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

(P229)

Cultural heritage and corporeality

Location Tower B, Piso 2, Room T5
Date and Start Time 19 Apr, 2011 at 11:30

Convenors

Herman Roodenburg (Meertens Institute) email
Markus Balkenhol (Meertens Instituut) email
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Short Abstract

While for a long time analyses of cultural heritage have focused on issues of construction or even 'invention', this panel asks what constructions of cultural heritage actually do in corporeal, sensorial or emotional terms: how some of them come to be experienced as persuasive and binding and others do not.

Long Abstract

Cultural heritage is not given, but constantly in the making: a construction subject to dynamic processes of (re)inventing culture within particular social formations and bound to particular forms of mediation. And yet, the appeal of cultural heritage rests on its denial of being a fabrication, on its promise to provide an essential ground to social-cultural identities. Accordingly, we argue that the success and/or demise of different canons of cultural truth, as they are articulated and performed by competing players, cannot be explained by 'unmasking' them as ever so many 'invented traditions' of 'staged authenticities', let alone by recurring essentializing approaches. As the anthropologist Birgit Meyer has written, the question to be asked is how some canons come to be experienced as persuasive and binding while other fail to do so. One answer to this question is to focus on the 'aesthetics of persuasion', on how mediations of cultural heritage may appeal to the body, the senses, and the lived experience of the groups in question. We welcome papers dealing with this focus, with the often-neglected aspects of corporeality.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Meanings of moonshine in the context of border festivals

Author: Stein R. Mathisen (UiT The Arctic University of Norway)  email
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Short Abstract

The paper discusses narrative, performative, and communicative demonstrations and consumptions of Moonshine in the context of border culture festivals, and how these activities are related to border identities.

Long Abstract

Visiting festivals celebrating border cultures in Norway and Estonia, I have noticed that moonshine drinking plays an important role in the communication of important values in the border cultures. The paper will present various ways of performing moonshine production and consumption, demonstrating relations between marginalized cultural identities and others through the use of illicit liquors. The production of moonshine, based on local resources, is banned by the central authorities. But during the festivals, there is a certain "free zone" for these illegal drinks. Positioned as ethnic minorities in the borderlands of nation states, local people tend to see the consumption of moonshine as a kind of cultural communion for outsiders as well as insiders, while the drink's appreciation or depreciation can serve to demonstrate and envisage a boundary between "us" and "them".

Looking at oneself through the goddess' eyes

Author: Florence Vandendorpe (Louvain University)  email
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Short Abstract

What makes people believe in a narrative, what gives them a feeling of belonging to a community however fictitious this might be, is the link they are or are not able to draw between their own personal experience and the story told. Rationality has little to do with this process of identification that is grounded in emotions waiting for recognition.

Long Abstract

Since the years 1980, North-American and European feminist bookshops display essays promoting the idea that within each woman would lie the "sacred feminine", a dimension of divine character that would have been kept hidden for centuries because of a male-dominant society. Ancient myths, religious artefacts and archaeological findings are reinterpreted in a view to provide this theory with scientific grounds. Although such a theory was heavily criticised by historians, these were unable to alter the spreading of what has become a modern-day Western myth.

Interviews made with women who believe in this theory show how helpful this narrative was in enabling them to navigate painful events. The myth serves as a metaphor for personal experiences: it provides feelings of frustration and grief with meaning, therefore allowing suffering women to recover a positive image of themselves. By imagining that they belong to a sacred community, they do not feel isolated anymore and regain a sense of purpose. In this case, the persuasive character of the narrative is not a question of objective accuracy but of subjective adequacy: people believe in a story they recognize as their own. In other words, cultural heritage borrowed and adapted from other traditions may be adopted by individuals as their heritage if it provides recognition to the untold story of their lived experience. Myth, however, is not myth by itself: it functions as such as long as someone is able to convince individuals that their story may be expressed in the terms of the narrative.

