Before “traditions” were recast as “heritage” (ACHS2018)

« Before “traditions” were recast as “heritage”: Charismatic and passionate figures who paved the way to heritage making ».

Appel à communications individuelles pour un panel de la conférence biennale de l’association Critical Heritage Studies (ACHS2018), Heritage across borders. Le panel est organisé par Caroline Bodolec (CCJ-CECMC) et Béatrice David (Université Paris 8, membre associé du CECMC).

Co-organizers institutional affiliations & contacts

  • Caroline Bodolec, Researcher, Center of Studies in Modern and Contemporary China, CNRS/EHESS, Paris, France.
  • Béatrice David, Assistant Professor in anthropology, UMR 8238, Laboratory of Studies on Gender and Sexuality, CNRS, University Paris-8, Paris, France. Associate member of the  Center of Studies in Modern and Contemporary China


  • 1-6th September 2018


  • Zhejiang University, Hangzhou (China)

Deadline for submission of proposals

  • December 31st, 2017


Considering heritage making as a long term process, the proposed workshop aims to explore « founding moments » preceding institutionalization brought by heritage politics. It also aims to look at the on-going development of long established heritage process, at the light of the constant re-use of the past to create the « new presents ».

The explorations of this founding stage will focus on the fluid figure of “passeurs de mémoires” (relayers of memories), viewed in this perspective as “founding actors”. These local figures “paved the way” for the future arena of heritage by their passionate work toward what is not yet conceived as “heritage”, but as “local traditions”, and as such is often viewed as source or markers of local identities. The power struggle in this arena may sometimes hide, deny or underestimate the founding work carried on at the very early stage of heritage making by these local personalities. The visibility provided by the institutionalization may later place in the front stage more powerful institutional actors closer or/and belonging to the local or national or transnational networks of power.

“Passion” and “charisma” often distinguish these local personalities that we may not only describe as the “ones who know”, but as the “ones who care”. The contributions of this workshop will attempt to provide sensitive portraits of these personalities whose passion or/and charisma have paved the way for the process that creates heritage.

It is our conviction that laying the foundations of what happened in the past will contribute to a better understanding of the mutations of the cultural heritage politics of the present.

Open session, double panel

This workshop aims to bring together anthropologists who are engaged on long term ethnographic fieldwork research carried out at different times and in various social and political context.

We have already gathered 5 confirmed papers based on anthropological research on cross-border fieldwork studies in Africa and France, Mexico and the USA, and within the inner ethnic frontiers of China (Han and non Han), and in Portugal. We are also pleased to count among one of our panelists, Ms. Pan Yao, Head of the Center of Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Sui autonomous district of Sandu in Guizhou province (China).

As a double panel in an open session, three other papers may be accepted. They will enrich the case studies and discussion. Proposals are welcome.

The proposed papers will address issues related to the following subthemes of the Conference:

  • Museum Challenging boundaries;
  • Connecting the rural and urban;
  • The past, present and future.

Confirmed participants and papers

1/ Caroline BODOLEC, Researcher, Center of Studies in Modern and Contemporary China, CNRS/EHESS, Paris, France, co-organizer of the panel.

Paper title: Seize the opportunity of the intangible cultural heritage: from local actions to official visibility (Shaanbei, China)

Caroline Bodolec began her research on the movements for the protection of culture in Shaanbei province during the early 2000s. At that time, what would become the « intangible cultural heritage » was still under discussion at UNESCO. However, in Yanchuan District, a number of people linked to the charismatic Professor Jin Zhilin carried out actions to promote the local traditions (in particular paper-cut). These passionate men « moved montains »to reach their goals such as the opening of an Arts and Popular Traditions Museum in a small village in 2004. Thanks to the different actions they organized, some of the Shaanbei practices were inscribed on the Shaanxi ICH list but also on the national list. Caroline Bodolec’s presentation will give view on the work of these key local figures. From 2010 on, they were progressively put aside by the authorities who have taken charge of the economic and symbolic benefits of heritagization and turned their original achievements into something more standardized.

