Cultural Mapping and Musical Diversity - Britta Sweers

Cultural Mapping and Musical Diversity - Britta Sweers

14. Questioning Safeguarding: Heritage and Capabilities at Jemaa el Fnaa Square, Morocco

Cultural Mapping and Musical Diversity - Britta Sweers

Tom Beardslee [+-]
Independent Scholar
Thomas Beardslee, Ph.D., is a professional musician and music teacher living in Brussels, Belgium. His current professional and research interests concern practical applications of his doctoral research on the Sen/ Nussbaum capabilities approach, including music and capabilities in refugee populations. He also performs regularly on guitar, pedal steel, oud, and banjo throughout Belgium and elsewhere in Europe.


Since the Declaration of Masterpieces and the highly successful 2003 Convention, the UNESCO paradigms of Intangible Cultural Heritage and safeguarding have become influential concepts in international, national, and local cultural policy. However, as is argued here, this concept of safeguarding attempts to impose onto the flow of human activity a way of thinking better suited to physical sites: culture as a static edifice that is under threat of erosion, with safeguarding as a process of ‘shoring up’. This results in an awkward fit of both theory and practice that leads to projects with unattainable goals, poorly-directed resources, and limited benefits for their intended recipients. This chapter is based on a year of fieldwork research conducted with the open-air performers at Jemaa el Fnaa Square in Marrakech, Morocco. The Square was in many ways the genesis of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage project, and serves as a useful case study with which to discuss the effects (or lack thereof) of the safeguarding approach on a community ofperformers. This case study will be used to problematize the concepts of heritage and safeguarding, while proposing Amartya Sen's/ Martha Nussbaum's capabilities approach as an alternative framework for actions relating to cultural heritage, intangible or otherwise. The capabilities approach seeks ways of enhancing the possible range of choices and abilities of individuals and communities, privileging this over the prescribing of particular activities. This approach is well-suited to projects relating to culture, which is a fluid and dynamic process resistant to static, prescriptive notions of ‘heritage.’ The chapter hereby also discusses ways in which using the idea of capabilities as a starting point could result in more effective action, meeting both the capabilities deficits of individuals and many of the hopes of those wanting to see their traditions continue.

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Beardslee, Tom. 14. Questioning Safeguarding: Heritage and Capabilities at Jemaa el Fnaa Square, Morocco. Cultural Mapping and Musical Diversity. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 279-299 Feb 2020. ISBN 9781781797594. Date accessed: 08 Jul 2020 doi: 10.1558/equinox.35839. Feb 2020

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