SIEF2017 13th Congress: Göttingen, Germany
26-30 March 2017

Re-enchantment, ritualisation, heritage-making: processes of tradition reconfiguration in Europe: historical and ethnographic examples
Location KWZ 1.701
Date and Start Time 28 March, 2017 at 08:30
Sessions 3


  • Alessandro Testa (University of Vienna) email
  • Cyril Isnart (Institut d'Ethnologie Méditerranéenne, Européenne et Comparative) email

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Discussant Sharon Macdonald (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)

Short Abstract

Re-enchantment, ritualisation, and heritage-making are some of the concepts social scientists can use nowadays to better understand the dynamics of cultural transformations in late-modern societies. The panel aims to open new interpretative paths to question such dynamics in Europe.

Long Abstract

The aim of this panel is to gather and discuss historically and ethnographically informed papers about the symbolic, political, and religious reconfiguration of European "traditions" in the broad emic and etic senses of the word.

Invention (Hobsbwam and Ranger dir. 1988), revitalisation (Boissevain dir. 1992), commodification (Comaroff and Comaroff dir. 2009), bureaucratisation (Herzfeld 1992), and ʻpast presencingʼ (Macdonald 2013) are among the main concepts social scientists use to interpret and understand the dynamics of cultural transformations in late-modern societies. We have chosen to focus on alternative paradigms, i.e. re-enchantment, ritualisation, and heritage-making, which can open the discussion up to the symbolic and sensitive dimensions of cultural dynamics.

The panel also aims to rethink the theoretical scope and significance of these notions vis-à-vis the more classical concepts that link culture to economics or politics. This will be done on the basis of the sources and evidence informing the ethnographic and historical case studies presented in the papers. How are magic and supernatural powers publicly experienced? How can the ritualisation of a craft interweave with its commodification? What place do individuals' sensations and feelings have in the construction and demonstration of cultural commons?

Speakers are encouraged to present cases from rural as well as urban contexts. Papers problematising both institutional/well-established and new/unofficial religions, crafts, food, monuments, as well as representations of nature are welcome. We also invite potential speakers to present not only examples of UNESCO heritage-making or NGO development policies, but also others concerning local, regional, or national groups and associations.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


What is "popular Frazerism" and how is it at work in Europe today? Conceptualising re-enchantment, ritualisation, and heritage-making from a different perspective

Author: Alessandro Testa (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper, I will present the notion of “popular Frazerism” as I have developed and used it in my recent research. The ethnographic evidence will be drawn from my intensive fieldworks on festivals and other “immaterial” heritages in some European rural or semi-urban areas.

Long Abstract

In this paper, I will present the notion of "popular Frazerism" as I have developed and used it in my recent research. The ethnographic evidence will be drawn from my intensive fieldworks on festivals and other "immaterial" heritages in rural or semi-urban areas in Italy (2010-2011), Czech Republic (2013-2014) and Catalonia (2016-2017).

Popular Frazerism, as I conceive it, can be thought of as a particular cultural modality of "past presencing", one that seems to be at work transversally in Europe. As a phenomenon related with the imagination and the experience of the past, but also with religious or pseudo-religious social facts, it is strongly connected with processes such as re-enchantment, ritualisation, and heritage-making, all of which are at the centre of the panel's focus.

Transhumant routes: between ways of pastoralism and heritage-making

Author: Letizia Bindi (Università degli Studi del Molise)  email

Short Abstract

Starting from an ethnography of a rural area of South-Central Italy historically characterized by transhumance routes the a. proposes a reflection on present conservation and valorization processes applied to bio-cultural heritage and their late-modern frame of 'heritagization'.

Long Abstract

South-Central Italy has been characterized since the pre-Roman Epoque by a large and complex network of routes and paths of transhumance which was at the same time one of the most important economic resources for people and institutional powers and a way of conceptualizing and symbolizing space and environment. Today, in the late modern system of agro-pastoral production, transhumance is a residual practice, largely dismissed. Nonetheless transhumant routes and habitat became an object of conservation and valorization as natural and cultural heritage. National and regional institutions built legal frames for environmental safeguard of this bio-cultural heritage as well as local associations and communities are engaged in a re-discovery of systems of values and representations linked to transhumance. Moreover new 'discourses' on sustainable agriculture and farming, 'authenticity', responsible food consumes - typical of the late-modern rhetoric of food - cross this process of 'heritagization' of transhumant routes as well as their rethinking in term of tourist experience and attraction. This turn and its controversies will be the focus of this contribution concerning an ethnography of socio-cultural and political processes of re-enchantement and re-shaping of the question on transhumance.

