, and Mr. Bizer points to the economic reality that society pays us to produce useful results. This change in parameters is due to distrust vis-à-vis what it is scholars actually do, and hence an effort to distribute funds in exchange for concrete and useful results. Society seeks guidance, he argues, and thus offers public funds to have groups such as ours offer guidance, in this case on an emerging issue such as a cultural property – which is by no means devoid of normative posts at the outset.

Mr. Groth evokes the longevity of a dispute once fought between critical rationalists and critical theorists and rekindled at between new camps motivated by new contexts but formulating an analogous opposition. Using Mr. Groth’s argumentation, and considering the research topic of cultural property, we are to face the impossibility of society’s demand for policy recommendations in exchange for research funds. To him, social phenomena are too complex and too contradictory for them to be harnessed in experiments capable of forecasting reliably the costs and benefits of a given course of action.

Yet the fact that Mr. Groth’s statement, too, is not devoid of irony would indicate that the state of affairs is not entirely pleasing. While Mr. Bizer chaves under the nature of newly introduced systems of measuring and paying academics, Mr. Groth refuses a service sector role for social scientists, but there would seem to be a certain longing behind the sarcasm of that expression, a wish to be able to do more than acknowledge the irresolvable nature of the cultural property conundrum.

Hence you are now both invited to respond to one another and further prepare the ground for our ensuing discussions.

Cultural Citation? The Plagiarism Analogy as a Tool for Understanding Cultural Property Regimes

By Regina Bendix and Kilian Bizer

Germany is currently shaken by revelations that defense minister Karl Theodor von Guttenberg’s dissertation is ripe with plagiarized passages. After struggling to keep the upper hand for five days, he asked his alma mater to revoke the doctoral degree so as to be rid of the discussion. Yet regardless of Minister von Guttenberg’s political future, thinking about the principles involved in academic integrity provides food for thought with regard to cultural property.

Plagiarism is a citation or paraphrase without proper attribution. A passage from a known author that assists my argument or that I would like to argue against in my own work of scholarship must be set apart with quotation marks, and a footnote will tell the reader just where I found this passage. Generally, neither the person I quote nor I will earn anything from such academic integrity, but I benefit in as much as proper craftsmanship allows others to check my integrity as a scholar and my standing in the academic community will hopefully stay steady. The only one profiting from such integrity is the reader as he can follow the arguments and counterarguments throughout the discussion and can determine who misinterpreted or simply misunderstood one another. Such transparency allows the reader to build up her own knowledge.

There are some insights and phrases that are harder to cite. “All the world’s a stage” might be from Shakespeare, but it might have already been said by Aristotle. It is a phrase that has reached proverbial status; its copyright status has, with the passing of centuries or even millennia, been eased, it is common knowledge.

Traditional cultural expressions and traditional knowledge – the core elements in WIPO terminology of cultural property debates – are, so to speak, on their way in the other direction. Long held to be part of a commons (naturally with various restrictions, such as, for instance, ritual knowledge), the increasing interest in culture as a resource fosters vying for property rights and delineating ownership.

The question is: can one bring some more logic into the struggle to devise cultural property regimes through an analogy with plagiarism? Is, for instance, the European Union’s geographic indication system for various foods analogous to a citation? Does a sui generis right for a particular cultural practice assist potential users/buyers to acknowledge the originators of this practice?

Most of all, is humanity capable of such a switch? If, again, we turn to plagiarism: while academics punish plagiarism, literary authors, composers, indeed, many artists enjoy a great deal more license. When we savor a work of art, we also savor its intertextual reference to other works we may know. A composer may note that a particular composition represents variations on a theme by an earlier musician – but perhaps he also builds on the education of his audience who recognizes the allusion. A painter or photographer or movie director may “quote” excerpts from an earlier work and the audience may (or may not) savor the craft with which the lineage is established. Artists have also long built on folk traditions, from Dvorak’s Slavonic dances to various fashion designers borrowing elements of folk costume, to mention just one of countless examples. Again, the “citations” are generally known, often the artists openly state their artistic debts to one or another cultural commons.

The issue, then, would seem to be twofold: the cultural citation that is not openly acknowledged and its use for personal or exclusive gain. If it were possible to delimit cultural property regimes in such a way to focus on penalizing and thus forestalling such cases, one might also be able to keep open the cultural commons for the kind of artistic trade and aesthetic growth that has made cultural contact essential and enriching in human existence.

The plagiarism of Germany’s defense minister demonstrates how important it is to be transparent about one’s sources in order to participate in a culture which acknowledges the works of others and respects them for it. In academia, the sharing of ideas works comparatively well because of the strict institutionalized rule to identify the sources. The task would then be to find analogous rules for the realm of cultural property.

The Real Estate Logic of Heritage and (not only Cultural) Property

During the Lisbon workshop “Heritage and Power”, organized for SIEF’s  Working Group on Cultural Heritage and Property by Luis Silva from CRIA and Paula Mota Santos from the Universidade Fernando Pessoa,  anthropology doctoral candidate Tristan Loloum (EHESS, France) reported on what he termed the “real estate logics of heritage conflicts”.  In his research focused generally on real estate bubbles in Brazil, Loloum encountered the case of the Quilombo of Sibauma, a small settlement of a Maroon population descended from escaped slaves. The Sibauma have already lost a considerable amount of land to an agricultural developer who has turned ecologically valuable coastal forest into grazing land and pushed the settlement farther to the coast. Now their terrain has become the focus of a tourist and second home scheme with developers eager to purchase the land. Brazilian law “offers several legal tools for ethnic minorities to protect their ancestral territories from real estate speculation,” writes Loloum, and in principle this legislation initially intended as a means to confront the agricultural lobby can also be used against “tourist colonization.” Loloum found, however, that not all inhabitants of Sibauma are convinced of the benefits provided by the ethnically-based collective land ownership route. While they could get (not least anthropological) assistance in proving their case as a particular ethnic minority and apply for group ownership of the land in question under Brazilian law, land speculation is also one of the few resources available to them individually. Warding off tourist development might preserve more of the coastal forest (for which, in turn, there is of course also Brazilian ecological legislation) but it would leave the largely illiterate people of Sibauma up to their own devices – none of them thus far have the kind of collective management skills that might permit an alternative kind of development. With regard to questions of heritage and cultural property legislation, Loloum concluded that the real and conceptual distance remains enormous between the population affected and the institutions relevant to their case – including the complex bureaucracies of the Land Rights Office, the Cultural Ministry, the Ministry of Justice, etc. The intermediaries necessary to clarify options and assist in sustainable decision making are lacking.

