Cultural policies of the past, or a direction for the future? : the implications of intangible cultural heritage in the 21st century
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Efforts to document and preserve musical practices have played an important role in ethnomusicology since the formal inception of the discipline in the 1950s. Governments, NGOs, and transnational organizations such as UNESCO have promoted the protection of traditions for myriad reasons, including boosting national sentiment and capitalizing on touristic endeavors. However, these safeguarding projects often come with unwanted consequences to the local culture bearers and their customs. Cultural policies that recognize and aim to preserve particular musical practices increase the risk of commodification and exploitation. One notable example of influential cultural policymaking is that of UNESCO’s 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This paper synthesizes common critiques and themes of existing literature on music as intangible cultural heritage, especially relating to UNESCO’s 2003 Convention. It also offers recent case studies of ethnomusicological involvement in cultural policymaking that will help to ensure positive results for local practitioners and their musics in the future.