Living Cultural Heritage

Cultural heritage model

The critique of the tangible/intangible divide, the sensitizing concepts evinced from the dance and heritage literature, the questions emerging from them, and the post-dualist sociological and philosophical theories analyzed in this chapter, have led me to the idea of ‘Living Cultural Heritage’, defined as heritage:

Embodied by individuals, in connection with the artifacts they produce and use and the environment they interact with and as expressed through practices, activities, and performances.

Living cultural heritage is also constituted by socially and culturally influenced traditions and conventions, as well as by the feelings and emotions of people and the way they relate to this heritage, including taste and perceptions.

Heritage and human beings are indissolubly connected and continuously shape each other in an open-ended fluid dialogue.

Lo Iacono & Brown (2016, pg.100)

The expression ‘living heritage’, or at least the idea that heritage is alive, is not new.

For instance, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (2004, p. 53) already mentioned the fact that intangible heritage is alive and Logan (2012, p. 236) states that intangible heritage is embodied and living.

Moreover, according to Isar, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) in 2005 (with the Charter for the Conservation of Unprotected Architectural Heritage and Sites) developed a notion of ‘living heritage’.

The concept was based on a dynamic relationship between tangible and intangible elements in architectural heritage. Isar (2011, p. 49) reports that ‘all monuments, sites, and artifacts embody intangible components such as spiritual values, symbols, and meanings, together with the knowledge and the know-how of craftsmanship and construction. . . . The intangible is embedded within the tangible’.

However, the definition of living heritage in this thesis has been specifically built from a dance studies perspective and is primarily aimed at dance/heritage.

Nevertheless, it could potentially be applied to other physical cultures and other forms of heritage too. Moreover, this definition is a systematic attempt to create a holistic model of living heritage.

Model of Living Heritage

Model of (in/Tangible) living cultural heritage by Dr Valeria Lo Iacono and Dr David HK Brown

Figure 5 – Model of (in/Tangible) living cultural heritage (Lo Iacono and Brown, p. 101)

Introducing the Model

Figure 5 above illustrates the concept of living heritage as influenced by the three post-dualist theories of Merleau-Ponty, Bourdieu, and Giddens.

The way this model is applied to dance is based on Adshead’s (1988) model of dance analysis, which relies on four elements: dancers, movements, visual settings, and aural elements.

The model of dance as living heritage includes these elements and expands on them.

The figure is composed by three ovals (representing the flow of engagement with rules and resources, practice and habitus, perceptual habit respectively), drawn as one on top of the other for ease of representation, but in effect, the three ovals intermingle.

This connection is represented by the vertical dotted lines. Within each oval, the tangible elements are on the right, the intangibles on the left, and the performance (when dance takes place) is in the middle.

With performance, I refer to any instance in which dance takes place, including social dance, stage performance, classes, and dance videos.

Even though tangible and intangible elements and performance are separate in these ovals, this is only for clarity of representation. They are instead interconnected, influencing each other.

The dotted circles represent this connection or reflexivity. The arrows on the dotted lines represent movement, signifying that all these elements interact dynamically and also that they are transmitted in time and space and change accordingly.

Top Oval: Duality of Agency and Structures

The top-level represents the duality of agency and structures, inspired by Giddens’ Structuration Theory.

The tangible elements on the right are embodied individuals involved in dance and material artifacts.

These include costumes, props, musical instruments, and documentation of dance, such as DVDs, notation sheets or videotapes, and the instruments associated with them, such as cameras and technological tools.

On the left, the intangibles are knowledge, traditions, skills (movement vocabulary, choreography, for instance). Both the tangible artifacts and the intangible elements can serve as rules and resources, which individuals are constrained and/or empowered by.

The performance, in the middle, is the outcome of action using rules and resources. Individuals have the agency to innovate and be creative using resources, which are part of structures.

Middle Oval: (Duality of Subjectivity and Objectivity through Practice)

The second oval (middle level) represents the duality of subjectivity and objectivity through practice, inspired by Bourdieu’s theory of practice.

On the right, there are embodied agents (in this case, dancers, choreographers, and audience), who are players in the field, and the performance environment.

On the left, the intangible elements are legitimized and valued dance movements, conventions, and taste, seen as forms of capital used in the field.

In the middle, performance (production, execution, and appreciation) is a type of practice that structures and is structured by habitus.

Bottom Oval: Duality of Body and Mind

The bottom oval is based on the duality of body and mind, inspired by Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology.

The elements on the right are the tangibles: embodied people involved in dance performances (dancers, choreographers, audience (see footnotes) and aural, spatial, and visual settings (for example, sound, the physical place where the dance happens, light).

On the left, there are the intangible elements which, for dance, are movements, kinaesthetic empathy, and feelings and emotions. These are connected by the perception of dance during performance and the perceptual acquisition of dance through habit.

Embodied Agents/Actors

From this living heritage model, it emerges that people (as embodied agents/actors) are central.

They are central not only because the human body is central to dance, but also because, as embodied individuals, they have skills (which they learn through culturally and historically rooted, embodied habit and habitus); knowledge of traditions; emotions, and perceptions; they can use tools and artifacts and they have agency.

People are also central as part of a society and community in the way they interact, sometimes competing to increase their own (or their group’s) capital in the field (this can explain why heritage can be dissonant, as different interests in the field of heritage clash).

The relationship between people as embodied agents/actors and culture (in the form of knowledge, taste, skills, traditions) can also explain why heritage is crucial in giving people a sense of identity.

This relationship also explains why uses of heritage (at the level of individuals, communities or societies) are so important in heritage conservation, as people need motivations to recognize something as heritage and protect it.

This model of heritage, which includes traditions and conventions, as well as emotions and individuality, fits with the idea of the two levels of authenticity, mentioned in 2.5, where one level is connected to forms and conventions and the other level is shaped by individuals’ feelings and intentions.

Dialogical Paradigm of Heritage

The living heritage model fits within a dialogical paradigm of heritage, in which people continuously renegotiate heritage and breathe new life into it.

This is a model open to change on different levels:

  • from the phenomenological level of creating new habits, by enlarging one’s own body schema
  • to the level of practice, in which social agents reproduce historically rooted habitus through their actions which, however, can change the rules of the game in order to advance their own positions in the field and increase capital
  • to the level of individuals who can be creative and change traditions through the resources they are allocated.

Regarding transmission, this model acknowledges that heritage is transmitted through the body, because of habitus and practice, in a fluid way that permits changes.

However, transmission can be de-temporalized and does not have to follow a straight and uninterrupted line, because artifacts (through recording technology and devices) can document the performances of a dance genre.

If then, for one or more generations, the dance is not practiced because the current social environment is not conducive to it being valued and used, future generations can re-discover it and re-enact it, in a process akin to what Elliott (2013) would call reinvention.

Resulting changes in the dance are accommodated in a dialogical paradigm of heritage.

Transmission in this model is also de-territorialized because heritage is not connected to geographical locations, but to people, who can be mobile, as discussed in 2.6.


1 – Beyond audiences, others may also be involved at other points, in the process of safeguarding the heritage aspect of dance.

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