The notion of community in ICH

The intangible cultural heritage, as defined by the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, is closely linked to the notion of the community, of the groups or even of the individuals who practice, perform, recreate and transmit the intangible cultural heritage from generation to generation.

The 2003 Convention avoids a further definition of the community. In order to understand the term “community” within the framework of the Convention, we will attempt to clarify the following points:

The community is not determined by its size: there are cases of elements of intangible cultural heritage that are practiced by the entire local community. In other cases, the community consists of only the people that practice a particular traditional art or technique (eg. The actors of the Shadow theatre “Karagiozis”). There are also cases of communities with a very limited number of members, while the Convention provides the possibility that the bearer of an intangible cultural heritage element could even be only one person.

Some communities are part of a more stable and organized framework than others. For example, mastic producers in Chios are members of both primary unions (per mastic village) and also of the Chios Mastiha Producers Union. This is not the case though with wooden shipbuilding workers who do not have a professional organization.

We can all be members of more than one communities of intangible cultural heritage. Members of a community of bearers of an element of ICH often have distinct roles in performing an intangible cultural practice. Also, their roles within the community can change over the course of their lives. For example, young members of a community are trained or involved as students in the practice of an element of the ICH, while when they get older they themselves become teachers for the younger generations.

An important parameter for understanding the concept of community in relation to the intangible cultural heritage is that the latter “provides a sense of identity and continuity” (Article 2, par. 1), creating a collective sense of belonging.

Finally, communities of bearers of ICH must be actively involved in planning and implementing policies to safeguard and promote their intangible cultural heritage, in cooperation with the administration authorities and special scientists.