Aestheticization in Amsterdam: modernism, space and the assemblage of heritage

Author: Paul Mepschen (University of Amsterdam)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper examines the politics and aesthetics of modernism in Amsterdam New West. Modernism has been successfully framed as cultural heritage. I ask how its appeal can be explained by rethinking the relationship between bodily and intellectual persuasion and by focusing on architecture as a ‘defense against the terror of time’ in a fragmenting world.

Long Abstract

This paper examines the politics and aesthetics of modernist architecture and planning in Amsterdam New West. New West is a post-war extension of Amsterdam build according to the modernist principles of the Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM) and the garden-city movement. In recent years, and in response to large-scale spatial restructuring, residents, media, professional and intellectuals have 'assembled' around modernism as a 'matter of concern'. In this assemblage, modernist architecture and planning have successfully been framed and styled as 'cultural heritage'. A small section of the oldest part of New West has been been designated an 'open air museum', as as such as an area to be 'conserved' and protected against the postmodern assault on the 'original' and 'unique' modernist plan. In my paper I analyze, taking an ethnographic approach, why modernism as a 'cultural canon' has acquired a certain persuasiveness, even when modernist architecture is, at first sight, rather unremarkable. What aesthetics of persuasion are at work here? A possible answer, I suggest, can be found in a rethinking of the relationship between bodily, emotional and intellectual appeal. Proponents of modernist heritage in New West emphasize the need to 'teach' people how to experience and perceive, to feel and see. They thus stress that emotional investment and bodily persuasion depend on a learning process, on a distribution of the sensible. Another possible explanation may lie in the persuasiveness of architecture as 'a defense against the terror of time' in a fragmenting world and a multicultural society.

Land, body, memory and festivals

Author: Lita Crociani-Windland (University of the West of England)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper examines links between land, body, memory and historical events, which in turn find dynamic expression in community identity and ritualised competitive events in the Siena province of Central Italy, able to offer an affective level of expression to history and lived experience.

Long Abstract

This paper presents findings from ethnographic and historical research into four festivals in the Siena province, which highlighted links between some key geographical local features and the history of the communities under study. The focus of the research was on attachment to land, body and memory. Using a Deleuzian framework these were analysed as fundamental aspects shaping community identities, visibly expressed in the festivals under study. A dynamic aspect of memory and identity became apparent through such study. As the title of the paper implies, the findings suggest that it is necessary to investigate the interaction of environmental and historical conditions to understand the continuous shaping of identity. The memory of historical passages becomes dynamically inscribed in ritualised events. The best known of the events researched is Siena's Palio, a competitive horse race between wards of town, with a long history. Comparison between this and a more recent reinvention of what might seem like a similar competitive race between wards in Montepulciano, a smaller town in the South of its province, makes it possible to highlight differences and similarities in relation to key themes. This in turn illustrates the value of a particular methodology, able to analyse the relations between different levels of inquiry and understand some of the more fluid aspects of memory and (re)invention of tradition and social spaces. It is the ability of the festivals to give a bodily, affective level of expression to historical events and existential conditions that appears to ensure their endurance.

Crime scenes as exhibition spaces: incorporating difficult heritage and materializing mourning in memorial museums

Author: Lene Otto (University of Copenhagen)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper considers what the construction of difficult heritage in museums about communist atrocities do in corporeal, sensorial or emotional terms: how they actively use the physicality of space and objects to affect and engage visitors through the full range of bodily senses.

Long Abstract

The memorial museum is a museum founded on sights or scenes where past human rights abuse, crimes against humanity, war crimes, or genocide was committed. They consist of physical spaces that are places of mourning, and in some cases healing, for victims and survivors. This contemporary, global museological practice is related to the idea that efforts to collectively remember past human rights abuse and atrocity can contribute to a more democratic, peaceful, and just future. They confront the legacies of atrocity by using material representations of the past to teach lessons about democratic citizenship and human rights. Thus scenes of crime transformed to public memorials have become sites of conscience and tools of human rights education in the broadest sense, where the affective power of the space is considered. Drawing on examples from post-conflict memorial museums in Hungary, Lithuania, and Romania, I examine the importance of space and spatial effects in the museum experience. The memorial space is analyzed as a kind of metonymic contact point which stands for the physical, sensory experiences of the bodies that are absent. Memorial museums actively use the physicality that engages visitors through the full range of bodily senses. Thus, memory is a product of people's active engagement with the past, not least in structured ritual spaces within which visitors engage in carefully choreographed ritual practices of mourning and memory.

