From tradition to institution: Intangible Cultural Heritage and the role of ethnologists in keeping the balance



Year of publication 2021
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description Czechia had its first element inscribed on a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list in 2005. Since then, another five inscriptions have followed. Most of the inscribed elements are rooted in vernacular culture and folk tradition, which is perceived in the Czech Republic as a dominant part of the intangible cultural heritage. Folk culture of rural areas is generally regarded as the most important source of elements worthy of being inscribed in the national inventory or in a world ICH list. It determines a dual role of ethnologists as those who study ICH, and as those who are logically expected to be in the front line when it comes to its safeguarding. According to multiple experiences around the world, every inscription considerably affects the development of the inscribed element in the field. This transformation is mostly related to a new representative function which strongly influences motivations of the tradition bearers. Under such circumstances, new rules are set up. Not by local communities, but by institutions which participate in the nomination process and take on them the responsibility for the safeguarding. This gradual institutionalization may lead to critical moments, when traditional community rules are questioned and challenged by new “official” rules which may seem more important in the light of the UNESCO’s authority. Which roles do ethnologists play in these processes? Can they remain neutral or do they have to decide whose side they shall take? Their roles may even change depending on situation. Are these roles complementary of rather conflicting?
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