UNESCO on the Ground

UNESCO on the Ground

Local Perspectives on Intangible Cultural Heritage
Edited by Michael Dylan Foster and Lisa Gilman
Distribution: World
Publication date: 9/30/2015
ISBN: 978-0-253-01953-0
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For nearly 70 years, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has played a crucial role in developing policies and recommendations for dealing with intangible cultural heritage. What has been the effect of such sweeping global policies on those actually affected by them? How connected is UNESCO with what is happening every day, on the ground, in local communities? Drawing upon six communities ranging across three continents—from India, South Korea, Malawi, Japan, Macedonia and China—and focusing on festival, ritual, and dance, this volume illuminates the complexities and challenges faced by those who find themselves drawn, in different ways, into UNESCO’s orbit. Some struggle to incorporate UNESCO recognition into their own local understanding of tradition; others cope with the fallout of a failed intangible cultural heritage nomination. By exploring locally, by looking outward from the inside, the essays show how a normative policy such as UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage policy can take on specific associations and inflections. A number of the key questions and themes emerge across the case studies and three accompanying commentaries: issues of terminology; power struggles between local, national and international stakeholders; the value of international recognition; and what forces shape selection processes. With examples from around the world, and a balance of local experiences with broader perspectives, this volume provides a unique comparative approach to timely questions of tradition and change in a rapidly globalizing world.

Author Bio

Michael Dylan Foster is Associate Professor of Folklore and East Asian Studies at Indiana University. He is author of Pandemonium and Parade: Japanese Monsters and the Culture of Yōkai (2009), The Book of Yōkai: Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore (2015), and numerous articles on Japanese folklore, literature, and media.

Lisa Gilman is Associate Professor of Folklore and English at the University of Oregon. She researches dance, gender, and politics in Malawi and has published on the use of women’s dancing in Malawi’s political sphere. She has also done extensive research with US veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.


"All in all, this important new volume sheds welcome light on issues that have been adumbrated in the academic literature regarding UNESCO and the safeguarding of intangible heritage" —International Journal of Intangible Heritage

"[T]his is an excellent and useful book for both individual and classroom learning." —Museum Anthropology Review

"The prose is engaging, focused, tightly edited, and although theoretically nuanced, includes abundant ethnographic examples making it approachable for undergraduates." —Western Folklore

"UNESCO on the Ground provides valuable insights into local perspectives on UNESCO and ICH nomination processes that help in understanding the interplay between local contexts and global heritage regimes. it is an intriguing read for scholars in the field of cultural heritage because it discusses debates about cultural heritage from an 'on- the- ground' and comparative perspective." —Journal of American Folklore

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Table of Contents

1 Introduction
Michael Dylan Foster
[Section: Local Studies]
2 Voices on the Ground: Kutiyattam, UNESCO, and the Heritage of Humanity
Leah Lowthorp
3 The Economic Imperative of UNESCO Recognition: A South Korean Shamanic Ritual
Kyoim Yun
4 Demonic or Cultural Treasure? Local Perspectives on Vimbuza, ICH, and UNESCO in Malawi
Lisa Gilman
5 Imagined UNESCOs: Interpreting ICH on a Japanese Island
Michael Dylan Foster
6 Macedonia, UNESCO, and Intangible Cultural Heritage: The Challenging Fate of Teshkoto
Carol Silverman
7 Shifting Actors and Power Relations: Contentious Local Responses to the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Contemporary China
Ziying You
[Section: Critical Discussion]
8 Understanding UNESCO: The Importance of Understanding the Organization in Evaluations of Its ICH Programs
Anthony Seeger
9 Learning to Live with ICH: Diagnosis and Treatment
Valdimar Tr. Hafstein
10 Cultural Forms, Policy Objects, Local Agendas
Dorothy Noyes