Coldness and elegance: being emplaced and making place at the science museum

Author: Susanne Schmitt  email
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Short Abstract

This presentation looks at place-making strategies and senses of emplacement of museum professionals at a “Museum of Man”. It describes how place and body are being attuned to each other through an incessant process of interpretation and practice.

Long Abstract

This presentation looks at the creation and experience of place from the perspective of museum professionals at a German science museum. Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork including video ethnography at a popular institution I will narrate how the built environment and historical trajectories that are being situated there are being experienced through the multisensory motifs of 'coldness' and 'elegance'.

Founded on the idea that the museum is a place lived through the body, and the idea of social aesthetics within highly aestheticized communities (MacDougall) the museum professionals' (e.g. tour guides, curators and security staff) 'senses of place' are important in at least two ways:

To those who work and dwell at the museum, the historical trajectories that shape the building's architecture and atmosphere and the resulting sensory-material landscape of the museum informs their practices of "looking good" as well as their sensory and lived experiences of working at the museum. As members of a community of practice, employees learn how to embody the "elegance" expected from representatives of a prestigious cultural institution while simultaneously maintaining individual senses of place that are being expressed in notions that transcend historical, sensory and emotional categorization.

On the other side, the "elegant" bodily performance expected from of the employees becomes a crucial part of the museum environment and touristic experience for the visitors' encounter during cultural performances like "guided tours".

A postponed corpse that procreates: identity, substitution and the problem of origination in Portuguese modernity

Author: Maria Jose de Abreu (Humboldt University, Berlin)  email
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Short Abstract

In what seems to express an ongoing appeal with bodyliness, materiality and spectrality, this paper refers to the indeterminate body of King Sebastian I and the legend of his return to access the relation between modernity and subjectivity, the problem of foundations and the work of mourning.

Long Abstract

This paper addresses some of the debates and theories generated around the death of King Sebastian I, who allegedly perished in the battle of Alcácerquivir of 1578 during a historical crusade against the Moors of Northern Morocco. A recurrent theme within Portuguese popular imagination, the myth of Sebastianism is now being reassessed in light of new evidence that reinstates that the corpse kept in the sarcophagus in the Monastery of Jerónimos really is that of the missing monarch. While this data has added new pressure to have the body of the young King examined by forensic anthropologists, it has also been eliciting new resistances towards, and anxieties about, the opening of the sarcophagus. The myth of Sebastianism -the idea that the King shall return on a "foggy morning" to rescue the nation from crisis and restore its glorious destiny- seems to reappear at a particularly critical juncture within Portuguese and global economies. In what seems to express an ongoing appeal with bodyliness and materiality on the one hand , and virtuality and spectrality on the other, this paper uses the indeterminate body of Sebastian so as to critically access larger questions on the relation between modernity and subjectivity, the problem of foundations and origins as well as the unstable boundary between life and death

'Stomping step makes us Estonian': dancing the pristine ethos of a nation

Author: Leenu Nigu (Tallinn University)  email
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Short Abstract

Estonian national dance conveys the idea of 'pristine ethos' of being Estonian, thus reinforcing the 'affective community' of a nation. The practice of performing national dances is part of participants' lived experience. Its convincingness, however, also depends on the current political context.

Long Abstract

Estonian national dance has been repeatedly criticized by professional folklorists as well as members of the folklorism movement for having moved too far from the 'authentic' ways of traditional dancing. Indeed, national dance with its disciplined training system and choreographed mass spectacles can be viewed as an 'invented tradtition' that bears a tint of Soviet legacy. Yet it is increasingly appreciated, whereas attemps to popularize more 'authentic' forms of dancing remain marginal.

