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Heritage Regimes and the State

Regina F. Bendix
Aditya Eggert
Arnika Peselmann

Between Arbitration and Engineering: Concepts and Contingencies in the Shaping of Heritage Regimes1

Kristin Kuutma

Texte intégral

1 Introduction

  • 1 This article is based on a paper presented as a keynote address at the conference Heritage Regimes (...)

1The booming field of current heritage studies is complex, versatile, and often characterized by contradictory significance or interpretation, as claims for heritage can appear to be simultaneously uplifting and profoundly problematic. In essence, heritage is a value-laden concept that can never assume a neutral ground of connotation. Heritage indicates a mode of cultural production with reformative significance. My discussion of cultural heritage focuses on the practices of arbitration and engineering in the context of cultural politics. I propose to investigate the framework of concepts and contingencies that situate the emergent heritage regimes. To start with the semantics of the core terms presented in the title, the act of arbitration conveys the idea of giving an authoritative decision, of judging or deciding in case of a dispute; engineering, in turn, signifies the making or achieving or getting something through contrivance, thus implying invention and formulation. In the following paragraphs, I will observe some aspects of engineering and arbitration from an abstract perspective, via the lens of concepts and contingencies that have proven instrumental in shaping and situating the discussion of heritage regimes. This reflection on the concepts draws from the anthropology of (cultural) politics concerning the domain of cultural heritage and its emergent regimes of engineering and arbitration while exploring relations between the communities, the state and international institutions, which are defined by the circumstances of globalization, postcolonial empowerment, cross-cultural relations, and “translation” and management of cultural heritage.

2When criticizing the notion of authorized heritage discourse, Laurajane Smith contends that the ways in which we write, talk and think about heritage issues matter a great deal: This discourse privileges some social actors while disengaging others from an active use of heritage (cf. Smith 2006). Dissonance and intangibility form the core qualities that channel and guide the perception of the nature of heritage and its effects; this fundamentally concerns the domain of cultural rights. Heritage is about the regulation and negotiation of the multiplicity of meaning in the past, and it is about the arbitration or mediation of the cultural as well as social politics of identity, belonging and exclusion. Perhaps it would be appropriate to use here the concept “ideo-logic,” suggested by Marc Augé, to designate configurations that articulate both relations of power and relations of meaning (Augé and Colleyn 2006: 47).

2 Curative Concerns

3Regardless of the commonly prevailing celebratory approach, the fundamental conceptualization of the phenomenon comprises negative emotions and painful experience – destruction and loss are constitutive of heritage. The discordant nature of heritage preservation becomes poignantly revealed in the context of the veneration of archaeological sites: Their identification as such is the result of modern Western scholarship and its knowledge production process. The preservationist agendas involved often have a noble cause of care for heritage deemed to be of universal value but may, however, reveal a severe friction with local perceptions of priorities in representational symbols of cultural practice, or priorities concerning sustainable livelihood among the locals in proclaimed heritage sites, as studies by archeologist Lynn Meskell have shown, for example, in the case of the erasure of Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan or the conflict with Qurna communities in Luxor, Egypt (cf. Meskell 2002, 2010).

4Originally, UNESCO’s mandate was to engage in a worldwide educational campaign aimed at preventing new destructive conflicts like those endured in the first half of the 20th century. It has been proposed more recently that the mission of UNESCO is an experiment in social engineering on a global scale (Stoczkowski 2009: 7). Here is the curative concern and ambition from the very beginning, finding a more recent translation into new metanarratives of redemption and global reconstruction in the context of heritage care (cf. Rowlands and Butler 2007: 1).

5The concept of care emerges as a central theme in the discussion of conflict and preservation. Phenomenologically, caring for something or somebody is fraught with anxiety, for it is contingent on unpredictable future events. Heritage care takes the notion of caution out of the museum – the birthplace of cultural curation – and re-embeds it in personal life (Rowlands and Butler 2007: 2). The fundamentalist ideology of heritage preservationism derives from the modernist obsession with loss, although David Lowenthal pointed out nearly three decades ago that loss expressed in the form of a monumental past is a feature of the present (cf. Lowenthal 1985). When discussing the basic tenets of UNESCO’s doctrine of human diversity, Wiktor Stoczkowski proposes calling it a “secular soteriology,” referring to the doctrines of salvation, and giving it an extended meaning of deliverance not only from spiritual evil, but also material, social, economic, psychological, demographic, intellectual, etc., evil (Stoczkowski 2009: 8).

