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Not Assessing the Potential of the New Glocal Tools of the UNESCO Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage Paradigm in Yul Shul, in Applied Ethnomusicology or Gesarology.

Timothy Thurston has done a fine job of appropriating the structure promoted in an Oxford University Press volume on applied ethnomusicology as a sensitizing framework to present and analyze the recent developments in transmitting a repertoire of epic constructions in Tibetan, and now also Mandarin languages. His article would have fit in (a sequel, on storytelling, of) that volume, edited in 2016 by Huib Schippers and Catherine Grant, with the inspiring title "Sustainable futures for music culture: an ecological perspective." The different case studies all follow the "Five-Domain Framework" developed by Schippers and Grant: 1) systems of learning music, 2) musicians and communities, 3) contexts and constructs, 4) infrastructure and regulations and 5) music industry and media. This is complemented by a systematic discussion of the "implications for sustainability" and a section on "issues and initiatives for sustainability." The Schippers and Grant volume was applauded and welcomed but also subjected to sharp criticism by Aaron Allen (2017, 383): "Nevertheless, I do hope that the project's framing theory will be revised and surpassed soon (... ) I am disappointed at the lack of adequate engagement with the meanings and vast areas of inquiry around the two keywords 'sustainability' and 'ecology'." The book was the result of a research project in Australia between 2009-2014, hence missing the whole movement that emerged thanks to the United Nations' Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, launched in 2015, and the effects of injecting the SDGs in the implementation of UNESCO's heritage conventions, recommendations and programmes.

It does not help that Thurston opted to work with gross caricatures of "the heritage framework" or of "metacultural professionals." He does this in order to take distance and to promote (the abovementioned) alternatives for studying dealing with "intangible traditions" (a pleonasm). He explores stories about a few effects attributed to the inscription of an item on the so-called Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Reflexive twenty-first century applied ethnomusicology and the 2003 UNESCO Convention Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage Paradigm could be a match made in Heaven. But just like in a relationship, unless it is a story of transcendent inspired transmission or purely the work of Cupid, it involves hard work to mutually understand each other and, but above all, to keep up these efforts as everyone changes.

If the words "world heritage" (list) pop up in relation to (ethno)music(ology), then you immediately know that you are confronted with a very superficial (non) understanding of the 2003 UNESCO Convention. Luckily this is not the case in Thurston's contribution. In a recent discussion of studies of top scholars on Vietnamese musical items on the Representative and Urgent Safeguarding Lists, I voiced my surprise that these taboo words were used and I asked the question if this echoed (wishful) misunderstandings of government officials or stakeholders (Jacobs 2018). In any case, ethnomusicologists should be aware of the "appropriate language" battles and what is at stake (see "heritage frameworks," in plural). It is also important to understand which special--marginal!--positions UNESCO programmes on endangered languages (see Catherine Grant) and the programme on "living human treasures," or what Catherine Maag called "ICH transmitter system," actually have in the global 2003 UNESCO Convention paradigm. Are there no other safeguarding trajectories possible? It will allow to make a richer exploration of which alternatives under that paradigmatic UNESCO umbrella could be proposed to CGIs and other stakeholders in this part of China.

It is not a reassuring sign if the only primary source reference to UNESCO instruments is the original Convention text itself, dated 2003, and not the whole, periodically updated set of Basic Texts, hence Convention_Basic_Texts-_2018_version-EN.pdf. In 2020, it is no longer sufficient to only mobilize, discuss and interpret the 2003 text. Not only should recent publications like the Commentary, edited by Janet Blake and Lucas Lixinski, be used to understand the evolving interpretations, or to be sensitized about the reasons why for instance the emphasis on "the community" in the Five Domain Framework should raise caution (Jacobs 2020). The focus should also be on the most recent version of the Operational Directives for the Implementation of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, the Ethical Principles for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage and the Overall Results Framework for the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage: recent tools for glocal ethics (Jacobs 2016 & 2017). Preferably in combination with resources like and, today, above all Not using, or even mentioning, the successive versions of the operational directives, leads to missing the operational directives 170 to 197 assembled since 2016 in the chapter VI on sustainable development at the national level. Exploring the potential of operational directives 170 and 171, 172-176, 179 (for instance when discussing the roles of the 'bab sgrung, or "inspired bards"), 180, 185-186 (for all bards) or 187 is a way forward for research that claims to foster (cultural) sustainability and ecology and that actually can be "applied." This can become very important in the 2020s: thanks to the theory of change/overall results framework, periodic reporting and the expected impact on future cultural policy developments at all levels. It is there that ambitious contributions to applied scholarship, like those of Grant, Schippers and, indeed, Thurston might really flourish.

Works Cited

Allen, Aaron. 2017. "Sustainable futures for music cultures: an ecological perspective." Ethnomusicology Forum 26 (3): 400-405.

Jacobs, Marc. 2016. "The Spirit of the Convention: Interlocking Principles and Ethics for Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage." International Journal of Intangible Heritage 11: 71-87.

Jacobs, Marc. 2017. Glocal Perspectives on Safeguarding. CGIs, ICH, Ethics and Cultural Brokerage, In Glocal Perspectives on Intangible Cultural Heritage: Local Communities, Researchers, States and UNESCO, with the Special Focus on Global and National Perspectives. Tokyo: Seijo University. 49-71.

Jacobs, Marc. 2018. "The Vi of Visibility, Visitability, and Viability in Vietnam. pHD and the Safeguarding Paradigm of the 2003 Convention After a Decade." Santander Art and Culture Law Review, 2(3): 183-214.

Jacobs, Marc. 2020. Article 15. Participation of Communities, Groups, and Individuals. CGIs, not Just 'the Community.' In The 2003 UNESCO Intangible Heritage Convention. A Commentary, edited by Janet Blake and Lucas Lixinski. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 273-289.

Schippers, Huib, and Catherine Grant. (2016.) Sustainable Futures for Music Cultures: An Ecological Perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Marc Jacobs

University of Antwerp & Vrije Universiteit Brussel
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Title Annotation:Responses
Author:Jacobs, Marc
Publication:Cultural Analysis
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Sep 1, 2019
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