Between Preservation and Erasure

Marae of the National Museum of New Zealand

Intangible Heritage and the Museum

Community Festival, Horniman Museum, February 2008

In the last decades perceptions of museums and their roles in society have changed. What has typically been projected as a static palace of collections embedded in the consolidation of European nation states and the colonial project is increasingly negotiated as a forum or a theatre; a dynamic public space of intellectual encounters and debate.

Coupled with the above and much in the context of postcolonial and postmodern thinking is the idea that museums are not just repositories of material culture, but also social and political arenas addressing issues of identity politics, inclusion and participation.

The 'Glass Wall' of the Quai Branly Museum featuring images of cultural difference and dialogue

This research project investigates the relationship between museums and what has been labelled as intangible heritage. It examines the rise of intangible heritage within the global sphere of UN cultural policy and explores its implications in terms of international politics, but also with regards to museological practice and critical theory.

The shift from tangible to intangible reveals a more humanistic conceptualisation of cultural heritage and places notions of performance, embodied cultural transmission and immateriality at the heart of heritage and museological thought. On the other hand, however, the construction of intangible heritage within the institutional discourse of international politics is filled with gaps and controversies bound up with issues of invented traditions and cultural stagnation.

Outdoor space for purification ceremonies, National Museum of the American Indian, Maryland

Taking forward these debates in a more grounded ethnographic approach, the research further examines intangible heritage in the local complexities of museum and heritage-work in Oceania, the Americas and Europe.

The aim is twofold: firstly, to explore the negotiations and implications of intangible heritage on the ground, in contemporary North and South museum practice; secondly, to problematise intangible heritage within the dialogue on cultural preservation informing debates in critical heritage and museum studies.

Related outputs

  • Alivizatou, M. (forthcoming 2011) Intangible Heritage and Erasure: Rethinking Cultural Preservation and Contemporary Museum Practice, International Journal of Cultural Property.
  • Alivizatou, M. (forthcoming) Debating Heritage Authenticity:Kastom and Development at the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, International Journal of Heritage Studies.
  • Alivizatou, M. (forthcoming). The Paradoxes of Intangible Heritage. In: Davis, P. et al. (eds.) Touching the Intangible. Heritage Matters Series. London: Boydell & Brewer.
  • Αλιβιζάτου, M. 2010. Μουσείο και Άυλη Κληρονομιά: Μαθήματα από τον Νοτιο-Δυτικό Ειρηνικό, Τετράδια Μουσειολογίας 7: 30-7.
  • Alivizatou, M. 2010. Intangible Heritage: Dying Folklore or Contemporary Identities? In: Lira, S. and Amoeda, R. (eds.) Constructing Intangible Heritage. Barcelos; Po: Green Lines Institute for Sustainable Development.
  • Alivizatou, M. 2010. Intangible Heritage and the Performance of Identity. In: Jackson, A. and Kidd, J. (eds) Performing Heritage. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Alivizatou, M. The politics of ‘arts premiers’: Some thoughts on the Musée du Quai Branly, Museological Review 13: 44-56.
  • Alivizatou, M. 2008. Contextualising Intangible Heritage in Heritage Studies and Museology, International Journal of Intangible Heritage 3: 44-54.
  • Alivizatou, M. 2007. Intangible Cultural Heritage: A New Universal Museological Discourse? Humankind 3: 41-50.
  • Alivizatou, M. 2007. The UNESCO Programme for the Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, Journal of Museum Ethnography 19: 34-42.


  • Scholarships Foundation of Greece
  • UCL Graduate School
  • UCL Institute of Archaeology
  • University of London Central Research Fund

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