6The multivalent connotation of the verbal noun of “engineering” has, in turn, inspired Ulf Hannerz, who has claimed UNESCO’s strategies to be a mode of “cultural engineering” that is based on nation-state logics and global governance (Hannerz 2006: 79). Heritage emerges from the nexus of politics and power; it is a project of symbolic domination: Heritage privileges and empowers an elitist narrative of place, while dominant ideologies create specific place identities which reinforce support for particular state structures and related political ideologies (see Graham; Ashworth; Tunbridge 2000: 37). In addition, it correlates with economic concerns, which reversibly relate to poverty and deprivation when we think about cultural expressions and environments in marginal communities or less-affluent non-Western settings or countries. Heritage maintains a deep and complicated relationship with poverty. Heritage regimes and mobilizations create new arenas for competing political and economic interests that seek to appropriate viable heritage resources.

3 Arbitration

  • 2 See, for example, Kuutma 2009. For a study of cultural property as cultural practice, see Tauschek (...)

7Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett has argued that heritage as a mode of cultural production emanates from a metacultural relationship – heritage is created through metacultural operations (cf. Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1998, 2004), which gear the analysis of cultural heritage towards the examination of socio-political and economic entanglements. Heritage is about identifying and managing, defined by selection and ownership. The policies of cultural heritage reveal presumably conflicting individual, communal or state perspectives observable in the predicaments of appropriation, contested restitution or celebration. Property relations are ultimately social and political. The making of heritage depends not only on conceptual valorization, but value is added both to symbolic and material resources (see Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 2006). Cultural heritage has reformative and powerful organizational and economic significance. In addition, even if the heritage under consideration or identified as such is claimed to be intangible, the process involved assumes materiality and tangibility, whereas the vice versa stands true, depending on at which end one stands or observes. At the same time, the metacultural is inevitably turned into or embraced by the cultural. Decisions and judgments are cultural, and they produce cultural reverberations. While a communal practice like Seto singing or a cultural space like Kihnu Island in Estonia, for example, have been deemed “cultural heritage” by the state nomination on UNESCO’s celebratory representative list, my research continues to observe how various actors concerned operated in the emergent situation within and without, and how the Seto and Kihnu communities have negotiated with or contest this status, which has been incorporated into their self-identification as well as reflected in cultural practices.2

8The frequently pronounced and instrumentalized claims for materiality or intangibility of heritage unravel an essential ambivalence. On the one hand, cultural heritage is more widely known to be about place or about the situated, material, esthetic, and experiential aspects of culture. The dominant perception of “heritage” draws heavily on the Western European architectural and archeological conservation and preservation practices that define it as material, monumental, good, esthetic, and of universal value. On the other hand, a conceptual shift has occurred in the last decade that has legitimized the term “intangible” to define cultural expressions and practices (storytelling, craftsmanship, rituals, etc.). The aim is to be universally inclusive in avoiding references to social stratum or inferiority that are perceived to be present in terms such as “folklore,” “traditional” or “popular culture.” Global cultural politics considers these terms too delimiting or prescriptive. At the same time, the historicity of heritage needs to be formalized through material symbolism, which makes the intangible and ephemeral into something that has material form, be it in a book, an audiovisual recording, as a particular element of a festival, or in an archive. Nevertheless, Laurajane Smith has argued that in an epistemological sense, all heritage is intangible through the value ascribed and its social impact (Smith 2006). The concept of heritage is used to sanction, give status and make material the intangibilities of culture and human experience. In essence, the polarization into tangible and intangible is organizational and political, largely applied to demarcate target spheres and areas of expertise; it is the institutional distinction inside heritage industries that needs this division between tangible and intangible heritage.

9The recent re-theorization of heritage not only as sites, places, performances or events, but rather as a social construction and cultural practice, draws attention to the process of heritage-making by applying and recognizing the social significance of objects and expressions. Heritage is a social construction, a result of the process of “cultural work” wherein the creation of heritage is directed by the “authorized heritage discourse” that generates institutional positions and legitimizes certain experiences and identities (Smith 2006: 299). The authorization of heritage discourse emanates from a close interconnection of relevant national institutions with international organizations, such as UNESCO, that has distinguished between the three major areas of heritage through its legal instruments of conventions: cultural, divided into tangible and intangible, and natural heritage. The major documents that stand in the focus of, provide impact on and initiate heritage studies are the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted in 1972, and the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, adopted in 2003.

