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Heritage Regimes and the State

Regina F. Bendix
Aditya Eggert
Arnika Peselmann

Closing Commentaries

Sand, Stability and Stakeholders

Donald L. Brenneis

Texte intégral

1Two images remain vividly in my mind when I think about the June 2011 conference that has led to this volume. Both figured in Ullrich Kockel’s presentation of the dual Lithuanian-Russian administration of the Curonian Spit, a 98-kilometer long sand spit, shaped in a large part by human interventions over the decades, separating a very large lagoon from the Baltic Sea. The first image can be seen here in his article: A chart of “stakeholders” – governmental, environmental, private, commercial – with interests in policy and practice on and around the spit. Schematic, formal, economically laid out, yet clearly reflecting a dauntingly intertwined set of not always compatible interests and values, it gives a strong sense of a complex system caught in time. The other image, one not appearing in this book, was a photograph of a portion of the beach; one in which the constantly shifting sands – subject to wind, water and human activity – and the ongoing sand fences and other attempts to stabilize a constantly shifting landscape were dramatically evident. These images suggest two somewhat polar visions of the contemporary heritage scene. There are, on the one hand, the formal, somewhat static, institutional arrangements intended to capture and preserve the characteristics of many of the regimes considered here. On the other, the valued places, practices and products towards whose protection they are directed; elements that are always subject to transformation, innovation and re-evaluation. I was struck by the analogy between the papers here and that latter image, that is, a complex system of attempted control, definition and stability facing – and trying to preserve – a landscape always, except when fictionalized as static, in motion.

2The editors have invited me to highlight some of the recurrent themes directly addressed or indexed in these papers. This is not a formal commentary but, rather, a quite impressionistic rendering of some of the issues the authors bring to the table with élan, acuity and a strong sense of ethnographic texture. Each of these articles charts the complex intersections of the remarkable and the mundane, that is, of places, activities and types of knowledge that draw their value from their exemplary and singular qualities, and of the bureaucratic practices and institutions that frame, denominate and attempt to preserve them. Weber identified the routinization of charisma as a key issue for social analysis. These remarkable reports speak to a particular version of this question; heritage designation and preservation consistently bring the charismatic and the quotidian together. Each author provides a vivid and necessarily multisited ethnographic account of these intersections, and they do not tell a single or homogeneous story. Instead, we get a strong sense not only of themes and variations across cases, but also of the, at times, surprising transformations of the routine when trying to manage the remarkable.

3I want to highlight five general themes that emerge from these essays. The first has to do with the crucial ways in which time, place, and time as somehow embodied in place figure in many of the cases. As one example, many of the sites that figure here lie on the margins. In some cases, again as with the Curonian spit, they lie literally at an ecotone, that is, a location where two ecological zones come together. Sometimes such ecotones are characterized by mixed assemblages – a bit of this, a bit of that – but they are also known among academic ecologists as zones in which more than the usual number of ideal types emerge; difference is most clearly marked not in the center but along the edges. Other ecotones are perhaps more analogical. The thought-provoking cluster of arguments Tornatore makes here about relationships between deterritorialization and the rise of ICH provide one instance. Similarly, Tauschek’s essay charts the contact zones between different administrative circles, ones that rely on distinctive institutional logics, the intersection of which lead to, at times, unexpected outcomes. There is a longstanding argument in US history that the federal government was in many ways made on the western frontier. The edge required ordering in ways that the accustomed did not; it also afforded the possibility.

4Time also figures centrally: Cyclical time (calendrical and otherwise), linear, irreversible and pivotal, that is, those moments in which things change irreversibly. Here, Leblon’s paper is exemplary. The “cultural space of the yaaral and the degal” is defined by particular conjunctions of place and cyclical time, in this instance, linked to the transhumant movements of Fulbe pastoralists in Mali. These annual moments in situ are marked by a range of celebratory and competitive activities (to which the Fulbe people and UNESCO experts bring quite different perspectives). What is key here, however, is that these events provide something along the lines of repeatable chronotopes of a non-narrative sort, particularly resonant moments in particular places. Fournier’s paper similarly highlights the seasonality of big head and dragon processions, even as the designated events themselves have shifted from local tradition to the larger audiences for tourist entertainment. Pichler’s essay highlights time in another way, not in relation to annual cycles but in the attempt to restore “Havana vieja” in ways that bring some aspects of a complex past into an equally complex present. Finally, to turn to a place decidedly on the edge, NicCraith’s exploration of Skellig Michael raises questions of telescoped time. The erasure of decades of lighthouse keepers in the interests of the older narrative of monastic life speaks effectively about where a tourist – as opposed to local – audience’s sense of value lies.

