Monday, January 18, 2010

Ethnography, documentation, colonialism and sustainability

When is heritage management in service of sustainability colonialist? Ethnographic research produces cultural knowledge which becomes the basis for heritage management in service to music's sustainability. So, for example, folk festivals are based in fieldwork documentation which is fit into theoretical models of folk, tradition, authenticity, and so forth, and the documentation surrounds the re-presentation of the folk artists in the festival setting, giving it the authority of the cultural specialist's gaze.

Documentation of music in its cultural setting (not far removed from "collecting") requires such skills as detail-orientation, the ability to organize and then to classify, discriminatory ability (genuine rather than spurious, relevant rather than irrelevant, authentic instead of inauthentic), taste, judgment, "critical thinking," people skills, and technology skills. Unsettlingly, but not surprisingly, these are the same skills needed for heritage management; indeed, for bureaucratic management generally. Unsettlingly, insofar as the bureaucratic state based on ethnographic information creates the conditions of colonialism; and if management by cultural heritage workers is akin to colonialism, what is sustained is not a musical culture but a colony.