Making Intangible Heritage

Making Intangible Heritage

El Condor Pasa and Other Stories from UNESCO
Valdimar Tr. Hafstein
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 08/29/2018
Format: Paperback 29 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-03793-0
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In Making Intangible Heritage, Valdimar Tr. Hafstein—folklorist and official delegate to UNESCO—tells the story of UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage Convention. In the ethnographic tradition, Hafstein peers underneath the official account, revealing the context important for understanding UNESCO as an organization, the concept of intangible heritage, and the global impact of both. Looking beyond official narratives of compromise and solidarity, this book invites readers to witness the diplomatic jostling behind the curtains, the making and breaking of alliances, and the confrontation and resistance, all of which marked the path towards agreement and shaped the convention and the concept.

Various stories circulate within UNESCO about the origins of intangible heritage. Bringing the sensibilities of a folklorist to these narratives, Hafstein explores how they help imagine coherence, conjure up contrast, and provide charters for action in the United Nations and on the ground. Examining the international organization of UNESCO through an ethnographic lens, Hafstein demonstrates how concepts that are central to the discipline of folklore gain force and traction outside of the academic field and go to work in the world, ultimately shaping people’s understanding of their own practices and the practices themselves. From the cultural space of the Jemaa el-Fna marketplace in Marrakech to the Ise Shrine in Japan, Making Intangible Heritage considers both the positive and the troubling outcomes of safeguarding intangible heritage, the lists it brings into being, the festivals it animates, the communities it summons into existence, and the way it orchestrates difference in modern societies.

Author Bio

Valdimar Tr. Hafstein is Professor of Folklore, Ethnology, and Museum Studies at the University of Iceland. Former Chair of Iceland’s National Commission for UNESCO and ex-president of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore (SIEF), he is the author of a number of scholarly articles and books on intangible heritage, cultural property, international heritage politics, folklore, and copyright in traditional knowledge.


“Valdimar Hafstein [is the] author of some of the most mordant and witty critical analysis of intangible heritage protection.”
 — From "UNESCO and the Strange Career of Multiculturalism," published in the Los Angeles Review of Books

“Underpinned by lively and humorous ethnographic observations of intangible heritage in all its cultural and bureaucratic expressions, Valdimar offers an engaging, critical, and insightful account of the uses and consequences of intangible heritage and its safeguarding. This captivating and theoretically important book offers an overdue assessment of the impact and consequences of what the concept of intangible heritage does at international and local levels.”
 — Laurajane Smith, author of Uses of Heritage

“A brilliant and beautifully written examination of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage initiative in theory and practice from multiple perspectives. This landmark volume will change how we think about intangible heritage.”
 — Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, author of Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage.

“While a prior knowledge of international heritage policy can help, students, scholars, and professionals in anthropology, folklore, and allied fields and disciplines – those interested in heritage theory and practice, and those out on the frontlines of “ICH" work – should read this book.”
 — Cultural Analysis

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Table of Contents

Prelude: Confessions of a Folklorist

1. Making Heritage: Introduction

2. Making Threats: The Condor's Flight

3. Making Lists: The Dance Band in the Hospital

4. Making Communities: Protection as Dispossession

5. Making Festivals: Folklorisation Revisited

Postlude: Intangible Heritage as Diagnosis, Safeguarding as Treatment

Conclusion: If Intangible Heritage is the Solution, What is the Problem?


Works Cited