Mexico to Bethlehem: UNESCO Between Two Eras of Global Cultural Governance

May 7, 2015 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Harris School of Public Policy, Room 289B
1155 E. 60th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637

Acting on an application from the Palestinian Authority, UNESCO recently designated the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem a World Heritage site, a move that amounted to a de facto recognition of the Authority as a sovereign state. In response, the United States, which has traditionally withheld such recognition pending a peace deal, withdrew from UNESCO for the second time in the agency’s history and, also for the second time, withheld its funding, which accounts for a quarter of UNESCO’s income. Kowalski's paper compares this episode with the first time the organization saw itself defunded by its wealthiest contributor. That occurred in 1984 after State members had collectively denounced what they described as US hegemony.

While the two events are similar and illustrate UNESCO’s recurrent function as an alternative political platform for relatively powerless nations, their comparison reveals important shifts in the organization’s operational mode, its political role, its economic function, as well as in the global context, which has seen sweeping changes in the meaning and economy of culture itself. The paper describes the change in paradigms of cultural governance that is revealed by this comparison--a shift from cultural politics to heritage policy--and assesses its impact on the place of culture in international relations. 

Alexandra Kowalski is a Fung Global Fellow at Princeton University (Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies) and teaches social theory, political sociology, cultural sociology and heritage studies at the Central European University in Budapest. Her work deals with the modern history of cultural institutions, especially "heritage". She has also published about the comparative study of sexuality and subjectivity and key theoretical concepts in the social sciences such as culture, practice, and power. 

This event is co-sponsored by The Past for Sale: New Approaches to the Study of Archaeological Looting, a project of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society.

Free and open to the public. No RSVP necessary. Lunch will be served.