Chiara Bortolotto

discipline Anthropology
Institut interdisciplinaire d’anthropologie du contemporain at EHESS, Paris

Research project

The production of a global norm: grassroots participation in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Convention


Coming ten years after UNESCO’s adoption of the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO (2003), this research focuses on the evolution of the Convention’s policy priorities and investigates the emergence of a participatory rule underpinning heritage identification and safeguarding. “Participation” and “communities”, key concepts of the 2003 UNESCO Convention, convey the idea that heritage interventions are no longer the exclusive purview of a particular profession or set of scientific and technical experts but are now part of a social process of “empowerment”. This participatory ideal corresponds to the rising involvement of international organizations in the politics of civil-society inclusion, which was the driving force behind the development of the Convention. The actual implementation of the Convention shows how the interpretation of the notions of “participation” and “community” varies widely between countries depending on their cultural, political and institutional frameworks. In the same way, at the intergovernmental level, the understanding of such notions is far from being uniform. Observation of debates held by the Intangible Cultural Heritage Intergovernmental Committee suggests that the participatory approach to heritage is evolving and gaining increasing weight. The goal of this project is to analyse the development of the idea of grassroots empowerment within UNESCO, tracing the evolution of the participatory ideals expressed by the Committee.


Whereas most anthropological studies of UNESCO policies focus on the latter’s impact on particular sites or cultural practices without explaining how global policies are established at the intergovernmental level, this project shifts the ethnographic gaze to the international organization itself. Once the global is localized in UNESCO conference rooms and corridors and the context of ICH programme and policy design is identified, it becomes possible to investigate how a category often abstractly defined as “global” is shaped in practice by particular actors, devices and rules and how the socio-material arrangements of an international organization impact upon policy making.



Chiara Bortolotto is an anthropologist affiliated to the Institut interdisciplinaire d’anthropologie du contemporain at the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris. From 2010 to 2013 she was a Marie Curie fellow at the Free University of Brussels (Laboratoire d’Anthropologie des Mondes Contemporains Lamc). She holds a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales and from the IULM University (Milan).


Her research approach is founded on ethnographic observation of Heritage Institutions and a multi-sited Comparative Anthropology of the Implementation of International Policies by National Bureaucracies and Local Actors.


Selected publications


‘Introduction. Le monde selon l’Unesco’, with D. Berliner, Gradhiva, vol.18, 2013, pp. 4-21.


‘L’Unesco comme arène de traduction. La fabrique globale du patrimoine immatériel’, Gradhiva, vol. 18, 2013, pp. 50-73.


‘The French inventory of intangible cultural heritage: Domesticating a global paradigm into French heritage regime’, R. Bendix, A.Eggert & A. Peselmann (dir.), Heritage Regimes and the State, Universitätsverlag Göttingen, Göttingen, 2012, pp. 269-286.


‘Nouveaux acteurs du patrimoine, nouvelles postures anthropologiques’, Civilisations, vol. 61, no. 1,  2012, pp. 139-146.


Le patrimoine culturel immatériel: enjeux d’une nouvelle catégorie, (ed.), Editions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, Paris, 2011.


‘Patrimonio immateriale e autenticità: una relazione indissolubile’, La Ricerca Folklorica, vol. 64, 2011, pp. 7-17.


‘Addio al territorio? Nuovi scenari del patrimonio culturale immateriale’, Lares, vol. 76, no. 2, 2011, pp. 351-369.


‘The Giant Cola Cola in Gravina. Intangible Cultural Heritage, Property, and Territory between Unesco Discourse and Local Heritage Practice’, Ethnologia Europaea, vol. 39, no. 2, 2009, pp. 81-94.


‘La sirène Mami Wata: un cas de réemploi transculturel’, L’Autre, Cliniques cultures et sociétés, vol.10, no. 1, 2009, pp. 37-45.


Il patrimonio immateriale secondo l’Unesco: analisi e prospettive, (ed.), Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, Rome, 2008.


junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH)
discipline History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH)
discipline History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH)
discipline Literature
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH)
discipline Musicology