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Commission on:
Intangible Cultural Heritage


Dr. Cristina Amescua Chávez
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Deputy Chair:

Clara Saraiva

In the last fifteen years anthropologists and ethnologists have increasingly been involved in research related to cultural survival, cultural pluralism and cultural heritage. It is significant that, in interaction with the concern of communities, governments and social and indigenous movements, they have also been constantly asked to provide in-depth analysis, data and assessments on the changing cultural boundaries between a diversity of cultural, ethnic, migrant and national communities and, more specifically, to provide knowledge to cultural groups on their cultural history and traditions.

In the past fifteen years, the convergence of anthropological interest in rapid cultural change and traditions and the concern of social agents about the loss and transformation of living cultural heritage have led to very valuable outcomes. In the 1966 Report of the United Nations Commission on Culture and Development “Our Creative Diversity”, in which many anthropologists were involved, including Chie Nakane, Marshall Sahlins and Lourdes Arizpe –who was head of the Secretariat for the Commission--, anthropological research was the basis for proposing a set of international development guidelines regarding indigenous cultures, cultural pluralism and preservation of cultural heritage.

The International Social Science Council(1) has also been very active as an advisory body in several Unesco programs related to what is now termed intangible cultural heritage. Such activities became more formal as the ISSC organized the technical consultations on the candidatures for the Unesco Program of Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage .

At present, the organizing bodies and the NGO network of the 2003 International Convention of Intangible Cultural Heritage have been actively consolidating the normative and organizational aspects in several meetings held in Paris and Abu Dhabi. However, the theoretical and methodological aspects of defining, registering and systematizing research in this field have not advanced at the same pace. Therefore, at the recent General Assembly of the State Parties to the 2003 Convention, held in June 2010 in Unesco (Paris), the normative documents of the Convention were amended, calling for closer collaboration with the scientific research community on intangible cultural heritage(2).

Although the ISSC-WSSO(3) is an accredited advisory organization to the Convention, at this time it is very appropriate that a formal institutional mechanism be created in the international social science scientific community to link research networks currently investigating living cultural heritage and to create research groups on new topics in this field that require scientific research. It has been noted that archaeologists, architects, museologists and other specialists of ICROM and ICOM and other international professional associations have provided constant advisory and assessment services for the World Heritage List which deals primarily with physical and natural cultural heritage.

It is very convenient at this time to create a research Commission at the IUAES-ISSC that will provide the scientific and intellectual arena for anthropologists and ethnologists who have the fieldwork knowledge and analytical tools on living cultural heritage to give in-depth analysis of cultural groups in very diverse geographic regions.

Therefore, this document proposes that a Commission on Intangible Cultural Heritage be created in the IUAES in the framework of the ISSC-WSSO. This organization already has 27 Commissions working on different topics, from Languages to Medicinal Anthropology, in which researchers from other ISSC-WSSO member organizations participate, among others geographers, sociologists and political scientists. The IUAES also has the advantage of being a member both of ISSC-WSSO and ICSU-World Science Organization, and so, may call on scientists in the natural and exact sciences if necessary, for its research.

A Planning Committee to organize the Commission is being proposed by Prof. Lourdes Arizpe, official representative of the ISSC-WSSO at the General Assembly of State Parties to the 2003 Convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage. Founding members will be Prof. Kirstin Kutuma (University of Tartu, Estonia), former President of the Subsidiary Body of the 2003 Convention; Shigeyuki Miyata (Osaka University, Japan) ; Antonio Augusto Arantes (University of Campiñas, Brazil) ; Paul Nkoji Nkwi (University of Cameroon, Cameroon) ; IM Shanti (TIMA, Morocco); Guido Munch (Institute of Anthropological Research, National University of Mexico) and Cristina Amescua (National University of Mexico(4)).

The National University of Mexico, which has just been given a Unesco Unitwin Chair on Intangible Cultural Heritage and Cultural Diversity has agreed to provide funding for the Secretariat for the Commission –one young anthropologist and one secretary as well as office space and office supplies--. The University will also provide the basic funding for a first planning meeting next year, 2011, to organize the Commission. Members of other professional associations will be welcome in the Commission.

At this first Planning Meeting for the Commission, steps will be taken to link existing research networks, to identify young researchers entering this field in all regions of the world, to clarify the main scientific issues in this field which involves ethnology, linguistics, museology, folklore and research in many other professional fields, also including the use of digital technologies for research and analysis. A session to discuss the first results of discussion will be presented at the IUAES Congress in 2012.

(1) Lourdes Arizpe elected President of the ISSC from 2002 to 2006 fostered several projects in this field.

(2) Aikawa, Noriko. 2000. “The Intangible Culural Heritage Program in Unesco” in Unesco World Culture Report, Paris: Unesco.

(3) The International Social Science Council has recently changed its name to World Social Science Organization.

(4) The Center for Multidisciplinary Research of the National University of Mexico has recently received a Unesco Unitwin Chair on Intangible Cultural Heritage and Cultural Diversity, for which Dr. Amescua is Executive Director.