During a fieldtrip to the World Heritage site Porto, workshop participants encountered another example of the real estate – heritage interface. Representatives of “Porto Vivo”, an organization devoted to the revitalization of the UNESCO certified, medieval core of this city spoke with participants, and it is evident, that this organization seeks to precisely the kind of intermediary between heritage regime and an affected population. The inhabitants of old Porto had not been asked whether they would like to have their living quarters turned into heritage, but they are now faced with the aftermath. Nearly two thousand buildings await restoration, with some of the work already accomplished. Real estate ownership and the need for resources complicate matters in Porto as much as in Sibauma, even if the historical contexts and the stakes at issue differ. A good portion of the houses in old Porto are not only privately owned, but – due to complex family histories as much as architectural twists and turns – also owned by multiple parties. Most of the owners do not live in these houses but rent them out, many of the apartments are small, some stand empty, and many are rented by aging people.  Getting world heritage status has not stopped the urban flight, and thus Porto Vivo has taken it upon itself to initiate campaigns to turn the situation around.  There is a heritage “management plan” which, however, requires participation from both owners and from the people living in old Porto to succeed. The former would have to invest considerable funds in making the houses attractive to live in while still looking on the outside the way the heritage portfolio has outlined it. The latter should, according to representatives of Porto Vivo, gain in self-esteem and be proud to live in a world heritage site instead of considering moving out.  Staff of Porto Vivo is available to individuals willing to open or reopen stores, serving as a liaison to possible investors and contractors in the building sector (a book that was not further opened during our conversation). They also patrol the streets to note and report possible “problems” (such as graffiti or garbage, we were told). Aside from self-esteem building workshops they also try to find or school story tellers who might take on narrative ownership of their city and thus fuel the sense of belonging. The conundrum of keeping poor renters in parts of a city that may eventually be renovated – with rents undoubtedly  rising  as a result – is likely not solved with self-esteem. Paula Mota Santos who has studied Old Porto as well as the tourists visiting it is convinced that the sense of belonging is present. What is lacking is money to turn medieval heritage into real estate that corresponds to the standard of living of Portuguese of the 21st century.

Life after heritigization is never the same: workshop co-organizer Luis Silva documented this himself when working with villagers in a rural Portuguese heritage. Here, the heritage regime and the debates between architects in charge of restoration, bureaucrats, and inhabitants have altered everything from what lose stones may be used for to whether or not one might plant a tomato next to one’s house.

To what extent a real estate logic is one of the strongest forces behind heritage initiatives and contests, as Tristan Loloum argued, would appear to be a worthwhile angle to pursue also in interdisciplinary terms.

Lessons from Geneva to understand and even appreciate Copenhagen?

The recent climate summit in Copenhagen has given way to widespread disappointment: a global audience had high hopes for a breakthrough. Yet the preliminary results from our research group’s participant observation at WIPO in Geneva would indicate that the climate summit, preceded by preparatory intergovernmental meetings beforehand, certainly did achieve what Barak Obama called “meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough.” For unlike many international negotiations, there *is* an outcome.

The pictures available from the Copenhagen summit (see for example here, here, here and here) are eerily familiar from our participant observation in Geneva. Other than the images showing world leaders addressing the summit or dining together in animated conversation, we get to see chairs and tables organized alphabetically by country names, all facing forward and delegates whose bodies signal boredom and exhaustion.

Protesters outside the summit halls and commentators near and far spend no time thinking about the culture of international negotiations, manifest in the meeting spaces, communicative rules and their traditionalization, the linguistic diversity and corresponding need for countless interpreters, the equally traditionalized open and latent groups and subgroups with their complex agenda. These are just some of the factors contributing to the nature of what anthropologist William Fisher called some time ago the “chaotic, public spectacle” of international meetings and conferences. Within these parameters, the IGC we have been studying has, in eight years of twice annual meetings made practically no headway concerning its actual mission – negotiating regulations for GRTKF.

One of its few breakthroughs has been the establishment of a voluntary fund for delegates from indigenous groups and NGOs to travel to attend the IGC. We have observed speeding and stalling practices, deep engagement in the collective micro-editing of potential negotiation texts – in short, repeat engagements on the part of more than two hundred delegates where not speed but at best incremental movements are the rule rather than the exception.

Cultural property is a relatively young negotiation subject, tough it has arisen, globally, in quite diverse form over a long period of time. Similarly, climate change has unfolded over a century or more, but it has been a burning issue on the global agenda for at best a decade. While the result of the Copenhagen summit is also the decision for a “fund”, it is a fund that addresses the problem under negotiation directly. Judging by the outcome, climate change is regarded internationally as a far more crucial issue than the regulation of cultural property rights. Perhaps we should be thankful for that, as increased effort to address or even halt climate change will give us more time to work toward insights and solutions in the realm of cultural property right