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:

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.


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

An Operatic Cultural Property: Smetana in Berlin

I just attended a performance of Smetana’s opera The Bartered Bride at the Berlin Staatsoper (remaining performances on 26 April, 20 June, and 23 June 2012). Originally performed in 1866, this opera is a prime example of what central Europeans call Folklorismus: high culture drawing on traditional genres and conventions for its form while taking the peasant culture of the national past as its subject matter. In contrast to the ideology of heritage as the preservation of tradition in its authentic form, Folklorismus treats tradition as the raw material from which a self-aware culture may be constructed. Folklorismus as a concept is thus less naive than heritage about the activities of intellectuals and policymakers, and it does not condemn them as destructive or inauthentic. But like heritage, Folklorismus tends to posit tradition itself as inert, unselfconscious, and clearly demarcated from cosmopolitan modernity.

In Smetana’s opera, the setting of a generic “Bohemian village” frames the classic comic plot in which a young couple who want to get married outwit the older generation and manage at the end to have it all: love, money, and parental consent. Local color inflects the story with the introduction of a marriage broker and the supposedly traditional custom of bride purchase. More broadly, local color provides the musical and scenic decor: the drama is set during a single day at a village feast complete with dancing, embroidered costumes, a choral ode to beer, and a traveling circus. The score draws heavily on Bohemian dance rhythms.

So we are given all the familiar Bohemian cultural properties, in the scenic sense. Perhaps it comes as no surprise that the celebrated composer of this emblematic Czech national opera, Bedřich Smetana, was christened Friedrich Smetana. He was educated in German, received the cosmopolitan musical formation typical of Prague in the 1840s, and began to use the Czech language regularly only in the 1860s, when he returned from six years in Sweden to establish his reputation in a Bohemia newly buzzing with public nationalist fervor under Franz Josef’s scheme of aristocratic federalism. Throughout its history, Prodaná Nevěsta has been performed as often in German as in Czech, making it accessible to enthusiastic international audiences. In Berlin the opera was accordingly performed as Die Verkaufte Braut, in a new translation.

How does one stage such an opera today, when we cannot help seeing the once thrillingly new Folklorismus through a thick scrim of the nationalist kitsch that followed? Capturing the audience’s attention is a general challenge in the staging of dramatic works from the past, which may be over-familiar or alien in their conventions or both. The debate plays out in terms that can be compared to the current debate in policy circles over moral rights in indigenous traditions: does the piece belong to the composer-author, to the singer-actors, or to the director? In opera, singers long held primary control over performances because they have historically commanded the audience: they could change composer-prescribed costumes or staging, add embellishments and high notes to their parts, even switch and interpolate arias for music better suited to their voice. In the twentieth century, two other agendas have competed with this privileging of the star performer: respect for the composer’s intentions and the desire to give the opera contemporary relevance as drama. The historical performance movement (earlier unfortunately termed “authentic performance”) seeks to restore performance practices, instruments, and stagings from the time and place of the piece’s composition. Although a contemporary perspective inevitably shapes such efforts, the project is intrinsically allied with what Paul Ricoeur called the “hermeneutics of completion,” the desire to help a text from the past speak on its own terms. When well done, it makes old work simultaneously strange and eloquent.

The contrary tendency is known as Regietheater, director’s theatre. Concerned to create a performance that is effective in the present, it frequently practices the characteristically modern “hermeneutics of suspicion,” proposing to open up what is tacit or repressed or distorted in the original text. This critical agenda interacts with the director’s assertion of will and pursuit of reputation as an auteur in his or her own right. Regietheater is often maligned, sometimes with good reason, for simply ignoring rather than challenging the spirit of a text, making it the pretext for the imposition of other scenic effects or concerns. In some respects, historical performance and Regie, as approaches to the single-authored historical products of elite culture, are comparable to heritage and Folklorismus as approaches to historical folk culture.

Born as Folklorismus, The Bartered Bride is by now itself a core monument of Czech national heritage, a familiar sacred cow to which homage must be paid, but not, perhaps, attention. It is not yet strange enough to audiences to create the demand for a historicist staging. For a theater that cares about its artistic reputation, Regietheater is the only option. The Berlin staging by Balázs Kovalik–who as a Hungarian has his own experiences with nationalist Folklorismus–struck me as the best kind of Regietheater, coming straight to terms with the chief points of tension between the past of the text and the present of the audience. One tension is stylistic, the other ethical.

