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Out of the Glass Case: The Social Life of Urban Heritage in Kyoto

Out of the Glass Case: The Social Life of Urban Heritage in Kyoto

Colloquium with Christoph Brumann, anthropology, University of Cologne

Monday, November 24, 2008
3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Faculty Center
Hacienda Room
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Recent literature tends to assume that the uses of traditions and heritage in modern societies to the falsification, petrification, desubstantiation, and delimitation of the things and practices so designated. Yet two traditions of Japan's ancient capital Kyoto – the historic town houses (kyô-machiya) that have found a new appreciation since the 1990s and the Gion matsuri, one of the most famous festivals of the nation – contradict these assumptions. Their well-documented histories are not widely distorted, they are not forever fixed but allowed to evolve, they are valued not only for their traditionality but also for other, substantive qualities, and their appreciation is not dominated by a concern for social boundaries. The urban, relatively sophisticated and cosmopolitan background of both traditions does play an important role here, but greater attention to the perspectives of the carriers of the traditions will very likely show that the social uses of other traditions too are more complex than the standard assumptions make us believe.

Christoph Brumann is a Heisenberg Fellow of the German Research Foundation (DFG) based at the University of Cologne where he also obtained his doctorate (1997) and habilitation (2005) in cultural anthropology. From 2009, he will be an associate professor at the National University of Singapore. After finishing ethnographic field research about the conflicts around the townscape and public heritage of Kyoto about which he has also extensively published, he is now conducting an ethnographic study of UNESCO World Heritage as a transnational institution.

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