On the process of "heritagization" of a natural area in Tuscany

Author: Emanuela Rossi (University of Florence)  email

Short Abstract

In Tuscany a group of people is struggling for the preservation of a small natural wet area. The paper will focus on how this community appropriated the heritage paradigm and is using it in their struggle for defending this natural area which they are submitting to a process of heritage making

Long Abstract

In one of the most industrialized area in Central Italy between Florence, Pistoia and Prato an informal group of people, is struggling for the preservation of a small natural wet area from the aggressive development of factories, mostly nurseries, which have completely changed the landscape. This group of people could be analyzed as a sort of "heritage community" which, according to the Faro Convention (2005),"consists of people who value specific aspects of cultural heritage which they wish, within the framework of public action, to sustain and transmit to future generations". This small wet area is characterized by a heritage making process still in progress which, according to my filed work started in the middle of the 1990s. A group of people is working in order to give this area a new historical and aesthetic value.

In the last years this heritage community started to preserve local memories trough interviews to old peasants on farming and fishing practices no more in use. In 2009 this group of people gave birth to an association, which installed an ethnographic collection mostly linked to the agricultural past, in an old farm within this natural area. 

I will focus on how this group of people, in fighting its daily battle, appropriated the "heritage paradigm" and used it in their struggle for defending this natural area which they are submitting to a process of heritage making.

The re-enchantment of the purgatory souls: embodying uncertainty

Author: Pedro Antunes (CRIA-ISCTE - University Institute of Lisbon)  email

Short Abstract

The restoration of the religious 'folk' ritual of the Commendation of Souls, in Penha Garcia, will be here thought as a 'traditional' death cult whose 'effectiveness' has been locally 're-enchanted', becoming a cultural asset for local heritage-making and a tool to establish relational ontologies.

Long Abstract

During Lent, groups of people, mainly women, gather to sing and pray to/for the souls of the dead, so they can get their indulgences in Purgatory and ascend to Heaven. This practice will be here understood as religious technology, in line with the maussian 'techniques du corps', — a 'traditional' and 'efficacious' act (1968). A 'tradition' which in Penha Garcia, rather than being 'invented' and/or 'revitalized' (Hobsbawm & Rangers 1988; Boissevain 1992), is an expression of a cumulative 'genealogy' of knowledge, of 'cosmological authentication' (Weiner 1982), restored by the local tracing of a 'chain of memory' (Hervieu-Leger 2000). The Commendation of Souls is also part of a heritage-making project, envisioned by the local council of Idanha-a-Nova, who present it as an 'intangible' experience of a pristine and medieval rurality. Besides its institutional usages, commending souls is, in itself, a fully 'socially effective' heritage toll, by reference to what Alfred Gell comprehends as a 'technology of enchantment' (1998; 1999). Beyond the 'past presencing' phenomena (MacDonald 2013), the ritual is experienced as a trans-temporal dialectical action: the past (knowledge) is recalled, extended and projected into the future (uncertainty), through an action that is substantialized in the present . Base on my, ongoing, historic and ethnographic informed research, this paper intends to question: How the ritualization of death has become a privileged technology for a re-production of 'locality' (Appadurai 1996)? Which conflicting and strategic uses arise from its 'heritagization'? How its re-enchantment induces an 'effect' into local conceptions of death and 'personhood'?

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Ambivalence as re-enchantement: heritage, spirituality and intimacy in Lisbon

Author: Cyril Isnart (Institut d'Ethnologie Méditerranéenne, Européenne et Comparative)  email

Short Abstract

Based on a fieldwork at the birthplace of St Anthony of Padova in Lisbon, this paper analyses the ambivalent effects of heritage-making in a Catholic sanctuary. It describes the overlaps of heritage and religious life, but also reveals tactics to preserve the intimacy of the local worshipers.