How do we stomach all that Czech folklore? Well, Kovalik acknowledges the way we see it now: across a proscenium, without a context or human agency. During the brilliant overture to the piece, the curtain rose one quarter to reveal the sneakered feet and bluejeaned legs of a boy wandering around the stage; he was approached, in seeming threat, by one and then a second pair of scarlet-stockinged masculine legs. Instead of closing in on him, these then kicked up their heels and started dancing. As the sneakered figure backed uneasily away, the stage filled up with the standard folkloric ballet, of which we saw, however, only spinning skirts and dancing legs, all in traditional scarlet stockings–of which, according to the program, four dozen pairs had been ordered for the opera’s premiere in the imperial capital Vienna.

When the curtain rose fully, we saw the boy sketching: sketching a Bohemian village, each pen stroke projected onto a scrim. Behind this was a massive folding screen with a beautiful video image of a dense nineteenth-century forest, which changed color and light as the time and mood changed. Then came the chief conceit of the staging. Immobilized in heavy embroidered folk costumes, the bride and groom made their entrances standing in glass cases like those of an ethnographic museum, pushed in by uniformed workers. As the drama proceeded, the customs and traditions constraining the characters were objectified in dioramas of home, church, bedroom, circus tent: they stepped out of the cases to take action and back into them as they accepted their traps or sought their comfort. The village festival was populated by both costumed folkdancers and urban tourists coming in to drink beer and reclaim their roots. In a drama about a bride who is treated as property, the scenic materialization of containment and constraint provided a gloss rather than an obstacle to understanding. And despite the aggressive framing of the sets, the acting was naturalistic and the singing expressive, true to the Romantic spirit of the piece.

The ethical obstacles for a contemporary audience have to do, in the first instance, with Mařenka, this bartered bride. She is clever and assertive but has to stand up against her parents and the marriage broker, trying to marry her off to the feeble-minded son of a wealthy family, and also eventually against her lover, who has apparently relinquished his rights in her for three hundred guilders. Then there is that feeble-minded son, Vašek (the boy in the sneakers): not only foolish, sexually impulsive, and disoriented but a stutterer. He is freely manipulated throughout the opera by his contemptuous parents, his putative bride Mařenka (who tricks him into refusing her), and even a beautiful circus performer, who persuades him to take over as dancing bear from a drunken member of the troupe. In contrast, the other tenor is Mařenka‘s successful lover Jeník, a prodigal son who turns out to be Vašek ‘s older brother from the landowner Micha’s first marriage, returning home to claim his inheritance. He accomplishes this by pretending to sell Mařenka back to the marriage broker and stipulating in the contract that she must marry the son of Micha. The Berlin staging gives due weight to the lyric lamentations of both Mařenka, when she thinks that Jeník has betrayed her, and Vašek, who understands at least that everyone is playing cruelly with him.

When the trick is revealed, Mařenka’s parents quickly reseal the bargain with the rich couple, who cede at once to avoid scandal. At this abruptly happy conclusion, Mařenka sings “Now I understand, my dearest love,” not with instantaneous delight but with sarcastic fury as she takes in the way she has been instrumentalized. Vašek, no longer needed, sadly retreats into a display case and resumes his sketching; Mařenka, finally recognizing the kinship between them, draws near and looks at him through the glass as the chorus and families around them proclaim their delight at the wedding. The audience recognizes its own complicity in laughter as well as the distance it shares with Vašek from this tightly engineered social operation. Instead of the classic joyous comedic finale we have something like one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays”: specifically, Measure for Measure, with its formally happy ending dictated from above.

We are reminded that village tradition–to say nothing of the bourgeois culture that voyeuristically celebrates it through the lenses of museums and tourism and opera–is not all beer and dancing . It encompasses the propertization of women, the abuse of the disabled, and the unscrupulous but unavoidable struggle over scarce resources.

