• Forum 2

Uses of Culture and Cultural Heritage

The project addresses the modalities of cultural heritage production, management, and reformulation in Asia. It explores the plurality of the notion of “heritage” and its local variants, some of which depart significantly from European models because of powerful local religious, philosophical, conceptual, and political traditions. An often used example is the Ayodhya Mosque in Uttar Pradesh, Northern India, which is violently contested by Muslim and Hindu communities. Another site of contestation can take the form of apparently benign state policies like the commodification of indigenous crafts inVietnamorTaiwan.

While all representations of culture are open to contestation, recent experience has shown that claims to, and battles over, heritage sites and traditions can be sensitive but also revealing of local value systems. Emphasis will be placed on conflicts between local communities (including indigenous and immigrant minorities) and official state systems, including those operated by UNESCO. Scholars will document and analyze how these differences are negotiated in terms of political, social, economic, religious, ethnic, historical, and architectural values, and what discourses and practices affect the outcomes. Three key questions will remain constant throughout: What kind of heritage is preserved, for whom, and through what processes?  Beyond these questions, the project will also explore the extent to which preservation – rather than, for example, replacement or modernization – satisfies the goals of multiple local social actors.[1] 

For the current project, we propose to focus on the construction of cultural narratives of craft across Asia as well as on the textiles of Mainland Southeast Asia – involving interactive dialogue between young cultural studies scholars as well as local/global social actors in Thailand. In collaboration with Harvard University’s Asia Center and Chiang Mai University, the proposed activities will involve an in situ Summer School training exercise for young Ph.D. researchers and a Roundtable with the participation of local civil society actors and international scholars along the lines successfully developed in Taiwan and Indonesia in 2012, and the Winter School-Roundtable in Macau in December 2013.[2] A workshop will be organized six months later  at New Delhi, India where themes emerging from the Summer School-Roundtable at Chiang Mai in August 2014 will be taken up for discussion together with the presentation of selected papers by the Chiang Mai participants. 

[1] The elucidation of local terminologies used in addressing heritage issues expressly requires the collaborative involvement of native speakers and scholars with long experience in the many cultural traditions of Asia, as well as of stakeholders in ongoing conservation and urban renewal projects, museum specialists, and students of oral traditions and the visual arts.

[2] These in situ roundtables are usually co-funded by IIAS and the local partner institutions.  For recent roundtables see: www.iias.nl/research/heritages; on IIAS’s first summer school devoted to heritage studies, see: www.summerprogramme.asia/archive-2011-about-programme