Long Abstract

The sanctuary built at the supposed birthplace of Saint Anthony of Padova is one of the tourist spots of the city centre of Lisbon in Portugal. Anthony has a multifaceted role in the dynamics of Portugal cultural policies and everyday life: he is a world celebrated Catholic saint, one of the figure of the national narrative, a tourist attraction and a resource for locals' healing needs.

Based on archive investigation and ethnographic fieldwork, this paper describes the heritage-making process implemented around Saint Anthony, especially the interconnections between lay and religious activities of displaying the sanctuary and the cult of the saint. I demonstrate that local actors, mixing up heritagisation of the devotions and spiritualization of the exhibitions, enact a re-enchantment of cultural mediation and contemporary religiosity.

This complex renewal of religion as a cultural good contributes to a major openness of the place and provides visitors with better explanations on the origins of the devotions. However, it also has an unexpected effect. The tourist and heritage reconfiguration of the shrine hides the more intimate religiosity of the locals, i.e. the image of the saint and its power.

The case of the sanctuary of Saint Anthony in Lisbon demonstrates that the categories and the activities at play (heritage, tourism, religion, popular devotion) need to remain ambivalent, in order to be efficient for the tourists and to preserve the religious intimacy of the locals.

Reconstruction as re-enchantment: on Swedish churches burned and rebuilt

Author: Eva Lofgren (University of Gothenburg)  email

Short Abstract

Starting out from two in-depth case studies of burned and reconstructed church buildings in Sweden, this paper aims at examining the process of reconstruction as an expression of re-enchantment.

Long Abstract

In a secular society where rural churches are "managed rather than enchanted" (Partridge 2005), rebuilding a burned church appears as anachronistic. While traditional denominations are struggling to attract worshippers and the number of church-buildings exceeds the depopulated parishes' needs, reconstruction mainly implies using the meagre resources of a diminishing religious community to rebuild a church that was hardly ever used. Starting out from two in-depth case studies of burned and reconstructed church buildings in Sweden, this paper aims at examining the process of reconstruction as an expression of re-enchantment (Partridge 2005, Landy & Saler 2009). The chapel of Skaga that burnt and was rebuilt in year 2000, had been erected forty years earlier as a free interpretation of a medieval stave church that once stood in the same place. The second case, Södra Råda church, was a medieval log-timbered church that burnt in 2001 and is now being reconstructed to enhance traditional craftsmanship. Secularisation has made church buildings loose their sacrality and opened up for new forms of sacredness of church buildings, as cultural heritage, aesthetic monuments and symbols of local community and identity. Through the Weberian notion of disenchantment and its corresponding concept of re-enchantment, the results of these studies show that the process of reconstruction and thus re-formation provide these former heritagized church buildings with new meanings which relate to local identity and history.

Re-configuring the Celtic tradition: invention, revitalization and commodification

Author: Máiréad Nic Craith (Heriot-Watt University)  email

Short Abstract

Before World War 1 European folklorists visited the Great Blasket island off the west coast of Ireland. These ethnographers encouraged local tradition-bearers to publish their memoirs. With reference to the first memoir this paper focuses on the symbolic “re-configuration” of the Celtic tradition.

Long Abstract

At the beginning of the twentieth century a number of Nordic and British folklorists visited the Great Blasket island off the south-west coast of Ireland They were in search of an authentic language and lifestyle. These folklorists were impressed with their findings. From their perspective, they had encountered a Neolithic Celtic lifestyle untouched by modern civilisation. Being surrounded by the sea had ensured that the community had minimal contact with the mainland. In their quest to bring this example of Celtic authenticity to a wider audience, the visitors encouraged the tradition-bearers to publish their life-stories. The Blasket autobiographies were subsequently translated into several European languages. Introductions to translations of these books set the context for a renewed image of Celticity which emphasized isolation, poverty and ignorance. With reference to the first Blasket-Island memoir (the Islander) this paper focuses on the symbolic "re-configuration" of the Celtic tradition in the early 20th Century. This historically-informed presentation explores the (mis-) representation of the Celtic peasant at a time of major cultural transformation on the island itself. It queries the impact of this scholarly commodification of Celticity from both an emic and etic perspective. It asks who was complicit in a process of heritage-making that was highly symbolic in the wake of Irish independence. The presentation explores the extent to which this "re-invention" of the Celt fed the wider European imagination. Most significantly, it queries how this new-found popularization of the Celtic tradition impacted on the islanders themselves and their self-image.