The great theorist Mikhail Bakhtin (who was in fact a conglomeration of at least three people, posing his own challenges to narrow conceptions of intellectual property), spoke of aesthetic work as holding potentialities. Art is designed to speak beyond the moment of its making. The intention embedded in a text (whether traditional or single-authored) includes growing in time, exceeding the conscious intentions of its makers and the understandings of its immediate time and place. Smetana was not an immemorial Czech. He drew on a particular artistic repertoire–the Czech cultural properties–in his effort to create a career in Prague at a moment when an explicitly “national” theater had just been opened and because his earlier work had been accused by local critics of “Wagnerism.” The Prague audience was not particularly impressed with the new opera, and only after it was enthusiastically received at the Vienna Music and Theatre Exhibition of 1892 (with intensified folkloristic decor, including those four dozen pairs of red stockings) did it return home to become a national treasure. To what moment and what audience can we really say it belongs? The Berlin staging of Die Verkaufte Braut opens up the potentialities of the piece in such a way that it becomes a common property.


  • Bendix, Regina. 1988. “Folklorism: The Challenge of a Concept.” International Folklore Review 6: 5–15.
  • Die Verkaufte Braut. 2011. Program book with texts by Stefan Horlitz, Marion Recknagel, etc., and new German libretto by Kurt Honolka. Berlin Staatsoper.
  • Morson, Gary Saul and Caryl Emerson. 1990. Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a Prosaics. Stanford University Press.
  • Ricoeur, Paul. 1977. Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation. Tr. Denis Savage. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Tyrrell, John. “Bartered Bride, The.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, edited by Stanley Sadie. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online, (accessed April 18, 2012).

The scent of heritage

This is a follow-up post by Valdimar Hafstein, commentator to the Research Unit on Cultural Property, to Regina Bendix’s post on Preservation Analogies.

Seven and a half years ago, three Australian musicians put on a performance in Salurinn, a concert hall in suburban Reykjavík. The artists – Yirryirrngu Ganambarr, Mirrwatnga Munyarryun, Ngongu Ganambarr – are all indigenous Yolngu artists from the north coast of Australia‘s Northern Territory, the home of the didgeridoo, and sure enough their performance prominently featured the wind instrument as well as drums and was accompanied by dance, with all three performers in traditional Yolngu costumes and body-painting.

Iceland’s Channel 2 television news ran a story about the performance and played a clip from the dress rehearsal. The clip was followed by a brief interview with the Yolngu artists. Although the performance was impressive, what has stayed with me is the interview. The first question that the reporter asked these three artists who had traveled literally halfway around the world to sing, dance, and make music – to perform for an Icelandic audience – was “is this art form in danger of disappearing?” The Yolngu artists made his question memorable by their refusal to answer. The reporter finished the story by conveying his bewilderment to television viewers.

I have a point, though it may seem long in the making. It relates to Regina Bendix’s previous blog, albeit in a roundabout way. What the reporter heard in Salurinn was music. What he saw was painted bodies in costumes dancing and playing instruments.

He smelled heritage.

He smelled heritage, the same way that protagonists in a mob movie smell a rat. It‘s not in any particular that you see, and it‘s not in the particulars you hear. It‘s in the relation between things. Something is off.

Invisible to the eye, inaudible to the ear, intangible to the hand; yet it is very much real and we know it when we encounter it. We smell it out. Heritage, thus seen, could be described as a volatile compound relating one thing to another: buildings, books, objects, sounds, bodies, practices. We detect it with receptors located in the olfactory epithelium, high up in the nose. The receptors send a signal to the glomeruli, which in turn send signals to the brain, which puts the signals together and makes sense of them: aha, heritage! Sometimes the scent of heritage is nuanced and understated, but more and more often it is overdetermined and smells to high heaven. Noses are not all equally trained to recognize it, but nowadays they are all trained to a greater or lesser degree.

It wasn‘t actually the Icelandic reporter who provoked this musing, it was another report I read this week, right after I read Regina Bendix’s cultural property blog on preservation analogies. The report in question, however, isn‘t analogical in reasoning – not overtly, at least. It‘s about a research project in heritage science coordinated by scientists at the University of Strathclyde in the UK. Its aim is to develop non-destructive methods to identify old books in need of conservation. What the scientists have come up with is a promising method for picking up the scent of heritage – the aroma of an old book. We all know it from the more interesting parts of the archive or the library. They describe it, in the lingo of a knowledgeable sommelier, as „a combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness.“ „This unmistakable smell is as much part of the book as its contents“, they add, yet it is a sure sign of deterioration. The heritage scientists have chemically identified the particular volatile organic compounds that our olfactory receptors signal to the glomeruli and the glomeruli collectively signal to the brain, which in turn interprets the signals as grassy and acidic „with a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness“.[1. Matija Strlič, Jacob Thomas, Tanja Trafela, Linda Cséfalvayová, Irena Kralj Cigić, Jana Kolar and May Cassar (2009): „Material Degradomics: On the Smell of Old Books“, Analytical Chemistry 81(20), 8617-8622,] The next step is to develop diagnostic tools to automatically detect and locate old books in need of conservation: a heritage-o-meter, accurate as a Geiger counter. Using this new tool to supplement their natural sense of smell, the archivist and the librarian will be able to sniff out heritage wherever it is hiding.

