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SIEF2011 10th Congress: Lisbon, Portugal.
17-21 April 2011


History as a cultural construction: UNESCO and its tradition building from a (late) modern perspective

Location Tower A, Piso 3, Room 302
Date and Start Time 18 Apr, 2011 at 14:30


Sabine Eggmann (Schweizerische Gesellschaft für Volkskunde (SGV)) email
Franziska Schuerch Schneider email
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Short Abstract

History is everywhere: UNESCO - today's advocate of 'cultural heritage' - seems to be typical in this sense. Focusing on the local and the global we may ask how peoples' local lives are shaped by global institutional practices of 'tradition making' and historical argumentation.

Long Abstract

Today's societies can't be thought about without a widespread orientation towards history and collective memory. These phenomena shape individual lives as much as collective ones and they are manifested in different forms as well as in various places.

UNESCO is a good example of this kind of globally existing orientation towards history, since it thinks of itself as a special interest group for 'cultures' around the world that might be endangered in their special historical characters. 'Tradition' and 'history' are core features of UNESCO's interpreting and simultaneous fixing of those "cultures", even though the local people might think differently of their heritage and of their special ways of living. And even though space makes its very difference for these ways of living, it is rarely thought of or talked about in the concepts of UNESCO.

Focusing on the local and the global we might ask how peoples' local lives are shaped by global institutional practices of 'tradition making' and historical argumentation.

The point, therefore, seems to be to historize and localize this social practice of finding orientation in history and building up a collective memory or heritage. Essential for this panel are those contributions that look for historical argumentation at different levels of UNESCO's fields of practice: What status do 'history' and 'tradition' call for, and what strategic argument do they follow? And as a consequence of that: What kind of conflicts between the global and the local construction of history's meaning does UNESCO provoke?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Stigmatization, mediatisation, institutionalisation: "Traditional" healing practices in French-speaking Switzerland

Author: Julie Perrin (Université de Neuchâtel)  email
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Short Abstract

A familiar element in the domain of folk medicine, “traditional” healing practices in Switzerland have experienced a long history of denigration and marginalisation. However, with Switzerland’s ratification of the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage and increased popular interest in “alternative” medicine, some administrative experts are considering them from a new point of view.

Long Abstract

"Traditional" healing practices in French-speaking Switzerland include activities such as the use of magico-religious words and gestures (le secret), magnetizing (magnétisme) and bonesetting (reboutement).

Although these practices have interested the media for their sensationalist aspects, we observe repercussions of the many recent TV, radio and newspapers documentaries and books dedicated to this topic that go far beyond sensationalism. Indeed, the increase in popular recourse to these practices is a remarkable feature of late modernity, in Switzerland and elsewhere. Based on the interviews conducted since November 2009, I further observe that today's "traditional" healers are increasingly "coming out of the shadows", speaking more openly about their practices and their vision of the world. Some of them even assert their legitimacy in terms of professionalization.

In conformity with the requirements imposed by Switzerland's ratification of the 2003 UNESCO Convention, the Federal Office of Culture is currently drawing up a list of ICH on its territory. Some experts are now considering "traditional" healing practices as a potential item to put on the national list. Although there is a consensus about the continuity, the locality and the traditional aspects of these practices, many challenging criteria and political rationales could nonetheless work to exclude them from the national list. My communication aims to shed light on recent changes in the ways in which these practices are represented, and how these changes may reflect back on the future of these healing practices, located at the cross-roads between the logics of heritage preservation and of therapeutic effectiveness.

Intangible local cultural heritage recycled: a case study of the memories of two clerics of Westbo district and their 18th century manuscripts of clandestine knowledge

Author: Åsa Ljungström (Mid Sweden University)  email
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Short Abstract

Local identity benefits from the interest of the society that may start new waves cherishing the heritage. This is a case study of the interest in two special clergymen from descendants, scholars and archive holdings that will be safeguarded by UNESCO convention for the intangible heritage.

