Making Intangible Heritage: El Condor Pasa and Other Stories from UNESCO. By Valdimar Tr. Hafstein. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018. Pp. viii + 216 pages, b&w illustrations, prelude, postlude, acknowledgements, bibliography, index.
With the publication of folklorist and heritage scholar Valdimar Tr. Hafstein's Making Intangible Heritage, it is safe to say that we have fully entered the period of critical intangible heritage studies in global heritage scholarship and discourse. Indeed, we have reached a level of "meta-ness" in analysis that could make one dizzy. Yet, through his piercing and persuasive unpacking of the many meanings, uses, and contradictions that "intangible cultural heritage" brings us, we are offered sturdy footing--a self-aware grounding--with which to take a beat and reflect, and perhaps correct our course. Even grammatically, the case is now made that "intangible cultural heritage" ought to always be written with scare quotes, signaling its many layers and legacies, and of course its problems. Luckily, Hafstein's arguments are sprinkled with humor and personal vignettes, complete with a story of a broken pant fly, allowing for moments to chuckle at the glaring paradoxes inherent to this thing we call "ICH."
Making Intangible Heritage can be described as a tour of the "ICH" world, or paradigm, which is structured in large part by UNESCO's 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (and overarching Western heritage values and norms). This tour is rather brisk, but heavy with thought; our guide makes stops at some of the most problematic (and ironic) facets of the "ICH" concept, its long line of precursors, historiography, and associated machinery--that is, the ways in which the concept is put to use. To be sure, Hafstein's purpose is not just an exercise in laying bare all of the inadequacies of "ICH;" he does believe that, at the end of the day, "the world is better off" (18) with it. His aim is to signpost (in neon) the places where anthropologists, folklorists, ethnologists, and ethnomusicologists--the book's target tourists--can infiltrate this paradigm at international, national, and local levels in order to make it better. While a prior knowledge of international heritage policy can help, students, scholars, and professionals in anthropology, folklore, and allied fields and disciplines--those interested in heritage theory and practice, and those out on the frontlines of "ICH" work--should read this book.