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National perspectives on European heritage policies

A comparative research study considered the impact of the new heritage paradigm of the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. The project's main aim was to provide EU policymakers with an analytical perspective to help implement domestic and supranational heritage policies.
National perspectives on European heritage policies
Supported by EU funding, the project 'Intangible cultural heritage policies in Europe: what "participation" of which "communities"?' (ICHEUROPE) investigated the impact of the participatory heritage paradigm on national institutions. A major goal of this study was to promote the coordination of policy and action between stakeholders at local, national and supranational levels.

Project members sought to understand the French and Italian interpretations of the 2003 Convention's concepts of 'participation' and 'communities' in their implementation of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) safeguarding policies. Interestingly, the two concepts were not defined in the 2003 Convention; this leaves their interpretation open to the influence of states' cultural, political and institutional frameworks. Researchers focused on the implementation of convention-driven policies in France and Italy, two countries with a classic European approach to heritage protection. They considered the impact of this new heritage paradigm on national institutions and on local heritage stakeholders.

The heritage policy perspective advocated in the 2003 UNESCO Convention necessitated a revision of national legal frameworks, and thus an adjustment of national institutional structures and practices. This proved to be a difficult shift for time-honoured heritage institutions founded on established scientific and technical approaches and skills — Italy and France being two cases in point. Research showed that the heritage paradigm underlying the notion of ICH was thus a challenging innovation for national institutions shaped by existing local institutional and scientific approaches to heritage.

Project data collected during field studies across France and Italy was revealing. For instance, ICHEUROPE researchers noted a tension between international standards and national institutional practices or academic approaches to the identification and documentation of cultural heritage.

Project research contributed to a better understanding of how an international convention can influence national heritage regulations, and also showcased how the latter resists the introduction of outside models. ICHEUROPE also offered a more detailed understanding of the participatory norm introduced by UNESCO, and its implications for the implementation of heritage programmes.

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