2/ Beatrice DAVID, Assistant Professor in anthropology, UMR 8238, Laboratory of Studies on Gender and Sexuality, CNRS, University Paris-8, Paris, France, and co-organizer of the panel, & PAN Yao, Head of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Center of the Sandu Sui Nationality Autonomous District, Guizhou, China

Paper title: The passion for the “past-present”. Inside the realm of the founders of the “family museums” in Sui county, Guizhou, China

Beatrice David’s presentation will give view on the work of some key local figures of the local Sui (a tai-kadai speaking group of West Southern China) social space for the preservation of the ritual Sui manuscripts before its registration in 2006 in the national list of intangible heritage. She will particularly discuss the figure of the passionate founders of private museums called in Chinese “family museums” (jiating bowuguan). Pan Yao, of Sui nationality, will provide her insider view as an official actor involved in the transmission of the Sui cultural practices recognized as intangible Heritage. She will present the role played by some exceptional women in the revitalization of the Sui embroidery horsetail technics.

3/ Julie GARNIER, Assistant professor in Sociology, UMR 7324 CITERES, CNRS, University of Tours and Anaïs LEBLON, Assistant professor in Anthropology, UMR 7218 LAVUE, CNRS, University Paris- 8, Paris, France. Founding member of Respatrimoni-Network of Researchers on Heritagisations (

Paper title:  « Saviors », « activists » or « development actors » ? Statutes, forms of commitment and active participation of these new « heritage bearers ». Case studies of the FulBe ecomuseum (Senegal – France)

Based on life trajectories analysis of a few Senegalese immigrants living in the Center-Val de Loire Region in France, involved for several years in the construction project of a « galle pinal » (literally « maison de la culture »/house of culture) in the Senegal River Valley – redefined as « ecomusée » (ecomuseum) by the collective concerned by its conception – this paper aims to clarify their demands in the name of heritage as well as the legitimacy issues that they contain. In view of their life trajectories and their past and present commitments (associative militancy for the preservation of the pulaar language, commitment to labor unions in France, investment in village associations for development), we will discuss these new « heritage bearers » capacity to link both « here and there » different actors and collectives to have their demand recognized. The biographical trajectories of the main project holder, an autodidact Senegalese immigrant, and retired worker, will serve as a focal point to question the specific stakes involved in their appropriation of the heritage. This approach will allow us to assess the figure of these new « heritage bearers « , too often reduced to the figure of the « savior », the « activist » or the  » development actor ».

4/ Aline HEMOND, Professor of Anthropology, Member of the Research unit “Habiter le monde”/University of Picardie-Jules Verne, Department of Sociology, Ethnology and Demography, Amiens, France

Paper title: Passionate Collectors and Cultural Passeurs: The case of the Mexican artistic Community of Chicago

This presentation will consider the case of the Mexican migrant district of Pilsen, in the lower west side of Chicago and the Mexican, Latino and Mexican-American artist community. I will take a transnational actor-network approach to examine interactions between “ethnic” artists and art lovers, collectors, anthropologists and cultural institutions.

We will focus on three topics:

    • the intervention of passeurs or entrepreneurs culturels (cultural brokers) who contribute to build the main Mexican institution in Chicago: The National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA). They contribute to valorize Mexican art and Mexican-Indian art and craft in the city, crossing the indigenous/non-indigenous divide.
    • The passion and charisma of local personalities, sometimes American citizens from Jewish families of Mittel Europa; or Mexican and Mexican-American collectors. Collectors with charisma and passion, also union leader, who permitted artists to earn a living. All of these individualities contributed to these artworks being publicly recognized as part of a cultural legacy.
    • The context of North-American multiculturalism who stimulates the Chicago’s Hispanic community process of building in the social space of the city.

5/ Cyril ISNART, Researcher, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Institut d’ethnologie méditerranéenne, européenne et comparative (UMR 7307) ; Co-chair of Respatrimoni-Network of Researchers on Heritagisations, and Co-chair of the Francophone Network of the Association of Critical Heritage Studies)

Paper title:  The moral economy of the heritage quest. Salvation and saviors of traditional music in Portugal

This paper presents a series of collectors of traditional music, who were known long before the implementation of the ICH convention for their personal sacrifice to the safeguard of Portuguese music. Their life stories reveal a moral economy which opened the way of the more recent heritagization of traditional music in Portugal. Their aim was to dignify the popular musicians against the authoritarian state institution of culture, through their collecting actions and thus to permit the heritage valuation of the corpus. They appear as the saviors of a cultural apocalypse whose resolution implies heritage making as a moral solution for the all society.

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Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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Monique Abud

Centre d'études sur la Chine moderne et contemporaine, EHESS, Paris, France

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