4 Engineering

10An international convention is a legal instrument for United Nations member states. They are invited to ratify it and subsequently follow the operational guidelines for implementing the prescription of the document. The UNESCO conventions call for signatory states to prepare inventories. If entries for various heritage lists are sought, this entails the presentation of vast amounts of descriptive material. In sum, the states need to carry out documentation, which poses a problem from the vantage position concerned with the corollary effect in the reification of culture. At the same time, any documentation is a parallel act to the historically prevalent practices of collecting ethnographic artifacts in settings esteemed exotic, whereas those collection endeavors were and are complexly (and often disturbingly) related to the issues of ownership. Another disruptive impact of documentation is related to the insurmountable discrepancy in making a judgment between singularity and commonality in elements of culture. Documentation for UNESCO-nomination purposes concerns itself with and highlights the exceptional, even if the opposite is what is aspired to. That is, the member state who proposes a nomination in the sphere of Intangible Cultural Heritage, may claim to celebrate thus a representational phenomenon in national culture, which tacitly refers to the quality of typical in case of a widely disseminated practice. Nevertheless, what may have appeared a habitual element for a community becomes singled out ever after. Regina Bendix has described heritage nominations as reflecting small-scale powerplay with large-scale effects of moralizing and ennobling. She contends that regimes of quality control and evaluation are always present in the process of heritagization (Bendix 2009). These activities build on the late-modern competitive practices that correspond to and signify the tendencies of “audit culture,” thus labeled and studied within academia by Marilyn Strathern (2000).

11Inventorying is by default an act of classification that entails construction of models and categorization of cultural knowledge. However, classification tends to be historically contingent, while classificatory systems of thought appear to be culturally biased (cf. Arantes 2009: 57). Therefore, particular segmentations of social reality, assignment of categories and naming of diversities may not apply universally but reflect predominantly Western concerns or practice in reifying the products of human agency. The conflict becomes poignant when observed from the perspective of the triangle of indigenous groups, issues of collective or individual ownership, and the state. Indigenous groups, for example, may not wish or allow their intellectual property or environmental knowledge to be registered, because once documented, its ownership may easily pass out of their hands (cf. Napier 2002). Inventorying reflects interests and ideologies that are often driven by external agendas, whereas it is rarely taken up on the initiative of the cultural communities themselves, but is carried out by external “intermediaries” as has been pointed out by Antonio Arantes, an anthropologist from Brazil (Arantes 2009: 62). Inventorying raises the problem of subjectivity and agency in relation to the state – who has the right to travel, to document, to preserve? Who are the ones bearing the license to travel from place to place in order to initiate inventorying? What is the role of communities in this undertaking, or who are the ones with whom local people would be willing to interact? In addition, would the depositories thus accumulated be in available for public access, or are they subject to restriction, and who sets these regulations? The questions posed here seem to generate an endless array of new ones.

12The categorization described entails choices of inclusion that are based on representational agendas and preservation policies which are usually defined by cultural custodians and preservation institutions. In their input to making public policies concerning preservation procedures, however, they may ignore the sphere of cultural communities. The politics of representation and decision-making happen to favor particular social groups. According to Arantes, the construction of public policies in cultural preservation tends to be biased by hegemonic values and conceptions about national culture that serve elitist perspectives that, in the case of Brazil, have historically highlighted “white, catholic and colonial cultural landmarks” (Arantes 2009: 63). An international organization like UNESCO depends on the institutionalization and maintenance of elite power and expert knowledge, while experts are often derived from the ranks of economic elites.

  • 3 Cf. the Latin-American-centered discussions of two-way borrowing and lending between cultures by Ro (...)

13Another significant aspect of a national or elitist perspective in cultural-political representation is the notion of purity presumed for symbolic reference of cultural phenomena. Hybridity continues to be regarded as a negative feature from the perspective of heritage politics, particularly in the preservationist camp. This aspect can create additional friction: To continue with the example discussed and considering Brazilian culture in general, one observes that the overall richness of cultural phenomena and practices derives in a substantial part from hybrid mixtures. It may eventually appear an impossible task to pin down and define the moment when “a hybrid” begins, in other words, when or where a mixture, combination, blend, cross-breeding commences.3 Even if in this “era of cultural encounters” we should not seek firm cultural frontiers but acknowledge “the cultural continuum” (Burke 2009: 2), the heritage engineering agenda seems to hang on to the notion of “purity” in origin particularly in its political implications.

