Volume 91, #4

Fall 2018


World Heritage and the Ontological Turn

phone: 202-994-3215  e-mail: ifer@gwu.edu


Volume 91, #4 • Fall 2018



World Heritage and the Ontological Turn: New Materialities and the Enactment of Collective Pasts



by Matthew J. Hill, , University of Massachusetts Amherst


Anthropological Utopia, Closet Eurocentrism, and Culture Chaos in the UNESCO World Heritage Arena

Christoph Brumann, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

ABSTRACT—While the UNESCO World Heritage Convention is a huge publicity success, and a World Heritage title often works miracles for redirecting prestige, tourists, and cash flows, critics deplore the increasing “politicization” of the World Heritage Committee, whose decisions tend to be dominated by diplomatic deal-making in favor of national interests rather than expert advice. Based on ethnographic fieldwork at World Heritage Committee meetings, this article argues that, more than heretofore acknowledged, this trend is because the World Heritage arena has embraced an anthropological notion of culture but has done so only half-heartedly. The broad and non-elitist conception of cultural heritage approved in the 1990s has spread and had lasting influence on World Heritage List inscriptions. Yet, at the same time, conventional conceptions of heritage remained in place, and European sites continued to dominate most heritage categories, old and new. The ambivalence and frustration created led to rebellion by strong states of the Global South, and after several years of turmoil, nation-states have now settled on respecting each other’s wishes. However, Eurocentrism prevails in many overt and covert ways. As with other UNESCO initiatives concerning culture, the deliberate turn to an anthropological notion was merely additive and did not question the conventional elitist notion of the term, leaving the established expert communities and their perspectives in command. Debate about the uses and abuses of the culture concept should take into account “culture chaos,” that is, the parallel use of contradictory referents of culture, in many contemporary settings. [Keywords: UNESCO World Heritage, culture concept, Northern hegemony, international organizations, cultural diplomacy, Eurocentrism, assemblage theory]


Assembling the Historic City: Actor Networks, Heritage Mediation, and the Return of the Colonial Past in Post-Soviet Cuba

Matthew J. Hill, University of Massachusetts Amherst

ABSTRACT—In this article, I utilize assemblage theory to analyze the 35-year attempt to “save” one of Old Havana’s main squares, the Plaza Vieja, by remaking it into a traditional plaza and upholding it as a marker of Cuban patrimony and national identity. In doing so, I examine the role of heritage as a “mediator” that both configures and is shaped by human interactions. The process of assembling heritage sites, I argue, sets up new associations between heterogeneous groups of people, institutions, ideas, and things—including materials like buildings, documents, maps, and plans—which as part of the network of associations gain the ability to make other members of the network do unexpected things. I examine this process of reassemblage in two historical stages. These include: a socialist stage (1979–1992) in which the Cuban state promoted local history and traditional architecture alongside the classless, egalitarian dimensions of a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary identity; and a post-Soviet phase (1993–2015), in which the reconstruction of the Plaza as an early 19th century square reflects a broader ideological shift that emphasizes local identity and colonial history in lieu of a de-emphasized Marxism-Leninism. The article concludes by examining how power operates through assemblages and questions their potential to become fixed as more stable apparatuses that contribute to processes of subjectification. [Keywords: Actor network theory, assemblages, materiality, heritage, Cuba, socialism, urban spaces]


The Practices and Politics of Heritage in Antigua Guatemala

Walter E. Little, SUNY Albany

ABSTRACT—This article addresses tensions between two dominant heritage practices in Antigua Guatemala, one that is oriented around the regulation of buildings and streets and another that is oriented around the regulation of people as cultural and economic performers. I place these regulatory practices within a framework that uses Latour’s (2005) concepts of mediation and assemblage—the relationship between materiality and humans—to discuss the contexts of heritage politics and lived practices in heritage sites. This case study explores how UNESCO heritage politics and the Guatemalan state’s regulation of Antigua’s architecture and street workers are intertwined with tourism performance economies and residents’ cultural aesthetics of the city. In describing Antigua’s contemporary cityscape aesthetic, and, more specifically, the Arch of Santa Catalina, I draw on Latour’s assemblage theory to interpret the heterogeneous ways in which the materiality of the city contributes to watercolor artists’ social, economic, and political practices. I then draw on Rancière’s (2006) theory of aesthetic regimes to make sense of individuals’ everyday urban practices within public heritage sites. In other words, considering Rancière’s and Latour’s respective theories together approaches the analysis of a heritage site in a way that encompasses the everyday discourses, practices, and materiality of the Arch of Santa Catalina. Namely, I argue residents’ heritage aesthetics, within the larger political, regulatory, and aesthetic apparatuses of the State and UNESCO, illustrate how urban heritage sites are an assemblage that articulates with everyday social and material practices that lead to unexpected political outcomes that are tied to cultural and economic practices. [Keywords: Aesthetics, assemblage, Guatemala, tourism, urban heritage]


Artifactual Surface and the Limits of Inclusion: Blurring the Boundary Between Materiality and Intangible Heritage

Fernando Armstrong-Fumero, Smith College

ABSTRACT—This article explores a central tension in the relationship between intangible and tangible heritage politics in the Oriente region of the Mexican state of Yucatan. In these communities, the burning of candles in colonial-era churches and the re-occupation of sites that contain pre-Hispanic ruins have played important roles in the reproduction of certain elements of intangible cultural heritage. However, both of these practices involve alterations of archaeological sites or historical artifacts that federal heritage authorities characterize as “destructive.” The seemingly insurmountable tension between intangible heritage that is instantiated through the manipulation of physical objects and the formal statutes for tangible heritage management raises important questions about the boundaries between the human and non-human dimensions of heritage practice. [Keywords: Yucatan, Maya, heritage, materiality, multiculturalism]