Long Abstract

In Sweden the national Institute for Language and Folklore is currently coordinating the country's entry into the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage convention. Renewed interest in local identities and oral history relies on the greater society already having access to them, but initiatives like the coordination project may trigger new waves of interest. This contribution is a case study of such a material comprised of the 18th century memories and manuscripts left by a set of remarkable clergymen from the forests of Westbo district, south-western Sweden.

It also surveys of a number of waves of historical interest. In 1630 a Government Memorial ordered local clergy to register oral history and old monuments, as the recently centralised Swedish state required a glorious past to match its imperial ambitions on the continent. The initiative resulted in a small number of texts, known as The Clerical Relationes. One dealt with Westbo district and is ascribed to the Gasslanders, father and son, featured in this study. Some of their material about local practices would fall under a a heading of clandestine or unauthorised knowledge.

The next wave of scholarly interest in the region occurred in the 1880's, when local handwritten books were copied. The copies were published in 1918 during that period of state-sponsored interest when archives and university disciplines were founded. In the 1970's local history was reinvigorated for its radical social potential, and around 1980 a local author used the narratives for her novels. Today they are again up for grabs.

Struggle for cultural heritage. Memory and the politics of heritage in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina. Case study: AVNOJ Museum in Jajce

Author: Dragan Nikolic (Regionmuseet Kristianstad)  email
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Short Abstract

Paper discuss usage of nominated World Heritage Site, with start point in Inauguration of Museum of AVNOJ in city of Jajce, held in November 2008. Ethnography sheds light on the dynamics between four different levels in the production of meaning: local, national, regional and the international.

Long Abstract

My intention in this paper is to discuss how community functioning awaiting inclusion on UNESCO´s World Heritage List. I am concerned with the importance of remembering, usage and understanding of the monumental heritage.

With focus on creation, representation, usage and practice of heritage sites, I aim to address both historical and present relevance of the Museum of Avnoj in Jajce phenomena and in a comparative perspective: how is it used today, from whom, in what ways and for which purposes? This in order to examine how memory, perceptions and creation of cultural heritage change and how it is opening up new horizons of understanding problematic of post-war time, generally speaking, and new venues of phenomena called world heritage site development, particularly.

With the new politicization of the country and the region that was to take place in the 1990s, and with a post-war nomination process of Jajce to the UNESCO´s World Heritage List, began a new era of memory interpretations, site politicization and de-politicization.

Keywords: Commemoration, remembering, (ab)use of monumental heritage, politics of heritage and democratization of history.

Institutional rewriting of heritage

Author: Silke Andris (University of Basel)  email
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Short Abstract

The 2003 UNESCO convention actively re-writes the history of heritage by introducing a strict distinction between the immaterial and material heritage. What has caused this change and in which way has the history of (local and global) heritage been rewritten and reconstructed in the process?

Long Abstract

The (hi-)story of heritage, as promoted and anticipated by the UNESCO, is a linear, continuous and sucessful one: Heritage has a longstanding past, is endangered in the present and must be saved for future generations. Hence the UNESCO Convention proposes and supports several educational systems to manage and guarantee the future of local heritage. These efforts will then benefit and guarantee global cultural diversity. Yet one has to ask if the history of cultural heritage practices is not also one of rupture, transformation and change. Also, does cultural policymaking not actively cause these ruptures, transformations and changes? For example, several UNESCO conventions, recommendations and policies have changed and keep on changing the way we regard cultural phenomena today. They do so on a local as well as global level. The 2003 Immaterial Culture Convention offers yet another way to re-view and re-write the history of immaterial culture as seperate from the history of material culture. The question is how powerful is such policymaking in re-writing and re-thinking cultural phenomena and its history? And in which ways do these policies actively help to re-write and re-construct the institutions own histories as managers, guarantors and proponents of the world's heritage?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.