Meeting the Vikings in the flesh: The Saga Museum and mythologized history

Author: Gudrun D Whitehead (University of Iceland)  email

Short Abstract

This presentation explores the presence of traditional oral storytelling traditions in the Saga Museum in Reykjavik, Iceland, where history, mythology and theater are used in order to narrate local traditions and identity through the exhibition texts and mannequins.

Long Abstract

Walking through the large, industrial-looking metal door, and adjusting to the atmospheric darkness, visitors to the Saga Museum in Reykjavik first encounter a volcanic eruption. This firmly sets the tone for the exhibition of the Viking age in Iceland, told through realistic silicone figures posed to depict some of the age's most dramatic moments, according to popular tradition and historical manuscripts.

The presentation, based on research currently under development, focuses on the legend of Vikings and heroism as represented in the museum, where facts and fictions are joined in a single narrative in order to present a mythologized version of local history and identity. Audiences can experience the making, or reaffirming of Icelandic heritage in silicone. It is a commodity, created for tourists and Icelandic school children.

The inaccuracy of the exhibition's narrative and its reliance on debatable historical theories has previously been criticised. Instead, this article argues that the Saga Museum's exhibition actually represents a continuation of Icelandic oral storytelling traditions, which date back to before the medieval Icelandic literary manuscripts. This is evident in the exhibition narrative where the communal myths of Iceland's origin are seamlessly mixed with historical events without a clear distinction between facts and fictions. To this effect, the exhibition is performative. In order to gain the desired effect on visitors, various oral storytelling devices are used, including text panels, audio-guides, theatrical techniques and macabre realism. Through these shared collective oral (his)stories, a national character is forged, one of perceived strength and independence.

Dwelling in the roots

Author: Elsa Ósk Alfreðsdóttir (University of Iceland)  email

Short Abstract

I will discuss how a traditional herbalist family in Iceland, has renewed their identity and ideas about their traditions as a response to an outside threat of societical changes in how we constitute accepted forms of knowledge and scientific understanding.

Long Abstract

In recent decades there has been an increasing numbers of herbalists in Iceland, which have received their education from official, academic institutions abroad, have a bechelors degree and associates themselves with science. But what influence does it have on the indigenous people who have practiced their knowledge their whole life, as it has been through generations back?

In this paper I will discuss how members of a single herbalist family, descendants of some of the most famous herbal medicine doctors in Iceland, has renewed their identity and ideas about their traditions as a response to an outside threat of the academically qualified herbalists, as well as societical changes in how we constitute accepted forms of knowledge and scientific understanding. They felt the need to redefine themselves as embodiment of cultural heritage, align themselves with the Native Americans and think they should be protected like them. Through narratives they establish "us and them" mentality, aspects of ownership and past presencing. This shift has strengthen this herbalist family in dwelling "at home" in nostalgic and somewhat heroic story-telling of their ancestors and they religiously believe that they are communicating with these ancestors through dreams and practice.

From cleaning brushwood to storytelling: reanchantment of abandoned places in Aisne (North of France)

Author: Tiphaine Barthelemy (Université de Picardie/CURAPP)  email

Short Abstract

From a survey conducted in the department of Aisne (North of France), we'll show how abandoned places - such as farms, war sites or industrial sites- are rediscovered and highlighted by local association through two main activities: handwork and the construction of a narrative.

Long Abstract

Du débroussaillage au récit : ré-enchantement de lieux abandonnés dans l'Aisne

Une enquête collective dans l'Aisne nous a conduites à nous intéresser aux associations qui se sont attachées à réhabiliter des lieux abandonnés - fermes, tranchées, blockhaus, usines - pour les ouvrir au public quelques jours par an en y organisant des animations. Le ré-enchantement de ces lieux est alors saisissant pour qui les visiterait à des moments différents. Telle bâtisse déserte et délabrée en temps ordinaire semble revivre lors des journées du patrimoine, sous les tentures, cuivres, et meubles qu'y ont installés des bénévoles locaux eux même costumés, tandis qu'ailleurs, tel blockhaus à demi recouvert par la végétation devient, par la magie du verbe déployée par son animateur, un lieu qui a changé le cours de la seconde guerre mondiale. Mais qui ré-enchante quoi et comment ?