Leaving the contested question of authenticity aside, it can be argued that the established style and repertoire of national dance conveys a shared idea of what the 'pristine ethos' of being Estonian is like. Relatively slow and calm execution of a certain movement vocabulary, sets of clearly defined national costumes and music, as well as heightened emotionality of some 7-8 thousand people dancing in unison, all reinforce the nation as an 'affective community'. It allows the performers and the spectators alike to become contemporaries with their envisioned ancestors. Following Paul Connerton, it can be said that performing national dances is thus not just a representation, but rather a re-presentation of the imagined past that allows the participants to feel more Estonian.

The almost centennial practice of performing national dances is part of the lived experience of participants and could be interpreted as a living tradition on its own. However, it is important to bear in mind that the convincingness of these performances also depends on the current political context.

Wrestling with the past: national culture, heritage, and the male body

Author: Valdimar Tr. Hafstein (University of Iceland)  email
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Short Abstract

Through the lens of glíma, a traditional form of wrestling in Iceland, and with a focus on the male body, this paper explores how heritage constitutes subjects in present times and contrasts its technology with that of national culture, an earlier metacultural relationship that helped to create the modern national subject at the dawn of the 20th century.

Long Abstract

Glíma is a traditional form of wrestling brought to Iceland from Scandinavia some time before the 13th century. In one form or another, glíma has been practiced continuously to this day, but as an organized sporting event, it is only one century old. With a view to recreating Iceland's medieval Golden Age, the young men involved in the Youth Movement in the early years of the 20th century chose as their sport a practice with saga roots and within a few years it was labeled Iceland's national sport.

With nationalistic fervor fading in the second half of the twentieth century, the time was ripe for the concept of cultural heritage to come along and help reform our relation to glíma. In its early 20th century forms, the national sport of glíma illustrates how cultural practices constitute modern national subjects. In the 21st century, glíma has taken on a different set of connotations as it has been translated into the language of cultural heritage. This new language of heritage creates the conditions for another sort of subject to emerge, one that is less universal than the modern national subject of one hundred years ago and more dispersed, reflexive, and ironic. I propose to explore in particular the kinesthetics of these subjects of heritage and the ways in which people engage with the present through tactile replications of past grips, embraces, and tumbles.

Corpo-Reality TV and the Authentication of Ghanaian Heritage

Author: Marleen de Witte (University of Amsterdam)  email
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Short Abstract

This paper discusses a Ghanaian reality TV show featuring a competition between cultural troupes that perform aspects of their community's cultural heritage. It asks how the corporeal and sensorial aspects of local performance genres intersect with the spectacle and sensory appeal of reality TV.

Long Abstract

This paper discusses the production of a recent reality TV show on one of Ghana's commercial TV stations, TV Africa, a station geared towards the promotion of African heritage. Omanye Aba features a competition between cultural troupes from various communities in the Greater Accra Region that perform aspects of their community's cultural heritage - e.g. town history, royal funeral rites, marriage rites, traditional dance, et cetera - in a weekly live show from the TV Africa studio. In the week preceding the show the members of the cultural groups, mainly young people, study the details of the assignment from their elders at the chief's palace in their community and transform the traditions into a spectacular choreography fit for television. A jury consisting of traditional spiritual leaders, Ga personalities, and entertainment professionals judges their performances, but the decisive judgment comes from the Ghanaian public, voting via cell-phone technology. Branded by Kasapreko, one of Ghana's major alcoholic beverage manufacturers and sponsor for many traditional festivals, the Omanye Aba show, and TV Africa as a whole, addresses a growing, mainly urban market for 'African heritage' as style. This paper explores the adaptation of local, community based traditions to a globalised reality show format through embodied processes of learning, choreographing, styling and performing. It asks how the corporeal and sensorial aspects of local performance genres intersect with the spectacle and sensory appeal of reality TV in the commercial production of 'African authenticity'.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.