Heritage and the Politics of Culture
The question of cultural heritage presents several challenges for minority groups across Asia, because of their link with international (e.g UNESCO) and State institutions. Considerable regulations are done by those institutions that reshape local conceptions of transmission. Thereby tensions may appear between these different representations.
Heritage is usually seen by States as a powerful resource for economic development, more particularly through tourism. China has developed its own tools to classify and bound what in culture is acceptable to match socialist goals during the Maoist period and to develop tourism with the economic reforms. In Russia, socialist priorities prevailed in cultural affairs until the 1990’s. In both countries, new stakes appeared when local administrations and populations got involved with the question of cultural expression.
Global and State politics affect the valorization of what is considered as culture or “craft” and their local (re)creation. Since the 1990’s, in these two multiethnic states, a management of cultural affairs can be observed which results in a redefinition of local notions such as “tradition”, “culture”, or “ethnicity”. The comparison of these two contexts shows how these redefinitions influence the self-perception of the group’s identity, its outward perception and visibility. Fieldwork data collected among ethnic groups in Russia and China illustrate the role of political instances in the valorization of cultural heritage and how different cultural political regimes reveal themselves through the heritagization of craft and folklore.
In China, the Mosuo are facing new identity issues concerning the folklorisation of their culture. In the North, at the border with Russia, the safeguarding of Hezhe crafts resulted in the creation of a new type of artefacts made from fishskins, different from what can be found from the same material amongst their Russian kin group, the Nanais. In Southern Siberia, “museumification” of archaeological remains creates tension between politics, industrials and indigenous populations of the Altay. In the Russian Arctic, the administration entrusts public “centres of popular creativity”, employing local artists and craftspeople, with the organisation of the representation of autochthonous people in the public space.
This panel aims at comparing the varying notions of “tradition” and “safeguarding of culture” within an empirical approach. We focus on conflicts about the creation of culture and how these globalised and specific contexts shape a changing self-perception of “ethnic identity”.
Chairwoman Dr. Aurélie Névot, specialist of heritagization and museumification in China, will preside over the panel and discuss the presentations.