CGIs in the City. Safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, action nets and boundary objects

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How can the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage (2003) function in contemporary society, and in particular in (very) big cities? Can it yield positive effects in managing processes of (super)diversity, urbanisation and sustainable development? In this paper, the thesis is developed that it is necessary to keep key-concepts and other options as open as possible and appropriate. Some metaphors and episodes from classic Greek mythology are used to raise awareness about ongoing shifts and tensions in the use of the terminology of the 2003 UNESCO Convention and the related basic texts like the operational directives, the ethical principles and the overall results framework. It is crucial to keep using CGIs, “communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals” as mentioned in the blue booklet with Basic Texts, in a broad and plural way and to resist the temptation and the tendency, even within the Organs of the 2003 UNESCO convention, to reduce it to just “the community”. Sensitizing concepts developed in actor-network theory like “action-nets“ or “boundary objects” are mobilised to raise awareness about the importance and the potential of these conceptual issues. Also the proliferation of the notion of stakeholders or the concept of “heritage community”, inspired by the Framework Convention on the value of cultural heritage (Faro 2005, Council of Europe) and the Flemish appropriated version of that concept, can help to safeguard the potential of CGIs and to stimulate participation, connectedness and co-creation. Adding the words “and organisations” after the word “people” in the 2b) definition of a heritage community in the 2005 Framework Convention was a bold and interesting move. Another lesson learned in two decades experimenting with the 2003 UNESCO Convention (paradigm) is that the role of mediators, cultural brokers or “boundary spanners” is key to successful safeguarding programmes. These ideas are very compatible with one of the most recent policy documents, Safeguarding and enhancing intangible cultural heritage, a resolution issued by the Council of Europe in 2019. It can provide inspiration both in and outside Europe, to update and fine-tune heritage safeguarding policy and practice.
Original languageChinese
Pages (from-to)15-36
Number of pages22
Journal遗产 (Heritage)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2019


  • intangible cultural heritage
  • 2003 UNESCO convention
  • safeguarding
  • communities
  • CGIs
  • Actor-Network Theory

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