ICH Requires a Macro-perspective Approach Focusing on Communities and Education

Prof. Seo Yeon-ho giving a lecture on ICH and civic life ⓒ ICHCAP

Ferdinand Tönnies (1855-1936), a German sociologist known for his 1887 book Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (Community and Society), expressed concerns that communities characterized by close personal interactions and solidarity were giving way to societies characterized by indirect, impersonal interactions to pursue profit alone. These concerns paradoxically awaken the significance of “community,” a keyword in intangible heritage discourse. Living traditions drive creativity and emphasize the importance that communities play in creating new traditions. Now as multiculturalism and demands for open societies have been spreading around the globe along with the development of cutting-edge technologies, the argument that community-based, future-oriented education is critical in sustaining the development of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) is gaining acceptance.

In this context, Yeon-ho Seo, an honorary professor at Korea University (Intangible Cultural Properties Committee President of the Republic of Korea), stressed that “ICH urgently requires a macro-perspective approach focusing on communities and education” during a special lecture at ICHCAP on 12 June. The lecture was on ICH and Civic Life, the theme of the 2019 World Forum for ICH to develop agenda items for the global forum to be held in October 2019. Members of ICHCAP and the Jeonju Cultural Foundation participated  in the lecture.

Professor Seo said, “It is time to shift from a micro-perspective that considers only tradition and the present to a macro-perspective that will let us move on to the future” while pointing out that cultural research, policies, and fields of performing arts in Korea are still confined to legal institutions, specific elements, and individual disciplines. He continued, “For ICH just as culturology, a universal macro-perspective is an important path that will connect the future and creativity. In culturology in Korea, there is little research on coexistent social interactions. Countries in Asia also need to stop talking only about themselves and focus more on the universality of Asia.”

He explained the concept of ICH communities based on cultural acts “practiced jointly by the subject (bearers, educators, etc.) and the object (learners, participants, etc.) in a certain space.” In the past, laws on cultural properties in Korea had a narrow view of ICH by focusing on designating ICH holders. After legal revisions, however, arirang and kimchi were registered on the ICH list without any designated holder. As such, it is desirable to have a holistic view of ICH. He added that “There are a number of pungmul (folk music tradition) groups in the Jeonbuk region alone. Middle-aged women are participating in pungmul classes operated by village or community centers. During the Gangneung Danoje Festival this year, nine nongak (farmers’ music) groups of local residents and children presented amazing performances. We need to pay attention to living ICH around us, rather than focusing only on ICH holders.”

Professor Seo argued for more cooperation among government agencies as well as interdisciplinary approaches in ICH education. He said that “The great creativity of ICH lies on the continuous development and recreation of original forms of ICH. As creativity in performing arts can be realized through a combination and collaboration of theatre, dance, and music, ICH education requires cooperation among education and culture ministries, Cultural Heritage Administration, and arts universities.” He added that “As Korea is also becoming a multicultural society, we need to reflect on open society and cultural sharing and to see how different communities can coexist. Furthermore, humanities and culture need to keep pace with changes in our lives, such as artificial intelligence.