Les activités développées par les membres de ces assocaitions sont de deux types:

- la transformation physique des lieux par le biais d'activités manuelles fortement genrées : débroussaillage, démontage, remontage, peintures, transports, habillage, couture, décoration conduisent à l'élaboration de mises en scène éphémères sous tendues par des réseaux de sociabilité qui eux sont pérennes.

- La construction et la transmission d'une histoire à même de rendre compte de la spécificité du lieu. On s'intéressera au contenu et à la forme de ces histoires, à la manière dont elles articulent biographies, compétences techniques et expériences vécues à une histoire nationale, voire internationale qui a laissé de nombreuse traces dans la région.

UNESCO and poetics of global heritage regime: from safeguarding measures to creative destruction of cultural heritage

Author: Mustafa Coskun (University of Tübingen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on international cultural heritage policies and practices with a view to exploring the legacy of authorizing heritage institutions, namely, UNESCO, and the role its Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) program plays in the global cultural processes.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on international cultural heritage policies and practices with a view to exploring the legacy of authorizing heritage institutions, namely, UNESCO, and the role its Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) program plays in the global cultural processes. As proclaimed in the 2003 UNESCO Convention text, a representative list of ICH of humanity was created to ensure healthy maintenance and cultural transmission of humanity's creative diversity. By doing so, the program aims to tame the far-reaching impacts of globalization by introducing safeguarding measures which are deemed crucial as distinct cultural "practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills" across the globe face the threat of deterioration and cultural loss stipulated by processes of globalization.

The paper seeks to problematize the safeguarding mentality and preservation program put forward for the UNESCO policies of ICH to argue that such politics of global cultural management could facilitate the very "harmful" processes of globalization that UNESCO initially sets out to thwart. As such, the paper will inquire the discordance between the aims and outcomes of such global cultural management agenda, and will ask whether such programs paradoxically enable the very processes of globalization to penetrate into the most peripheral locations where the impacts of globalization would otherwise have the least foothold, rendering globalization culture-friendly. It will provocatively conclude, asking whether such global programs could be producing a global norm and predetermining the course global cultural flows take, leading possibly to their creative destruction, rather than allowing creative accommodation of cultural change.

Protests against monuments: redefining heritage and nationhood in Macedonia

Author: Goran Janev (Sts Cyril and Methodius University Skopje)  email

Short Abstract

Months of revolting by painting over the facades of power, installed recently by the right-wing nationalists in Skopje, Macedonia, unpacked the abuse of heritageization, cultural and urban commons, and democracy itself in a highly diverse society that is forcefully homogenised and consequently divided.

Long Abstract

Right-wing nationalists, in power for the last ten years, at the beginning of the second decade of 21st century decided to erase socialist past from the urban landscape. Twenty years late, political elites in Macedonia engaged headlong to remake the symbolic order, to redefine the heritage, social and architectural, and to redefine the cultural identity of the country. The process is known as "antiquisation", for the bold imaginative effort to provide continuity with ancient Macedonia of Alexander the Great and to disregard almost everything in between as communists' social engineering project.

The Macedonian spring, four months of unceasing civil protests, were named "Colourful revolution". Each evening protesters were colouring another object built or redecorated in the last period by the ruling party. Challenging the new ethnocratic symbolic order, protesters challenged the political order, engaged in re-appropriation of the public space and by unpredictable movement by and through police barricades, challenged the entrenched and fixed landscapes of nationalist glory that defies the reality of a mixed and highly diverse society.

After brief introduction to the socialist and modernist heritage and the newly installed nationalist 'instant' heritage that aims at erasing everything built before, in this paper I will discuss the emergence of new civic, inclusive discourse that embraces diversity. Months long protests finally reconfigure Macedonia towards true democratic society. The resistance against the ethnocratic narrative spaces was evident before the protests, but direct targeting confirmed the rejection and different aspirations of Macedonian citizens and reassessment of the recent past.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.