5A second recurrent theme is, to use Leblon’s term, the “arena.” Her study focuses both on the arenas provided by the two calendrical gatherings and the arenas that figure centrally in the heritagization process itself. For Fulbe participants, the yaaral and degal have long provided opportunities for intense sociality, esthetic competition and the focused and often highly performative negotiation of crucial political and ecological relationships. Similarly, both here and in many of the other cases considered here, the UNESCO processes depend on various arenas: for consultation, expert research, negotiation, and arbitration (to use Kuutma’s term). As in the Fulbe gatherings, the outcomes of activities in these bureaucratic arenas are not guaranteed. The interaction is often rather tentative and subject to ongoing reworking. Kuutma provides a convincing general account of the structures and contradictions of institutional actors. Bureaucracies may be mundane, but they are often far from internally homogeneous and are working both with and against rival institutions. Swiss federalism provides a particularly rich context in which to think about such complex terrain, and Graezer Bideau’s essay is an incisive account of the national nomination and designation process. She tracks potential nominees through different sites, with multiple audiences, and through a range of communicative processes, both face-to-face and highly mediated. This rich account raises broader questions of voice (who are the stakeholders, who has standing, what parties are in a position to make expert claims?) and of audience (who are the imagined targets of particular claims, who can make decisions and who will benefit from the designations?).

6There is a parallel between the notion of arena here and the linguistic anthropological idea of the communicative event. These bureaucratic events, or, more properly, sequences of often quite distinct events over time, provide multiple arenas for consultation, contestation and, occasionally, agreement. One key point is that, as with the different kinds of political events on which anthropologists have focused, such heritage arenas are, at times, consequential for their outcomes; they move to particular kinds of closure as to policy and practice. Nevertheless, meetings of whatever sort are not always about decision-making, and their work often lies in the kinds of mutual engagement they make possible, even without clear-cut outcomes. New kinds of social relations and new institutional interactions emerge over the course of even ostensibly failed processes – and are often more consequential than a decision itself might be. Finally, the notion of arena points to the intense sociality of such events. An arena can provide opportunities for the emergence of differentiation, co-identification, alliance-building, and multiple other political outcomes. This is particularly striking in three essays. Graezer Bideau’s article points to the “re-enactment” of federalism in the current Swiss consideration. Almost independent of outcomes, the process itself models participation in a quite particular polity. Cardeira da Silva’s characterization of the “cosmopolitanism” emerging in the context of collaborative efforts to pursue status for Portuguese forts in Africa points to new alliances still in process and, again, not necessarily dependent on a final determination for their value. The networks of gigli-building communities documented by Ballachino provide a similar example of emergent social linkages.

7Closely linked to such arenas are the forms and technologies – oral, documentary, software-based, legal, regulatory – that figure centrally, if at times almost invisibly, in research, recognition and representation. In some ways the whole process is one of qualifying for inscription. Along the way, however, questions of translation (both across languages and between registers), classification, and the affordances and constraints, at times unrecognized, attendant on different forms and processes make a major difference. Given the emphasis on the singularity of the phenomena to be inscribed and protected, their exceptional qualities, the question of how institutions develop frameworks for comparison and commensuration is particularly salient: How does one fit the unique into such a framework?

