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Preservation, erasure and representation: rethinking ‘intangible heritage’ in a comparative museum ethnography

Alivizatou, M.E.; (2009) Preservation, erasure and representation: rethinking ‘intangible heritage’ in a comparative museum ethnography. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).

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Abstract

In a critical dialogue with museum and cultural heritage studies, this thesis examines the concept of ‘intangible cultural heritage’ (ICH) and its implications for heritage theory, policy and practice. ICH gained international recognition in the 21st century primarily through the activities of UNESCO. Controversies and gaps inherent in the institutional discourse on ICH, however, have led critics to question not only its assumptions but in some cases its very raison d’être. Taking this forward, the purpose of this thesis is to revisit the ICH discourse and explore alternative negotiations entangled in institutional configurations, intellectual quests for parallel/ subversive heritages and new/ postmuseum paradigms. My point of departure is a critique of the preservationist ethos of UNESCO that has led to the construction of the official ICH narrative. Based on the idea of the ‘politics of erasure’, I argue for the re-conceptualisation of ICH not via archival and salvage measures, but through the reworking of the modern/ pre-modern and presence/ absence dynamics embedded in notions of impermanence, renewal and transformation. Parallel to that, I trace the implications of the ICH discourse for heritage and museum practice. As such, I conduct multi-sited fieldwork research and follow the negotiations of ICH from the global sphere of UNESCO to the localised complexities of five museum milieux. These are the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Wellington), the Vanuatu Cultural Centre (Port Vila), the National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, New York, Suitland), the Horniman Museum (London) and the Musée du Quai Branly (Paris); selected as fieldwork destinations for the diverse perspectives they offer on ICH in the museum space and discourse. In so doing, I engage with the idea of the new museum, not as a repository of material culture, but as performative space for the empowerment of bottom-up, participatory museology and the reworking of the tangible/ intangible divide. My conclusion suggests that, couched within debates on the politics of recognition, representation and invented traditions and beyond UNESCO’s preservationist schemata, ICH emerges as a contested and critical intervention challenging and reinventing heritage policy and museum-work.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:Preservation, erasure and representation: rethinking ‘intangible heritage’ in a comparative museum ethnography
Language:English
Additional information:Authorisation for digitisation not received
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > Institute of Archaeology

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