CIRCA:Michael F. Brown's "Heritage Trouble: Recent Work on the Protection of Intangible Cultural Property."


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Brown’s “Heritage Trouble: Recent Work on the Protection of Intangible Cultural Property”

Brown advocates a more ecological perspective than has previously been employed by policies regarding intangible cultural property. The ecological perspective emphasizes the interconnectedness of information production and dissemination, and remains suspicious of and uninterested in “monolithic solutions” (42). According to Brown, there has been a trend in academic scholarship of substituting “cultural heritage” for “cultural property,” indicative of the “dematerialization of heritage” (40) and consequently jeopardizing our ability to protect it. At its most generic, this increasingly diverse and expansive category of “cultural heritage” is information. “Information,” Brown purports, “answers to its own rules. Most conspicuously, it [information] can reside in an infinite number of places simultaneously” (41), somewhat like a rogue mutant. Information has become the source of heritage trouble, defined by Brown as the “diffuse global anxiety about the movement of information among different cultures” and how to respond to it (42). Cultural appropriation and its multiple manifestations receives considerable attention in Brown’s article, particularly with respect to criticizing multilateral organizations such as UNESCO and its romantic categorizations of traditional ownership practices. In the Rai Coast of Papua New Guinea, for example, “elements of culture are seen as more useful and productive in circulation than when returned to their source […] repatriation severs relationships instead of strengthening them” (47). In fact, there is a growing consensus in anthropological circles that documentation plays a rather minor role in the preservation of culture. Lastly, Brown brings forth various questions and difficulties surrounding the Information Age and protecting cultural heritage, such as managing the imperative to protect while also permitting free expression.
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