14The identification and the evaluation of cultural heritage are inevitably surrounded by contestation. Programs for preservation and safeguarding pertain simultaneously to the politics of inclusion and exclusion: About who matters, who is counted in, who defines. The veneration of heritage tends to overshadow social inequalities (Bendix 2000). Heritage politics is never neutral: It is all about choice where different and often oppositional interest groups concurrently select and promote their symbols (cf. Klein 2006). Furthermore, the relationship between community and heritage need not always be good and comfortable (see Smith and Waterton 2009). Communities are not homogeneous and neither is their heritage; disjunctions occur and heritage claims may not be consensual. A lot of social experience and practice can be related to contrast and conflict; they denote pain and suffering, as has been shown by studies on dissonant heritage (Tunbridge and Ashworth 1996). This reflects the complexities of how communities define and negotiate memory and identity, and how they communicate and engage with each other.

  • 4 For example, the 2003 Convention does not define “communities” in its text, which has caused recurr (...)
  • 5 Another mechanism that is tacitly dependent on cultural engineering and arbitration is the institut (...)

15On the other hand, defining the notion of community is problematic in universalist terms as it has become more complex in a diverse and globalized world. Community refers to social cohesion based on mutuality, affiliation, proximity, or propinquity, but also implies by default the immanent agenda of contestation and exclusion (cf. Hoggett 1997). Communities may be linked by a merger of social and cultural experiences; criteria extend from objective (ethnicity, language, etc.) to subjective ones (self-identification, solidarity, etc.); communities are segmented into those of culture, location, interests, etc. The denotation of community has broadened, but it brings with it layers of historical meaning and carries varied political significance in international settings.4 The matter of ascribing the quality of “community” seems to depend on whether it happens within or without as a prescriptive act by outsiders, whether it is an affiliation by choice or a result of an external organizational agenda, particularly in reference to state politics. The choice as to how we define community membership can have serious social, political and economic impact on individuals and groups within the state.5

16To recount the contrivances described, they refer mostly to the demarcating identification of practices into manageable categories, to the imposition of hierarchies or exploitation of positions, but also to the consolidation into collective bodies under the aegis of particular signifiers. However, I do not propose to dismissively categorize these acts of engineering as metacultural products of heritage regime, but would rather point them out as being embedded in culture. An identification of external manipulation that stops short of looking beyond this deplorable disclosure seems to me a simplified approach to the recognizable reconfiguration of culture that is in progress here and now, being observable everywhere, including the most remote locale.

5 Universalism and Representation

17The argumentation of the present article circles around the notion of cultural (or ethnic) community in relation to heritage management. Both community activists, in other words, members of ascribed leadership, and heritage custodians on various levels perceive it as a source for endorsing the sense of communal belonging. Heritage is deployed to define a community, but it functions similarly as a political asset in negotiating governance. Ambivalently, the aspect of administration also plays a defining role in formatting a community, according to Tony Bennett (cf. Bennett 1998: 201). Though the realms of government or of the state may be considered external, impositional and antagonistic to the creative cultural life of communities, seen as natural organizations of the populous, they actually come into existence through a need to organize boundaries and interact with the government. This becomes apparent in the context of making cultural policies. Here, local communities find an outlet for activism, and seek to create an operational mechanism that provides them with agency within the deployment of local cultural policies. Policy-making will function and activate at the community level depending on the inclusion (as well as exclusion) of community representatives. The claims for heritage involve policy-making embedded in the framing of culture, its history and expression, which combine insider activism with outside interests involving political gain.

18The politics of heritage protection have been traditionally mobilized from a Euro-American platform based on the presumed universality of “World Heritage”– referring here to architectural monuments, man-made sites or natural formulations of unique quality – the logic of which has widespread effects on international and localized settings (Meskell 2010: 196), as this logic builds on the notions of development, neoliberalism, and governmentality. The ultimate beneficiaries are then not only the state authorities who manage to showcase “culture,” but also transnational companies of tourism and perhaps those gaining employment in the process, mostly via consumption practices within global tourism.

