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Making Intangible Heritage, Along With Accompanying Film

Friday, October 11, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Alexandra Sanchez

In Making Intangible Heritage:El Condor Pasa and Other Stories from UNESCO, Valdimar Tr. Hafstein—folklorist and official delegate to United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)—tells the story of UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage Convention. In the ethnographic tradition, Hafstein peers underneath the official account, revealing the context important for understanding UNESCO as an organization, the concept of intangible heritage, and the global impact of both. Looking beyond official narratives of compromise and solidarity, this book invites readers to witness the diplomatic jostling behind the curtains, the making and breaking of alliances, and the confrontation and resistance, all of which marked the path towards agreement and shaped the convention and the concept.

Various stories circulate within UNESCO about the origins of intangible heritage. Bringing the sensibilities of a folklorist to these narratives, Hafstein explores how they help imagine coherence, conjure up contrast, and provide charters for action in the United Nations and on the ground. Examining the international organization of UNESCO through an ethnographic lens, Hafstein demonstrates how concepts that are central to the discipline of folklore gain force and traction outside of the academic field and go to work in the world, ultimately shaping people’s understanding of their own practices and the practices themselves. From the cultural space of the Jemaa el-Fna marketplace in Marrakech to the Ise Shrine in Japan, Making Intangible Heritage considers both the positive and the troubling outcomes of safeguarding intangible heritage, the lists it brings into being, the festivals it animates, the communities it summons into existence, and the way it orchestrates difference in modern societies.

To purchase book, see IU Press

The book is accompanied by a 30-minute documentary film, The Flight of the Condor: A Letter, a Song and the Story of Intangible Cultural Heritage, co-produced by Áslaug Einarsdóttir, documentary filmmaker and anthropologist, and Valdimar Tr. Hafstein, author of the book. The film traces the global circulation of the melody “El Condor Pasa”: from the Andes mountains to global metropoles; from Lima to Paris to New York, and back; from panpipes to piano and from symphony orchestras to the disco; from indigenous to popular music; and from world music back to national heritage. The story that the film tells shows how individual personalities and states can shape texts that become the foundation of global narratives; and how propositions made for a particular local reason become global instruments with entirely different effects in other corners of the world. Unpacking the global/local dialectic, the film is a case study in paradox; it analyzes the prehistory of international heritage/copyright norms, the way that prehistory travels in oral and written circulation, and the enduring problems it points to in the implementation of these norms.

Officially selected for screening at several international documentary film festivals, the film has also been screened at numerous scientific conferences and is currently used in teaching at universities on five continents, sometimes in conjunction with the book or one of its chapters.

The film is an educational resource freely available in Open Access online and can be viewed with Spanish, French, English, Italian, Icelandic and Mandarin subtitles.

To view the film, see Flight of the Condor.


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