The safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage in England: a comparative exploration

Harrison, S., 2019. The safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage in England: a comparative exploration. PhD, Nottingham Trent University.

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Abstract

This study explores intangible cultural heritage policy in the UK, and more specifically England, looking at national and international positions, as well as a view at community level, and focusing on the domain of traditional craftsmanship as expounded by UNESCO in the 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH). The Convention attempted to show that UNESCO accepts that cultural heritage does not end at monuments. It also includes "living expressions ... such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts" (UNESCO 2003). However, since the UK is one of seventeen countries to have not ratified the Convention, research in this country has not had a high profile. This research has sought to address this lacuna by analysing the current heritage policy of the UK government, and the devolved institutions and NGOs, in order to assess options for the future of safeguarding ICH in England.

This national 'top down' perspective is balanced with a practical understanding of the experiences of traditional craftspeople in the Midlands of England, as part of a qualitative research strategy, where in depth interviews revealed the real concerns of people involved in an ICH domain within the wider issues of safeguarding. With those concerns in mind, the question was asked whether it is desirable for the UK to ratify the Convention. A case study analysis was conducted in two countries that have differing experiences of ICH and traditional craftsmanship safeguarding, one which has ratified the Convention, and one which has not. An examination of the ratification of the Convention in the Netherlands looked to see if it created the optimal conditions for safeguarding ICH practices. However, there has also been criticism of the UNESCO safeguarding paradigm and the perceived institutionalisation of culture. Therefore, the study also focused on a possible alternative course of action for the UK in the practices of one of the other States that have not ratified the Convention, namely Canada, with the provincial ICH safeguarding model in Newfoundland and Labrador.

This study identified a number of complexities for the safeguarding of intangible heritage in the UK, such as the continued authorised heritage discourse of the major heritage institutions and government bodies in England, compared to the rest of the nation, especially in Scotland, where intangible heritage is more readily embraced. The focus on the traditional craftspeople in the Midlands of England revealed a set of practical considerations which sometimes differ from the other ICH domains. Issues including awareness, transmission, training and skills and business issues were examined through an analysis of the strategies of cultural brokers involved in safeguarding; the Heritage Crafts Association in the UK, Dutch Centre for Intangible Heritage and the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The UNESCO paradigm has broadened the international discourse around the meaning of cultural heritage, increased awareness of ICH and prestige for practitioners. Whilst the increased role of community involvement is significant, the predominance of state control over the listing system and subsequent safeguarding measures continues to be an unresolved issue. Although the study demonstrates that models of safeguarding outside of the UNESCO paradigm have been successful, especially the public folklore model of North America, it is postulated that it may be prudent for the United Kingdom to ratify the Convention. It would align the heritage policy in Scotland with the rest of the United Kingdom and elevate intangible heritage to be considered equal to the built environment. The addition of intangible heritage to the remit of a national heritage body could lead to a more holistic strategy in the future.

Item Type: Thesis
Creators: Harrison, S.
Date: March 2019
Rights: This work is the intellectual property of the author. You may copy up to 5% of this work for private study, or personal, non-commercial research. Any re-use of the information contained within this document should be fully referenced, quoting the author, title, university, degree level and pagination. Queries or requests for any other use, or if a more substantial copy is required, should be directed to the owner of the Intellectual Property Rights.
Divisions: Schools > School of Arts and Humanities
Depositing User: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 13 Jun 2019 11:42
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2019 07:46
URI: http://irep.ntu.ac.uk/id/eprint/36760

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