19The universalist preservation agendas pertain to the perception that transnational concerns for conserving buildings, objects or sites should be granted unequivocal priority. However, even if sustained on the organizational institutionalized level with international conventions, these convictions do not hold ground everywhere, being met with contradictory response on the local level. In general, relations between the global and the local in the workings of the heritage regime are not one-dimensional but a rather complex mechanism. The concept of “World Heritage” carries a universalist pretense combined with a complex, highly-structured praxis, based on uniform criteria descending from global to local contexts, endorsing thus inadvertently a globalizing program (Turtinen 2000). Nevertheless, the concept’s impact with consequential reverberations still occurs most poignantly in the context that is referred to as the local.

20The paradigm of the Intangible Cultural Heritage presumably differs from the “world heritage” focus on monuments, architecture and natural sites. “Intangible heritage” is an outcome of a cultural relativist perspective influenced by postmodernist trends. If the UNESCO World Heritage designates and promotes “outstanding universal value,” then Intangible Cultural Heritage manifests “representativeness” in the regulatory conventions and nominations on the UNESCO listing systems. The concept of Intangible Cultural Heritage involves a reflexive approach, dependent on the “human factor,” as heritage potential is assumed to be established by its “bearer” (cf. Bortolotto 2010: 98). We might refer here to the notion of “grassroots globalization” by Arjun Appadurai when such collaborative response is assumed to heritage agendas furthered by international prescriptive policies (cf. Appadurai 2002).

21However, the involvement of communities – who are implied when invoking the grassroots perspective – is predestined to being weakened by the national validation process that is necessary for heritage authorization in the UNESCO system. The United Nations address only a “state party.” To what extent would protecting or safeguarding mechanisms go beyond securing the interest of state parties, in order to be capable of addressing localized needs and deliver a culturally appropriate mechanism of safeguarding? On the other hand, in the representational validation process, the state leans on the constructive participation of various “intermediaries.” These mediators are instrumental for the state in the course of identifying and defining heritage. In the field of heritage policy, authority is accorded to expert knowledge and precedence given to professional interventions that create, in turn, particular communities of interest, involving stakeholders and stewardship. The discursive impact of the concept and perception of cultural heritage paves the way for a battleground of celebration and contestation among those entangled in the process of heritage production. Frictions appear based on cultural competence, debates and conflicts arise between conservationists and innovators, while hierarchies of authority become structured and expand. To a certain extent, such expert-battles may reflect institutional agendas that do not reverberate with locally-grounded concerns. Those could include, for example, issues of authenticity or debates related to hybridity, arguments on historical documentation or generic features that contradict claims of singularity. These argumentations may not resonate across the field or become eventually opposed by local communities who claim ownership of particular cultural heritage, by communities for whom reaffirmation of their sense of belonging matters and who thus participate in the process of heritage production. On these occasions, mediated representation can become contested when community values are accentuated by their leaders.

6 Governmentality and Management of Culture

22When heritage accentuates values for the communities, it signifies interests for the state who promotes it with an expectation of accumulating symbolic and economic capital as well as presumably procuring a political position, either internally, among geographic neighbors, or on a wider international scale.

23From the perspective of the state, the implementation of the framework of “culture” stands out as a prominent preference: “Culture” is endorsed on a state level for its capacity to provide a relief in potential conflict situations; it serves the state as an alternative to politics that might complicate the state’s authority. With that in mind, I am including here a passage to consider the notion of governmentality in relation to heritage. Cultural forms and activities are governmentally deployed as parts of social management programs. My current exercise in the conceptualization of heritage in relation to cultural politics points to the need to investigate the construction and modalities of legitimate authority. As Marc Augé has proposed, one should study not only the rules in institutionalized power relations, but also the practices which may be observed that contravene those normative pressures (Augé and Colleyn 2006: 49). The state – a structured and centralized political organization, a mode of grouping and control of people – is mostly perceived as a source of administrative authority, control and repressive force. It is the entry point of international funds and it exercises control over different kinds of resources. However, it would be preferable not to understand the state simply as an apparatus of power, but to study the diversity of ways in which power is exercised: The mechanisms of domination and stratification, the extension of political networks, the hierarchy of central institutions, the configurations and articulations of authority. One should similarly investigate the mechanism of power distribution, while making a distinction, with Max Weber (Weber 2002), between power and authority, the latter implying a promulgated measure of legitimacy.

