In order to highlight cultural as well as natural characteristics, the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (World Heritage Convention) was ratified in 1972 by 190 member states of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Thus, on the one hand, the mutual understanding of culture and, on the other hand, the protection as well as the preservation of different cultural and natural assets are to be promoted. At the same time, it is guaranteed that „a legacy of previous generations […] can be passed on to future generations“ (Hauser-Schäublin/ Bendix 2015, 52) (cf. Hauser-Schäublin/ Bendix 2015, 51 f.).
The tangible World Heritage concept of 1972 was supplemented in 2003 with the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, so that henceforth the following areas are considered worthy of protection:
– Orally transmitted traditions and forms of expression, including language.
– Performing arts
– Social customs, rituals and festivals
– Knowledge and customs related to nature and the universe
– Traditional craft techniques (cf. Eggert/ Mißling 2015, 63 f.).
Consequently, due to the 2003 Convention, cultural expressions are protected „with which […] ethnic groups often identify themselves, […] [which] are handed down from generation to generation and have an] identity-forming effect and meaning“ (Eggert/ Mißling 2015, 64).
Aims of the Convention
The measures to protect endangered cultural expressions are intended, on the one hand, to preserve as well as promote their vitality and, on the other hand, to raise awareness of their importance at the local, national, as well as international level. Thus, at the same time, „centuries-old traditions and customs are preserved as an intangible component of the cultural heritage of humanity“ (Dippon/ Siegmund 2010, 32).
Since 2013, Germany has been a member of the German Cultural Heritage Network under the motto „Wissen. Know. Passing on. has been interested in preserving, maintaining and promoting the diversity of living cultural heritage at the national level (cf. UNESCO1). Four categories express this diversity:
– e.g. the carol singing or the finch maneuver in the Harz Mountains
– e.g. midwifery or the German bread culture
– e.g. choral singing or the poetry slam
– e.g. the East Frisian tea culture (cf. UNESCO2)
Further examples can be found in the nationwide Directory of Intangible Cultural Heritage: www.unesco.de/kultur-und-natur/immaterielles-kulturerbe/immaterielles-kulturerbe-deutschland/bundesweit
While the nationwide List of Intangible Cultural Heritage represents diversity at the German level, three lists are available for its preservation at the international level:
– Goal: To create greater visibility of the world’s cultural diversity and, at the same time, a growing awareness of it
– e.g. the Chinese silhouette
– Goal: Implement rapid measures for cultural forms that are threatened by global/local developments.
– e.g. the cultural area of the Catholic minority of the Suiti in Latvia
– Goal: Highlight model projects
– e.g., the living museum of fandango in Brazil (cf. UNESCO3; Eggert/ Mißling 2015, 68).
The downside of intangible cultural heritage status.
Although the 2003 Convention is intended to help promote and value living cultural heritage worldwide and to counteract cultural standardization, there also exist problems and challenges associated with intangible cultural heritage status. The following list illustrates these:
– The instrumentalization of convention leads to ossification, codification and musealization of living cultural heritage.
– Certain value-laden representations are created and regarded as authentic or worthy of preservation.
– States want to create a certain image with the status of intangible cultural heritage.
– Although communities and groups are focused on as cultural bearers, there is no uniform definition of who is considered a cultural bearer.
– The administration of the intangible cultural heritage is primarily the responsibility of the state, so that rights of co-determination depend on the political or hierarchical structure and in some cases have to be created first.
– Determination, nomination and implementation of conservation measures is a state task, so that the above-mentioned lists are always based on selection processes, which thus potentially reproduce a power imbalance, since during the nomination process the suitability for World Heritage is staged and those are included who present their cultural form in an appealing way.
– Consequence: hegemony of powerful states
– exercise of control over cultural forms
– commercial/industrial marketing
– political, economic, and ideational valorization (cf. Eggert/ Mißling 2015, 65-77).
Dippon, P./ Siegmund, A. (2010): The educational claim of UNESCO World Heritage Sites – a current stocktaking in the field of tension between World Heritage Convention and local practice. In: Ströter-Bender, J. (ed.): World Heritage Education. Positions and discourses on teaching UNESCO World Heritage. Marburg, 31-43.
Eggert, A./ Mißling, S. (2015): The 2003 UNESCO Convention on the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. In: Groth, S./ Bendix, R./ Spiller, A. (Eds.): Culture as property: instruments, cross-sections and case studies. Göttingen, 61-77.
Hauser-Schäublin, B./ Bendix, R. (2015): World heritage. In: Groth, S./Bendix, R./ Spiller, A. (Eds.): Culture as property: instruments, cross-sections and case studies. Göttingen, 51-58.
UNESCO1 (n.d.): https://www.unesco.de/kultur-und-natur/immaterielles-kulturerbe/immaterielles-kulturerbe-deutschland [01.02.2019].
UNESCO2 (n.d.): https://www.unesco.de/kultur-und-natur/immaterielles-kulturerbe/immaterielles-kulturerbe-deutschland/bundesweit [01.02.2019].
UNESCO3 (n.d.): https://www.unesco.de/kultur-und-natur/immaterielles-kulturerbe/immaterielles-kulturerbe-weltweit [01.02.2019].