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Heritage studies and the missing body in theory.

Embodiment, the Body and Heritage

In the previous section, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (2004, p. 53) was quoted as suggesting that the model of ICH accords value to the carriers of oral traditions, to their ‘habitus and habit’ and that intangible heritage is alive.

This is an important point, but the carriers are also individuals who have/are bodies. Ruggles and Silverman (2009, p. 11) argue that:

Place and performance are bound together through the human body . . . The dramatic shift in values implied in the Intangible Heritage Convention . . . represents a radical paradigm shift from the objective nature of material culture to the subjective experience of the human being.

Ruggles and Silverman (2009)

Safeguarding ICH and Maintaining Cultural Diversity

In addition to Skounti (2008) and Ruggles and Silverman (2009), Logan (2007, p. 33) (investigating the links between safeguarding ICH, maintaining cultural diversity and enforcing human rights) opines that intangible heritage is:

‘embodied in people rather than in inanimate objects’ and that ‘managing intangible heritage . . . we are dealing with embodied and living heritage’.

Logan (2012, p.236)

Graeff (2014, p. 12) also draws attention to the body in ICH, with regards to music, by pointing out that, ‘even if material objects like musical instruments, scores and recordings may be essential components of musical traditions . . . learning an instrument and a musical practice always implies the use of the body’.

Graeff (ibid.) posits that musical repertoires can be archived within bodies, even when there are no external records and this is particularly true for ‘Afro-Brazilian traditions, which having been violently oppressed on the one hand, and scarcely documented on the other, did not cease to live and to be transmitted’.

Embracing Cultural Embodiment and Body-Mind Unity

The field of dance, instead, embraces cultural embodiment and body-mind unity. In 2.3 (dance study approach), I mentioned Novack (1988) and her embodied approach to the study of dance in relation to culture.

Since the late 1980s, the dance field has been engaging more and more with sociological theories of embodiment (Daly, 1991; Kapchan, 1994; Reed, 1998; Buckland, 2001; Giurchescu, 2001; Sklar, 2001; Thomas, 2003, 2013; David, 2012; Fensham and Kelada, 2012b; Stock, 2012).

Indeed, in dance, the body becomes a carrier of cultural heritage in a tangible way.

As Buckland (2001, p. 1) argues, dance ‘has a particular propensity to foreground cultural memory as embodied practice by virtue of its predominantly somatic modes of transmission’.

Grau (2007, p. 193) posits:

Cultures and histories are embodied in all of our activities. . . . These in-corporations of world-views are often incarnated in a more “distilled” way in the extra-ordinary activities of dancers and other movement specialists.

Grau (2007)

Giurchescu (2001) argues that dancers can never be separated from their socio-cultural background, which is interlocked with the individual’s physical and mental features.

She observes that dance is cultural and it is alive in the body of the performer, ‘as a psychosomatic entity, the dancer is the “soul and body” of dance’ (2001, p. 109).

The centrality of the body in dance.
The body of course is central to dance but it is not always obvious in heritage theory.

Audiences, Choreographers and Dance Production

Audiences, choreographers and other people involved in the production and fruition of dance also experience it in an embodied and culturally influenced way, with their senses, as argued by Reason and Reynolds (2010).

These senses include the kinaesthetic sense and the kinaesthetic empathy that an observer feels by looking at movement.

Indeed, there is a scientific basis to these assertions, as the neuroscientist, Damasio posits (2012, p. 103), ‘mirror neurons are . . . the ultimate as-if body device . . . the simulation, in the brain’s body maps, of a body state that is not actually taking place in the organism’.

In the following sections, I will build the conceptual framework of holistic dance/heritage, by turning to the theories of Merleau-Ponty, Bourdieu and Giddens.

These will give me the theoretical tools to gradually integrate all the tangible and intangible elements of heritage into a fluid, comprehensive model, in which material and immaterial elements interact.

Replacing Dualism With Post-Dualist Duality

The first step to achieve this is to ‘replace the dualism (two divided and distinct entities) of tangible vs intangible with the post-dualist idea of duality (a unity of two divergent aspects of the same reality)’ (Lo Iacono and Brown, 2016, p. 88).

The concept of duality is borrowed from Giddens’ Structuration Theory, in which social structures and individual agency are combined to form a duality.

The first dualism that will need overcoming is that of mind and body, as the body is the main channel through which material and immaterial life interact.

As Shilling (2005, p. 11) posits, in sociology, the body is ‘a source of, a location for and a means by which individuals are oriented towards society’.

For Shilling, drawing on his analysis of Simmel, Marx and Durkheim, the body is a source of society because the body creates:

  • social life
  • a location because society expresses itself on people’s bodies (for example, the way they move and dress)
  • a means because the body is a medium through which individuals interact with society and position themselves within it, either in accordance with or in opposition to it.

Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology will be the first theoretical tool that will help me to overcome the tangible/intangible dualism by means of a holistic view of mind and body, linked through habit.

Next Page >> Using Merleau-Ponty and phenomenology for heritage studies.

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Hi - I'm Dr Valeria Lo Iacono and I am a dance researcher with a PhD in dance as a form of living heritage. I also teach belly dance and love to travel to discover new dances around the world. I have worked also as an academic and in the UK and in Korea. Thank you for visiting my site.