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09.30  Ascribing Economic Value to Intangible Cultural Heritage: a Case Study of Cultural Festivals in Scotland’s Orkney Islands

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9:00, Tuesday 7 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

It is widely accepted that celebration of intangible heritage (or living culture) can enhance a community’s sense of identity, cohesion, and value. However, it is also essential to consider the effects that monetization and commercialization can have on indigenous intangible cultural heritage (ICH) practices, and the extent to which externally-facing showcasing is likely to promote commodification with its various negative consequences. This will depend upon the character of the social relations that are established between “hosts” and “guests.” Cultural heritage is even, arguably, in danger of being distorted in aggressive attempts to underpin tourism and economic development strategies more generally. This would suggest that any commercialization of ICH should be preceded by the cultural equivalent of an environmental impact assessment, in order to consider in which ways the proposed opening up of ICH to tourism is likely to affect authenticity. 

The contrary argument is also valid; if ethical hurdles are satisfactorily overcome, then the resultant safeguarding of the practice may generate tourism revenue, due to public interest surrounding the practice, without damaging the integrity of the ICH. However, while the latter may prove beneficial at a national scale in terms of economic development, local communities may not either receive or perceive as acceptable the putative financial benefits, which may be indirect. Furthermore, these may not compensate adequately for the loss of both their privacy and their unique access to the living culture in question. Scale is significant and serves to illustrate the dilemma of immediate benefits to ICH communities versus wider national socio-economic benefits, something that may prove crucial in terms of assessing the willingness of ICH communities to engage with what purports to be “safeguarding” practices.

In the event that the ICH practice itself is dying out and either researchers or government officials are seeking to revive the practice and/or enforce its preservation for economic or politically exploitative reasons such as tourism, this further complicates the matter of beneficiaries. This perspective has been extended to a national scale by previous authors who argue that ICH practitioners who wish to safeguard the vivacity of local cultural expression must protect themselves against the arrival of new forms of capital accumulation, and national elites searching for innovative forms of exploitable resources. This essentially refers to the “Disneyfication” of cultural expression, a derogatory term implying that heritage no longer appears as “real” or authentic, but has been “imagineered” to provide more appeal. Discussions on Disneyfication tend to arise as soon as heritage is “packaged” for consumption. This also emphasizes the negative connotations of economic innovations and underscores a requirement for social awareness and defensive measures on the part of ICH owner practitioners.

This paper will examine the opportunities and challenges associated with assigning monetary value to ICH practices against the background of monetization and commercialization within different stakeholder groups. The significance of such an assessment is especially important in the case of communities where tourist-related resource-based economic activity requires to be maximized in order to sustain community viability in the long term. Stakeholder perspectives upon constraints operating on, and barriers to, monetization, as well as otherwise evidenced advantages and disadvantages, constitute an important aspect of ICH. This appears to represent an emergent concern within UNESCO, an especially important organization in terms of the safeguarding and recording of ICH, which could not at the outset have been expected to realize the full implications of the implementation of its 2003 Convention on ICH. In exploring such issues surrounding the ascribing of economic value to ICH, the authors seek to move toward the development of a set of practical guidelines for the “safe” exploitation of ICH by practitioners, policy-makers, and other stakeholders including heritage users.

Jordan Gamble


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