24Political discourse of a nation-state entails disjunctions and discontinuities that are embedded in the center – periphery political distinctions. To complicate the often applied prescriptive approach to state governing as an external and hegemonic administrative and coercive apparatus, its investigation should move further to analyze it from the perspective of the opposite end. Anna Tsing has analyzed the formation of state authority from the perspective of the periphery by looking at the imposed quality of state authority, and how the categories of state rule are actualized in local politics (Tsing 1993). The “peripheral” politics contribute to making the state, but the formation of local communities begins with the subjective experience of being both outside and subject to state power, which infers simultaneous placement inside and outside the state. Her conceptualization of body politics and proposal to expand the analysis by including the “out-of-the-way-people” (Tsing 1993: 25) reaffirms the agenda to look into the construction of agency in the “periphery” and to study the negotiations with the state in making local cultural politics. Concurring with Tsing’s conclusion that official state categories do not have an “always already” quality, I consider it meaningful to probe cultural politics not as an “always already,” but as an emergent framework formed in the nexus of culture, management and community. My interest in the dynamics of community, and the cultural politics exercised by authorities, be they local or national, and the problem of agency for members of the community who are framed either as subjects or objects of cultural policies emanating from local authorities or the state, which may concur or manifest contradiction, makes it similarly meaningful to examine cultural management from a reflexive position on the ground.

25Tony Bennett has argued that the field of culture is now increasingly governmentally organized and constructed (Bennett 1998: 61). He investigates the relation between culture and the social sphere by analyzing the organization of contemporary cultural life through the various levels of engagement in policy-making, with special attention to the management of cultural resources, cultural maintenance and administrative requirements in multicultural policies. Bennett looks at the triangle of community, culture and government, to bring out the potential tensions between indigenous community and government. The latter is usually observed from the position of cultural critique with indignation, condemning it as external and impositional, being indifferent or antagonistic to creative cultural life. However, it is within the practices of government that “community” acquires a paradoxical quality of being “nurtured into existence by government while at the same time standing opposed to it” (Bennett 1998: 201). He reaffirms a reformative centrality of policy to the constitution of culture, while in his view, the management of cultural resources concurs with the intention to reform ways of life in contemporary society (Bennett 1998: 104). Among the reforming endeavors, heritage politics is also situated, guided by ambivalent relations between culture and power, depending on the organizational frameworks and institutional spaces under observation, embedded in the condition of either self-determination or its absence. Bennett’s contention for the vital significance of cultural politics stands in opposition to Zygmunt Baumann’s view of culture as a spontaneous process devoid of administrative or managerial centers. From Baumann’s position of postmodernist critique, culture cannot be “made” or “remade” as an object of practice, but should be considered a reality in its own right and beyond control, being “mastered cognitively, as a meaning, and not practically, as a task” (cf. Bennett 1998: 102). Bennett considers this position particularly erroneous in multicultural situation (with marginal, minority communities in modern society without nationalist uniformity) and points to the necessity of legislative mechanisms for respectful and tolerant relations of cross-cultural understanding. In accord with the view that such cross-cultural understanding does not emanate naturally from the postmodern condition, I highlight here an important reason for studying cultural politics and how it is applied, or manipulated, on the local or grassroots level. Bennett locates a task of cultural management in the effort to recognize dissimilar cultural values and to promote forms of exchange between them when stating that our interpretation of the world also shapes it (Bennett 1998: 104).

7 Situatedness and Particularities

26To conclude, let me return to what constitutes a heritage regime and how to go about its investigation. Heritage is a project of ideology that is dependent on ambivalent temporal entanglements. Its conceptualization depends on modernity’s sense that the present needs to re-forge links with a past that appears to be severed and lost in the changing world. Value-laden in nature, heritage alludes to preservation and celebration of past elements of a reified culture that is intended to manifest ethnicity, locality and history; and yet, the cultural politics involved with heritage proposes to address the concerns of the present, with a foreseeable perspective for the future. However, like all terms in the discourse of culture, heritage is an abstraction, and what it signifies is subject to interpretation and evaluation that may fluctuate between positive and negative over time and through space.

