Writer : Kasper Rodil & Matthias Rehm
Year : 2015
Papers that are referenced directly in the text can be found in the reference section of this article. All other papers, i.e. those occurring in the tables summarising the survey, can be found in the complete index of all volumes of the Journal which is accompanying this anniversary volume.
A. Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage
B. Performing arts
C. Social practices, rituals and festive events
D. Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe
E. Traditional craftsmanship
The five listed categories from the Convention’s definitions are not meant as an exclusive categorisation of what intangible heritage is or is not, but they provide a framework to investigate whether the published materials in this community concentrate under certain themes. In turn, this selection provides readers and newcomers with information on published works that relate to their own. Some of the papers indeed cover more than one domain and are positioned accordingly. The discussion of whether the actual UNESCO descriptions of these domains are precise and meaningful for research in such an intertwined and diverse domain as ICH is one we will return to another time. After all, they provide one way of looking at the cultural content. With some other papers it is more complicated to determine domain relationships. These are typically discourses on policy making, the role of museums in relation to intangible material, inventorying practices, etc.. While these publications are valuable contributions to the field, the scope of the current exercise is to present an overview of the nature of published ICH in this journal in relation to the five domains as defined by UNESCO.
All the papers were placed into six folders (five individual domain folders and one folder for papers not conforming to the ICH domains). The authors first sorted the 88 existing papers individually with no internal correspondence of choices, afterwards discrepancies were settled by dialogue and a careful second round of reading through. Similarly, papers that were sorted into the ‘non-conformist’ category were also subjected to another individual sorting followed by a discussion and a decision on where to place them.
We identified a total of 59 individual papers that belong to at least one domain and 29 papers were identified as not obviously belonging to any of the domains1. They were placed as follows:
Total: 78 Non-domain-specific: 29
When we look at the field of ICH with this ICT perspective, intangible cultural heritage boils down to a question of which aspects of intangible cultural heritage can actually be captured by such technological tools, i.e. which kinds of data about intangible cultural heritage can be collected and processed. Thus, in relation to the UNESCO Convention our aim is to develop technological tools and methods for safeguarding ICH. To do so nowadays means to represent specific intangible heritage in a digital form. Again, from such a technological point of view, ICH can be described as multimodal data without specifically spelling out what kind of data, as this might vary from case to case and be intended for various purposes.
In order to exemplify our point, consider the work presented in Soma (2012). The article examines and describes falconry in Western Mongolia as a facet of intangible cultural heritage. In order to safeguard and later to disseminate such an element of ICH, the first step always has to be to capture data about this element. We are agnostic towards the question of what kind of data is collected (e.g. eye-witness accounts vs. motion data of a falcon hunt) but will discuss some of the issues below. The question then arises - what happens to the data? A strong case can be made for archiving data on intangible cultural heritage and then using the material in the archive directly for dissemination (e.g. a collection of videos concerning different techniques for hunting with falcons). But the use of digital data opens up a number of other possibilities for work with the data for extended dissemination purposes. For example, analysing and modelling the content of the data might make it possible to derive a deeper conceptual representation of the phenomenon, which in turn could be used to interact directly with the data, e.g. in a game where the user has to learn how to hunt with a falcon. The following figure illustrates this approach.
Apart from the data source, it is also necessary to distinguish the data types. The distinction between data source and data type is necessary because it will largely influence how the data can be analysed. To give two examples, a written text (data source) could be an eye witness account or an ethnographic field report. A video recording (data type) could be TV news or a recording of a traditional dance.
Lastly, it is necessary to come up with, and agree upon methods and methodologies for data collection. These should inform how sources and technology are selected, e.g. what kind of technology is used in relation to the goal of data collection (e.g. a video camera vs motion tracking vs a search in the Vatican library). Also we need to keep in mind that there are limitations to what can be captured. The experience of a Sami shamanic ritual can, for instance, only be conveyed by actually experiencing it. What we can capture are more or less accurate descriptions by the involved parties.
A first attempt at categorisation could be to look at static, dynamic, and interactive dissemination strategies. An example of static dissemination could be a text about an aspect of ICH (like some of the articles published in the Journal), it could also be a video recording. For a dynamic dissemination it would be necessary to search and combine sources, e.g. in a browse-able web archive that allows the user to collect several samples of a specific element. Interactive approaches would be ones that allow people to actually experience aspects of the ICH in some way, for instance by being taught a specific craft in the classroom or by playing an educational game about how to behave in a given culture.
