Heritage and commercialization: an interdisciplinary conversation at the beginning of HIPAMS

Heritage and commercialization: an interdisciplinary conversation at the beginning of HIPAMS

April 3rd, 2019

At the end of this video by Valdimar Hafstein, about the complexities of ownership claims to the tune made famous by Simon and Garfunkel as ‘El Condor Pasa’, Hafstein asks the question, ‘When is protecting heritage not a form of dispossession?’ He challenges us all to find a better way forward in heritage management.

In our three-year British Academy-funded project in India, we bring together people from several communities trying to make a living from their heritage crafts or performances, and a multi-disciplinary team with backgrounds in sustainable development NGOs and the disciplines of law, marketing and heritage management. We want to test-drive a methodology for planning community-driven commercialization strategies in heritage safeguarding. We have called this method HIPAMS – heritage-sensitive intellectual property and marketing strategies. Our work is informed by a project called Alpfoodway, on which Diego Rinallo and Benedetta Ubertazzi are researchers and members of the steering committee, and a one-year British Council-funded project in Kyrgyzstan, led by Charlotte Waelde.

This blog is an imaginary conversation between some of the members of our team, introducing part of the interdisciplinary discussion we have been having, especially around authenticity and heritage commercialisation.

Ananya Bhattacharya, Director at Contact Base and co-Investigator for the project: At our NGO banglanatak dot com (Contact Base), based in Kolkata

Figure 1: Patachitra artist Dukhushyam Chitrakar  from Naya, Pingla (photo: Charlotte Waelde)

(India), we are working with a number of communities in West Bengal to help them earn a livelihood from heritage-related crafts and performances – this is how intangible heritage safeguarding feeds into sustainable development. Once communities have started making a living from their heritage practice, however, they often face the problem of how to market their products effectively and how to control the process of commercialization. We try and help them do this.

Harriet Deacon, intangible heritage specialist: In the heritage sector, there is a lot of discussion about the relationship between heritage and politics, but much less academic or theoretical discussion about the relationship between heritage and economics, as Lucas Lixinski’s recent work shows. Many observers worry that commercialization will inevitably freeze, propertize or lead to misappropriation of a community’s culture. But we don’t know exactly what over-commercialization is, and who should decide when it arises. It can mean mechanization or over-production, loss of cultural value or externally-driven manufacture.

Diego Rinallo, marketing specialist: Why do many critics see heritage and commercialization as incompatible? In many contexts other than heritage (art or fine fashion for example), the market is considered a corrupting force or, at best, a necessary evil. Resistance to the market and economic considerations is a common theme, sometimes deployed by actors for promotional reasons. Some artists and fashion designers pretend they are ‘above’ the market, driven by their own creative power and vision rather than by mundane customer needs or demands. The representation of some products as ‘heritage’ or ‘art’ precisely because they are unsullied by the market is thereby itself a market strategy, justifying higher prices.

June Taboroff, heritage economics specialist: The broader economic context also affects what opportunities cultural entrepreneurs have. On the one hand, products need to be designed and presented to suit various markets, and they need to find appropriate channels to access those markets. Understanding the impact of government policies, and middlemen (those who make the link between producers and markets), is very helpful in determining how commercialization could lead to sustainable development and heritage safeguarding within communities. Distinguishing the different perspectives and interests in the market – academic/theoretical, government, producers, middle men/woman, consumers – will help us gain a full understanding of the commercial context and the role played by claims of authenticity in the market.

Diego Rinallo:I am involved as a marketing expert in the Alpfoodway project, working across six Alpine countries in Europe. That project aims to create a sustainable development model for peripheral mountain areas based on safeguarding and promoting food heritage, developing marketing and governance tools, and fostering transnational alpine identity.It supports ‘bottom-up’ mobilization processes based on engagement and empowerment of the local communities. This is very similar to the approach we are using in India, except the Indian project focuses on craft and performance heritage.In the Alps, I found that the problems people face are not only related to over-commercialization – some cultural heritage is under-commercialized, which may place it equally at risk of disappearing. We look at both aspects.

