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Creating Heritage Elites: The Language of Rights and the Practice of Privileges in an Afro-Descendant Community in Colombia

Date and Time: 
Thursday, February 12, 2015. 05:00 PM - 06:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Building 500, Room 106
Workshop: 
Archaeological Histories and Futures
Meeting Description: 
About the speaker:
Maria Fernanda Escallón is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University. Her work examines the consequences of heritage declarations and draws attention to the political and economic marginalization of minority groups that occurs as a result of recognition. Her dissertation evaluates whether heritage proclamations are useful instruments to attend to broader issues of economic inequality, territorial rights, and political participation for descendant groups. Maria holds a BA in Anthropology and a MA in Archaeology from the Universidad de Los Andes, Colombia. She has worked in sustainable development and heritage policy-making for non-governmental organizations and Colombian public entities, including the Ministry of Culture and the District Secretary of Culture and Tourism.
 
Meeting description:
The town of San Basilio de Palenque, in Colombia, was proclaimed “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” (ICHH) by UNESCO in 2005. In this talk, I present how rights discourse has been appropriated by intellectual elites in this Afro-descendant town to solidify social, symbolic, and political distinctions. Following the proclamation of its “cultural space” as ICHH, local rights rhetoric in San Basilio de Palenque has operated as a marker of status and class that has helped define a new kind of political subject, ethnic citizen, and heritage entrepreneur. I argue that rights discourse has become a valued resource for local elites that has further entrenched social exclusion and forged new forms of inequality between Palenqueros. Indeed, entrenchment of difference and the creation of elitism are evidence of heritage’s limitation to foster inclusiveness and equality. I underline the irony of this situation, whereby a theoretically liberating discourse on rights and equality is used on the ground to create divisions and reinforce status differentiation. I call attention to the language of rights, benefits, and entitlements used by Palenqueros today, and trace the way in which elites justify their current privileges as earned rights for their work on Palenque’s ICHH nomination. Given the increasing attention that rights rhetoric receives in current heritage scholarship, and the rising levels of inequality worldwide, it is timely to examine ethnographically how heritage-based rights talk may be used locally as an element of segregation and elitism.

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