What is apparent from the above examples is that only a few have ventured to use technological tools for data capture and none go beyond ‘traditional’ media like video or audio recording. With current progress in multimodal data capture (e.g. Scherer et al.: 2012) and social signal processing (Vinciarelli, Pantic, and Bourlard: 2009), we assert that the collection of data on intangible cultural heritage could greatly benefit from involving such technologies. Also, only a few of the works presented in the Journal attempt to actively involve the indigenous groups themselves in the data collection endeavour (see Shankar: 2010 for an exception).
The examples presented here are actually theory- or application-driven examples of representing data (which also influence how the data is captured). What is apparent when looking at the whole set of articles is the often ad hoc nature of both the data that is captured, and also the way it is represented. This makes it difficult to understand the importance, validity and reliability of the data presented in the articles.
An interactive dissemination approach is presented by Van Huy (2006) who reports on a dissemination attempt by the Vietnamese Museum of Ethnology. In order to raise interest in traditional crafts the museum organises pottery classes for children. This allows the children to directly experience part of their intangible cultural heritage. Lanier and Reid (2007) highlight a different strategy that focuses on reviving old traditions and using modern communication channels for dissemination purposes. In their article, they present the musical tradition of whalers on a Caribbean island. They also present a local group of musicians who re-interpret the old shanties and perform on numerous occasions and at international festivals.
Although the first two make use of, or reference internet technology, they again present fairly standard ways of dissemination through web pages.
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.While the above quotation is centred on specific rights, not much is mentioned about the methodology to actually implement participation in a heritage preserving process. Kurin (2007, p.7) provides a more nuanced explanation of involvement:
... members of the relevant communities can and should be encouraged to do participatory self-research and documentation, work with civil scholars in devising and carrying out inventory activities, work with museums, performing arts centres, publishing houses, universities and the like on the presentation of their ICH, work with journalists, television and radio reporters on the promotion of their ICH, work with teachers, education officials and curriculum planners on how their ICH is taught within the school system, and work with government planners, officials and bureaucrats in formulating plans that introduce ICH into social and economic development programmes.When engaged in digitisation for inventorying and dissemination, the constructed bits and bytes become manifestations of ICH in a domain governed by very different conceptual ways of structuring and representing than those of the original sources.
Whether or not a researcher's standpoint is (post-) positivist or constructivist, it is crucial how ICH data, representation and dissemination is reflected upon and evaluated. Evaluation in this case does not mean outsiders evaluating the 'validity' of material expressed by communities. Rather it means evaluating the process of digitising the content and the methodologies used to conduct this. The need for local evaluation of which kinds of data are permitted to be, and can be captured, as well as how they are documented, is both a tenet for many researchers in this field and directed by UNESCO: Safeguarding measures must always be developed and applied with the consent and involvement of the community itself. (web)
History is full of examples of exploitation (see Cochran et al.: 2008), distortion of heritage and knowledge, and violation of trust. David et al. (2013) explain:
...communities are the ones that know best their own life context, and are therefore the most entitled to contribute to expanding knowledge for the implementing agencies. Local knowledge is thought to be fundamental for the success of an initiative especially for initiatives concerned with local knowledge production and communication.Thus when looking at the domain in which the socio- cultural material resides, one must make clear what is the ethical and moral point of departure for the research project. In this sense 'evaluation' can mean both the inclusion of indigenous peoples in articulating the project, their roles in decision-making (consultative versus authoritative) and their involvement in a long term scope. For the local stakeholders it is important that the researcher is a reliable partner for handling, digitising and representing the ICH outside of the domain of origin.
And while communities have been maintaining and curating their traditional heritage there is always a threat that digitisation might rip it from their hands and disseminate it into a world where they can no longer curate it.
How the data is captured and what is being chosen for capture change the material from an often complex form of oral tradition, practices etc. or a mix of these modalities, into a form that is governed by the focal point provided by the researcher and/or community partners and the chosen capturing technology. For the researcher, it is important that any data captured is reliable in the sense that it represents a source that can be trusted. Hypothetically, capturing arm movement data to record Mongolian falconry techniques might differ according to whether the movements were those of experienced falconers or untrained ones (as reported in Soma and Sukhee: 2014), but probably only knowledgeable falconers would be able to pick up the nuances and the differences. The purpose might be to capture both experienced falconers and novices applying hunting techniques - or not - engaging in dialogue and involving communities can clarify the purpose of the capturing. What the actual capture consists of can also range from descriptive textual accounts to motion tracking technologies of bodily gestures. Textual descriptions and video recordings are inherently easier to evaluate with participants than points in a 3D space, on the other hand, it might be more precise and possible to recreate complex movements and secondary motions in a more physically accurate way. Where video recordings can present difficulties is with occlusion and textual descriptions. The manifestations (for example virtual characters) created from these points are those that should be evaluated. A good example of a digitisation process is published by Stavrakis et al. (2012), where they record the movements of traditional Cypriot dancing by motion capture, and use these captures for a video game to teach traditional dancing.