Figure 2: Team members debating in the Kolkata office of banglanatak dot com

Benedetta Ubertazzi, IP lawyer and intangible heritage specialist: I am working with Alpfoodway, and also as a practising attorney advising several ICH communities both in Italy and internationally on how to defend their ICH from misappropriations by using intellectual property rights.Many different IP rights can be used for protecting and promoting heritage-related products and services, including geographical indications and collective trademarks. Geographical indications can, for example, be used to protect the commercial use of names associated with foods or crafts associated with specific geographical areas. But their usefulness depends hugely on how the specification (the conditions for using the name) is drafted. You can’t just say that using geographical indications as a tool is good or bad, useful or not useful. So, it’s important to think about the interaction between heritage safeguarding and the chosen IP rights protection strategies.

Charlotte Waelde, IP law professor and Principal Investigator on the HIPAMS India team: Many critics worry about the impact of using intellectual property (IP) law in commercializing heritage, or protecting it against misappropriation, although we need to think very carefully what is meant by  misappropriation. IP law can help communities to control commercialization of their heritage better. This is not incompatible with respecting or protecting cultural practice: many IP rights can be communally owned, and need not ‘freeze’ or ‘propertize’ traditions, depending on how they are set up. IP rights do not always need to be enforced in a court of law to be used effectively. IP rights such as trademarks or copyright can assist in community-led management of their heritage, alongside contracts, ethical guidelines and other measures.

Harriet Deacon: To determine when IP or commercialization strategies are working well, and when they are not, maybe it’s time we had a more serious engagement with the idea of community-defined authenticity. Under the UNESCO Intangible Heritage Convention, the word ‘authenticity’ is hardly mentioned because of the worry that definitions of what is ‘real’ and ‘fake will be imposed on communities by external ‘experts’. This has led to the baby being thrown out with the bathwater. The communities who are stewards of their heritage supposedly have to identify what their ICH is, what value it has to them, and how to manage it. They should also be the ones to benefit from its use, according to ICH Convention’s Ethical Principles (2015). They are therefore effectively the ones who should decide at what point their heritage faces problems such as over-commercialization, misrepresentation or misappropriation, and under what conditions it retains ‘authenticity’ (in their view) as heritage.

Figure 3: Baul singer Rina Das Baul from Birbhum (photo: Charlotte Waelde)

Diego Rinallo: We can also discuss how ‘consumers’ of heritage products can be brought into the authenticity debate. Product authenticity is a very important concept in the marketing literature.We can use ‘consumer culture theory’ (CCT), to provide an anthropologically and sociologically-driven understanding of marketplace dynamics, entrepreneurship and collective approaches to branding.From a consumer culture perspective, consumers and other actors (retailers, the media, influencers, but also by extension ICH audiences) have a culture-producing role and can be considered co-creators of authenticity.

Charlotte Waelde: If we are to support a community-driven approach to managing the commercialization of their ICH, we also have to develop a more nuanced theory of ownership or heritage stewardship, which can inform IP rights strategies. How can individual and collective claims be balanced against each other?

Harriet Deacon: The academic literature on intangible heritage has rightly questioned the idea that homogeneous and united ‘communities’ simplistically ‘own’ their heritage,but raising concerns about misrepresentation, misappropriation and/or improper exploitation of ICH by the state or commercial entities implicitly suggests that some kind of ownership or stewardship claims are more valid than others. If some claims are valid, who should exercise them, and in what ways?

Figure 4: Chau musicians and dancers Anil Mahato and Jagannath Choudhuri from Purulia with other team members in Nimdih (photo: Charlotte Waelde)

Charlotte Waelde and Ananya Bhattacharya: Our team will explore these questions by co-developing HIPAMS with community stakeholders and practitioners of several different types of dance, music and painting traditions in West Bengal,India. We are working with patachitra scroll artists in Naya, Pingla, chau dancers and mask-makers in Purulia, and baul singers in Nadia District. More about these communities can be found on our project website.

This research project, Heritage Sensitive Intellectual Property and Marketing strategies: India (HIPAMS - INDIA), is funded by the British Academy's Sustainable Development Programme, supported under the UK Government's Global Challenges Research Fund 2018-2020.