27The deconstruction of an international “authorized heritage” regime seems an obvious, though perhaps also the easiest undertaking. It is not too difficult to point out the arbitrariness and contingencies in heritage production, while it has recently become rather widespread to partake in the deconstructive academic analysis of UNESCO programs as an infamous example of cultural engineering. But what kind of agency will be gained or lost as a result of such an academic exercise? What is the moral agenda of this investigation and critique? The descriptive, explanatory attitude towards the act of contrivance in order to unveil the bureaucratic manipulation of “innocent” communities (of practitioners) continues unavoidably to assume normative dimensions such as social criticism and prescribed political commitment. Perhaps based on Utopian longings or even in defense of treasured ideals, this view, nevertheless, seems to regard “culture” and those who act in it to be drifters deficient of will in a “timeless” space. From such a perspective, heritage “happens” to people and not with people. In my view, however, the heritagization process is cultural and polyvalent. It is happening as part of the 21st century condition of global processes that resonate in the making of the local and should be studied from a multi-sited perspective (cf. Marcus 1998).

28Having that in mind, my suggestion is to take the situated character of globalization seriously also in the critical study of heritage regimes, despite their seemingly common mechanism on an abstract level. While considering the contended perceptions of globalism, Anna Tsing has asked anthropologists to extend their study of communities as narrowly defined social spheres to a wider-ranging scope of (transnational) networks, social movements and state policies (Tsing 2002: 472). Transnational and global networks glossed as “universal” tendencies need to be ethnographically studied to unravel encounters, trajectories and engagements. Nevertheless, such processes with their global implications should not be observed simply as cases of imposed hegemony or self-evident homogenization: Global phenomena may unify, but they also show local cultural divergence (Tsing 2002: 477).

29Richard Handler has contended that cultural processes (such as heritage curation) are inherently particular and particularizing, so it would be unjustified to expect the reverberations and effect of a global policy to function and produce similar results under diverse circumstance (Handler 2002). An anthropological approach advocates an investigation that utilizes different perspectives to contribute to our understanding of the social world by complicating simplicities. Concrete cases will benefit from being studied from a multi-sited perspective (as suggested by George Marcus 1998), which analyzes decision-making on various levels: international, national and particularly local. Thus this “local” also needs to be studied and analyzed as a multi-sited field.

30Research on communities will penetrate deeper if investigated as particularities. Different circumstances make communities of people perceive and employ the emergent potential of recognized agency and the acknowledgment of their cultural rights differently. The claim of universality is found fault with as embodying Western values and codes of behavior that are perceived to be similarly interpreted and ready for application everywhere with insufficient consideration of the local experience. Critical concerns voiced in this respect suggest instead that communities and their insider experience should be involved in studies that employ pluralist approaches (cf. Messer 1997). It seems important not only to elucidate negative experience and the violation of rights, but also to define and investigate moments of empowerment, real instances of emergent agency, and situations where local actors partake in grassroots policy-making. “Universal” rights acquire meaning as they are applied in local variation. Therefore, carefully explored particularities should help us complicate the simplicity of a detached universalism of criticizing an institutional regime.


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1 This article is based on a paper presented as a keynote address at the conference Heritage Regimes and the State at Göttingen University in June 2011. The current research was supported by the EU through the European Regional Development Fund (the Center of Excellence in Cultural Theory), and by the Estonian Science Foundation, Grant No. 7795.

2 See, for example, Kuutma 2009. For a study of cultural property as cultural practice, see Tauschek 2009.

3 Cf. the Latin-American-centered discussions of two-way borrowing and lending between cultures by Rosaldo (Rosaldo 1995: xi) and Canclini’s understanding of fusions that generate new structures, subjectivities and practices (cf. Canclini 1995). The derogative biological origin of “hybrid” has been discussed by Bendix (see Bendix 2000).

4 For example, the 2003 Convention does not define “communities” in its text, which has caused recurring elaborations on the matter (e. g. Blake 2009, Kono 2009). During my participation in the meetings of expert bodies and of the intergovernmental committee of this Convention between 2006 and 2011, I have repeatedly observed the tensions that the urge or dismissal for such a solid categorization creates.

5 Another mechanism that is tacitly dependent on cultural engineering and arbitration is the institutionalization of development programs, which encompass the ideologies of potential achievement and concurrent deprivation that either neglect or manipulate culture, with the potential involvement of communities.

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