Moving back from biochemistry to analogy, how could we describe the scent of heritage outside the archive? (Whatever the answer, it‘s got not to smell „like teen spirit“). Is decay necessary to it? If so, what do we mean by decay? Does it refer to a perceived difference in temporalities, along the lines of what Bloch and Koselleck term „die Ungleichzeitigkeit des Gleichzeitigen“? Returning once more to that concert hall in the suburbs of Reykjavík, that, I think, is exactly what the reporter smelled: sounds, movements, colors, any of which could have stood in a context he would have interpreted differently, but which in their particular combination sent signals that, to his/our way of seeing the world set off alarms of asynchronicity: this wasn‘t modern dance, modern music, modern dress. The question followed naturally, the microphone stretched out to the painted Yolngu artists after they had rehearsed their „primitive“ performance for the television cameras: “is this art form in danger of disappearing?”

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?

Geographic Indications: Culinary Heritage as Cultural Property

As a type of intellectual property rights, geographical indications (GI) are a contentious issue in several trade negotiations within different law systems (WTO, WIPO, EU). Also the recent proposal of the European Commission “for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on agricultural product quality schemes” with a special session dedicated to GI does not seem to solve the legitimation problems intrinsic within the GI regime.

The subproject of the DFG Research Unit on Cultural Property adopts the lens of both agricultural economics and of cultural anthropology to analyse the rationale of GI in order to improve its understanding and derive recommendations for enhancing transparency and improving the governance of the GI regime.

The starting point of the analysis is a conceptual framework which juxtaposes two different legitimating theories, i.e., the “social conservation theory” and the “social constituting theory”. The former focuses on the “heritage setting” of a region which forms its territorial culture. The rationale of the European legal system on GI is based on this theory as it acknowledges the genius loci of a region by including it into a legal frame. A contrasting approach is given by the “social constituting theory” which premises that the set of traditions is part of a dynamic process which boosts awareness of culinary traditions from the moment of its legal recognition. Different actors take an active role (NGO, farmers’ consortia, etc.) in this constituting process.

For an illustration of the model, four PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) cheese specialties in Italy and Germany are analysed using an inter- and transdisciplinary approach. At the supply side, we aim at identifying the strategies undertaken by different actors to create/revitalize regional culinary heritage while, at the same time, not neglecting the discourses and practices of actors excluded by these processes. On the demand side, the study will shed light on the reception of the GI regime both at a local and at an international level focusing on the symbolic assets of GI products.

All in all, we expect to identify the circumstances in which the core elements of both theories unfold. This could contribute to the instauration of a more realistic legitimation of the GI regime.

Sub-Project: Geographic Indications: Culinary Heritage as CP

The Ethics of/in Negotiating and Regulating Cultural Property

The protection of traditional culture and associated material and immaterial resources and practices has been on the agenda of both national and international organizations for several decades. In terms of legally binding rights, however, the survey of what has been accomplished so far is rather sobering. Especially indigenous organizations, minority groups and developing countries have been fobbed off with declarations and conventions contributing little to solving specific grievances. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, of course, as the ideals of human rights, equality or transnational justice are very rarely in accordance with social, much less economic reality.

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.

Project Details: Valorization and Commoditization of Heritage: A Comparative Study of Choice and Modalities on the State Level

Cultural Heritage Between Sovereignty of Indigenous Groups, the State and International Organizations in Indonesia

“Culture” and “cultural property” are defined and used differently by diverse actors: by international actors, nations, governments and the civil society. In contrast to many other projects of the research group on Cultural Property, our project which focusses on Indonesia aims at catching the bottom-up perspective from the civil society’s point of view and examining its use of Cultural Property as means for political empowerment.