While some projects focus on specific actions, others are faced with more complex scenarios of cultural practices and rituals where many forms of performance and the spatiality of the people involved are intertwined in conceptually rich scenarios.
Rodil et al. (2014a) have reported on the challenge of digitising all the nuances of a Herero wedding in Namibia, and document how vital information essential for a fuller understanding is filtered out when choosing audio recording, video recording, narration etc. as the data source. They report on conceptual misunderstandings which easily occur when outsiders describe cultural practices, advocate bringing together a variety of sources and modalities for a more nuanced capture, and promote a holistic approach rather than an atomistic one to the capture of intangible heritage data. They advocate that the active participation of local communities throughout the process is pivotal for decoding meaning in a diversity of multimedia used for the capture and evaluation of these manifestations.
Placing tangible heritage objects in museums without contextualising them disconnects them from their intangible practices, thus when analysing the physical object we can only speculate on the intangible practices that have previously surrounded them. Similarly, focusing only on one facet of intangible practice data will possibly at some point require the restoration of missing elements to create the full picture. Fensted et al. (2002, p. 4) explain in their report that:
...practices may have latent meanings that may only be revealed through a fuller understanding of the culture as a whole. In general, by isolating elements from a worldview that interweaves empirical, spiritual, social and other components, as TK (traditional knowledge) does, one tends to misrepresent both the elements and the whole.It seems unrealistic to preserve/capture a complete practice, often intertwined with physical objects, and often the performative nature of these practices can differ locally.
We suggest that any technological approach includes participatory actions and careful evaluation of the concepts used in the process of capture. In the cross- field of technological development, digitisation and different knowledge systems, Participatory Design (PD) offers a methodology and a set of fundamental values and principles to guide a research project that includes local communities in technology design (see for instance, Merritt and Stolterman: 2012; Puri et al.: 2004; Kensing and Blomberg: 1998). Some of the main tenets of PD are that any advances should be democratic and that all participants should have the power to make decisions. The participants are all equipped with a set of skills from which they bring knowledge into the collaboration, and these skills are often rooted in different domains. The voices of indigenous communities should be heard, not only about questions of the legal ownership of ICH, but because they have unique insights into the aspects of intangible knowledge that are to be digitised. Similarly, researchers/designers/developers have unique insights into the production of new technology and digitisation. Since collaboration between communities and researchers also often implies collaboration between differing epistemological communities (Gegeo and Watson-Gegeo: 2001, p.4) and world views, it is vital to seek consensus with regard to all outcomes of a collaboration. As Mutema (2003, p.5) explains:
Understanding is made possible through dialogue, conversation and communication between the researcher and the actors. The intersubjective nature of the research process allows for the researcher's interpretations to be checked, reinterpreted and evaluated by the actors. In this way, the researched are 'active' participants in the practice and activity of the interpretation.Thus mutual learning (Nielsen et al.: 2003) is pivotal in projects where the intention is the technological preservation of ICH in collaboration with indigenous communities. Researchers learn about the subject and re-evaluate their own concepts, and local participants learn about technology so they can be critical of technological approaches that could distort or misrepresent their ICH.
Based on our previous work which had a strong technological component in order to create tools for the digitisation of indigenous knowledge, we developed a tripartite model that was focused on the practical questions of what kind of data can be collected for capturing aspects of intangible cultural heritage, how this data can be represented, and in what way it can inform and enable the dissemination of intangible cultural heritage. We used this model for a more in-depth analysis of the research previously presented. Although many of the research papers address one or more of these practical issues, we were surprised at the low level of inclusion of modern ICT tools to support the work presented. We have presented some of the current trends in signal processing which could be beneficial for data capture, and intelligent tutoring systems which could be beneficial for dissemination processes. One of our main conclusions therefore is that it seems to be time to initiate a cross-disciplinary dialogue with more technical disciplines to create new ways of capturing intangible cultural heritage.
Many research projects seem to be driven by one or two dedicated researchers who present their field work, often in the form of observations and interviews, in the Journal. While this is usually excellent work, it is also one-dimensional, focusing on a specific aspect of ICH and making use of one method to capture it. We claim that to really make an impact on safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, a multi-dimensional approach is necessary that combines several methods of data capture in order to allow for analysing the phenomenon under investigation from as many perspectives as possible.
Last but not least, it was surprising to see that in only a few of the published research papers the aim was to actively involve the indigenous communities in the safeguarding measures indicated. Often, projects are initiated by external parties, or papers summarise the field work of a researcher in the communities, thus representing an external interpretation of the observed ICH phenomenon. In the last part of this article we strongly argue for the beneficial effect of a participatory approach.