Cultural heritage / Kultúrne dedičstvo

The main aim of the panel is to discuss key theoretical concepts, methodological approaches, thematic directions and any pressing issues concerning ethnological/anthropological research on cultural heritage in the 21st century. Scientific discourse on cultural heritage is complex, diverse and not without contradictory interpretations. It reflects the fact that heritage is not value-neutral. What is or what is not defined as heritage is usually a result of political or power relations, although various actors enter and influence the process, too. 
UNESCO with its Conventions has been the strongest global player with a significant impact on heritage identification and evaluation, yet it reduces scientific knowledge and expertise including anthropological one through governmental representatives. Ulf Hannerz described UNESCO strategies and practices as “cultural engineering” based on nation-state logics and global governance. Cultural heritage has become an object of political and economic agenda in every country. It has been a subject of protection and preservation, but at the same time a commodity, a tool for becoming an economic asset. The panel will focus on broad anthropological perspectives on cultural heritage in the contemporary world.

Researchers are invited to submit original papers addressing any of the following research questions and related themes in five sessions:

  • Theoretical reflections: What are the main challenges, topics and theoretical and methodological approaches to researching heritage (both tangible and intangible) from an ethnological/anthropological perspective? 
  • Representation: who are the main actors in the process of „heritagisation“ – in the process of identification and designation of cultural phenomena as cultural heritage? What is the role of co-operation, partnerships and co-creation in the process of interpretation and reinterpretation or production and reproduction of heritage? What is the place of heritage transmission from an intergenerational or gender perspective in contemporary societies? 
  • Intangible cultural heritage: What are the main criteria and dimensions required to identify intangible cultural heritage? How do practitioners, community leaders, experts and political authorities evaluate the qualities and sustainability of intangible cultural heritage? How do these evaluations take place? How are local communities involved in decision-making on intangible heritage?
  • Best practices and application: What are the tools and means (best practices) of understanding, protection, production and reproduction of heritage (including different forms of education, digitalisation, social media, etc.)?
  • Economy and regional development: What is the role of cultural heritage in local economy, tourism, social and cultural innovation?  How can heritage become a significant economic asset in local/regional development, while safeguarding its values, symbols and meanings of the past and their importance for the present and the future?

Chaired by

Alexandra Bitušíková


Alexandra Bitušíková: Cultural heritage and grassroots activism in Slovakia
(Institute of Ethnology, Slovak Acdemy of Sciences, Bratislava, Slovakia) 

The paper discusses the growth and impact of grassroots activism on cultural heritage in the Slovak urban environment in the second decade of the 21st century. It is based on Jacobsson and Saxonberg’s (2013) and Jacobsson´s (2015) approach to studying urban movements in Central and Eastern Europe. It focuses on grassroots activism as a very important way of civic engagement in urban heritage practices and development. The key objective is to present the case of heritage-related urban activism in the city of Banská Štiavnica (registered on the World Heritage List since 1993), particularly the case of the Calvary – an important pilgrimage place that was a crucial component of religious life of local communities for more than 200 years since 1751. The paper builds on ethnographic methods of participant observation, interviews and textual analysis of local resources.

Tamas Regi: The Anthropology of Heritage and Tourism: an Ethiopian Case
(Kodolányi János University of Applied Sciences, Székesfehérvár, Hungary; Visiting Research Fellow,University of Oxford, UK)

The paper is about how the south Ethiopian Mursi, a small scale pastoral society, think about their own heritage and how they try to make some of the elements of their culture visible for tourists. The material I will present is based on an ongoing anthropological research among these people who currently face probably the biggest threat to their traditional culture in their living memory. Recently the Ethiopian government is building a hydroelectric dam, known as Gibe III, in the middle basin of the Omo river. This will create the second biggest dam reservoir in sub-Saharan Africa and eliminate the annual floods. This will change the lives of around 90,000 people residing downstream, including the Mursi and seven other ethnic groups. Moreover, the government has allocated a huge area of agricultural and grazing land in the lower Omo to the Ethiopian Sugar Corporation for the production of sugar cane. Despite the fact that the Lower Valley of the Omo River is listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980 there seems to be a very rapid change both in the local concepts of heritage and tradition and in the way people relate to their transforming physical environment.

Daniela Stavělová: Traditional festivity as an intangible cultural heritage – a second life or ending? A case of the Ride of the Kings in Vlčnov
(The Institute of Ethnology, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic)

The paper is focused on the Ride of the Kings in the Moravian village of Vlčnov in the Czech Republic. The reasons for safeguarding of this ritual have been monitored for several years from the moment when the custom was inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011, particularly in relation to the issues of cultural heritage, collective and cultural  memory and local identity. I am interested to see how the event is modified by the current external pressures and autorities which handle and adapt its content to current requirements. These include the negotiation of cultural ownership, commodification, the process of hybridization and other phenomena associated with the representation and symbolic expression in the mirror of contemporary immagination. The return qualitative research is based on ethnographic data collection – observation, interviews and time-laps visual documentation. The project observes the festivity also by means of ethnochoreology where the study of dance meanings contribute to understanding the implicit social relations of the local community that handles the cultural heritage or memory in terms of  its needs.

Noel B. Salazar: The tourismification of heritage or the heritagization of tourism?
Some anthropological reflections
(Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Leuven, Belgium)

While heritage conservationists argue for the need to place preservation ahead of tourism, the reality is that tourism cannot be longer neglected as an unwanted negative side-effect. It is a dynamic force through which heritage is not only consumed but also created. Tourism development of cultural heritage is both an opportunity and a risk and requires careful consideration, planning, implementation and management. Sustainable tourism development entails the adoption of planning strategies to mitigate the negative impact of tourism without sacrificing its benefits. There is an urgent need for new ideas and concepts that reconcile tourism and heritage preservation with the need for sustainable development. Besides this, more attention needs to be paid to ethical issues, in particular the involvement of local communities, ethical codes of tourism (such as the UNWTO Global Code for Ethics in Tourism), the moral implications of cultural heritage, the responsibilities of museums and the question of who has the power to own and interpret heritage. As global tourism continues to expand, cultural heritage sites and practices will be the source of historically unprecedented numbers of tourists. Most indicators suggest there will be a huge increase in tourism worldwide over the next ten years, virtually doubling the current numbers. While the management of cultural heritage is usually the responsibility of a particular community or custodian group, the protection, conservation, interpretation and (re)presentation of the cultural diversity of any particular place or people are important challenges for us all.

Hana Červinková, Juliet Golden: Re-envisioning an Early Modernist Urban Landscape in Contemporary Poland
 (Institute of Ethnology of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic and University of Lower Silesia, Wroclaw, Poland)

In this contribution, we build on the anthropological approach to landscape as a cultural process whose meaning-laden relationship to the past deeply impacts its redefinitions for the present. We consider a unique urban protected cultural heritage area inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List - the Centennial Hall in Wroclaw, Poland. Centennial Hall is an example of a historical site of technological development and innovation, which has become a place of heritage. While retaining its original function, this cultural landscape continues to be reshaped by conflicting interpretations tied to memory, citizenship, international politics and local identity.  Our contribution addresses the complex dynamics of this cultural landscape in the context of changing economic and political conditions of Central Europe.