8Many of these essays address these formal dimensions. Bodolec’s examination of the key role of translation – and of the transformations, in part linguistic, in part political, central to the heritage process in China – is especially rich. Particularly striking in the Chinese case is the de novo introduction of “excellence” as a criterion, moving a previously unarticulated variable into the center of the national evaluative process. France provides a further case, where the delicate balance of intracultural universalism and the kinds of special character required for designation is a major theme in the papers of Fournier and Bortolotto. The translation of potential eligibility across the national and transnational contexts poses real challenges. Tornatore’s account of the designation process for the “French gastronomic meal” provides a particularly incisive and elegantly documented case, highlighting both the key role of ethnological data and the widespread, far from specified nature of the “meal” itself in making the designation possible. A final formal aspect of the inscription process has to do with the question of proxies. Given the complexity of cultural phenomena, what is taken – at various levels and by various actors – as standing for, or standing in for, culture? Proxies are a kind of synechdoche, that is, a part of a much more complex entity standing for the whole. Here again, Leblon’s essay provides a thought-provoking example with what she terms “spectacular nomadism” and those events in which it is particularly evident and framed by elaborate performances being taken as a synechdoche for Fulbe nomadic life as a whole. This process effaces other aspects of Fulbe society and survival, for example, climate change and the restriction of herding range, that are more salient for the Fulbe themselves. As many of these essays demonstrate, the kinds of translation central to the nomination and inscription process are almost unavoidably reductive: The practice, knowledge, landscape, building, or other phenomena under investigation can rarely speak adequately of and for the broader contextual complexities within which they figure.

9A further theme infused throughout these essays is knowledge: The kinds of assumedly traditional knowledge central to intangible cultural heritage, the specialized knowledge of those disciplines involved in the discovery, research and inscription process, and the bureaucratic and political savvy of those who mediate the local, the scholarly and the regulatory. Key terms here are “expert” and “expertise.” The papers point to multiple bodies of knowledge at play in the various arenas they depict, and it is clear that the recruitment, socialization and social capital of different kinds of expert play out quite differently. It is clear, however, that, in comparison to otherwise comparable regimes, there is less of an a priori assumption of the value of one kind of knowledge (usually transnational and universalizing) over another (usually the local knowledge that is crucial for “heritage” itself); knowledge itself is often up for negotiation. This suggests some interesting comparisons with other emergent transnational regimes; those institutions and practices linked to universal human rights, for example, afford less room for maneuver. Here again, questions of heritage bring the universal and the particular into complex and often unpredictable conversation. As a scholar based in the United States, I was also struck by the omnipresence of experts, of all sorts, in these accounts. “Expert” is clearly a category that works differently in EU and UN discourse than in the US, where “Experts” constitute a less immediately recognized category of actors, and where they are regarded, perhaps, with greater suspicion.

10Finally, all these essays illuminate the centrality of value in the heritage process. Value is quite differently construed across the cases, and across different participants in each case: Is it financial (and linked to broader market contexts), a reflex of broader human rights, a source of identification and shared engagement, or affective, a source of pleasurable or otherwise intense experience? Scher’s account of Barbados provides a particularly striking case, one in which the value of historical recognition is at most ambivalent, and often negative. Sanchez-Carretero’s discussion of the Camino del Santiago lays out a complex array of motives and values at play. Clearly, however, the local view is decidedly of tourists as a “monocrop,” whatever complicated aspirations might bring the tourists themselves to the Camino. The UNESCO-supported initiative for Uzbek textiles documented by Mentges also reveals a complex intersection of money, elite consolidation, nation-building, and the celebration of local knowledge.

11In closing, I want to return to the two images in Kockel’s presentation. One striking theme evident in all these essays is that it is not only “tradition” or “heritage” that is shifting and difficult to capture in a fixed moment. The multiple agencies involved in the inscription process are themselves in motion. For a range of reasons – among them the plethora of stakeholders, the range of knowledge and experts at play, and the ongoing tension between universalist values that sustain such programs and the extraordinary, singular, and particular practices and places that define their goals – these bureaucracies are shaped by contingency and consultation in ways that many institutions are not. Thinking with and through these essays illuminates not only the complex terrain of culture, tradition and their modern making, but also the ways in which institutional regimes are themselves under ongoing negotiation. We are all in many ways out on the shifting sands. This volume is invaluable in helping us to better know the territory and its continuing transformations.

© Göttingen University Press, 2013

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