Immateriellt kulturarv som begrepp och process: folkloristiska perspektiv på kulturarv i Finlands svenskbygder med folkmusik som exempel

Johanna Björkholm

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


Cultural heritage has become something of an in-word in recent times. Intangible cultural heritage, however, is a category that has received relatively little attention. This folkloristic study focuses on intangible cultural heritage as concept and as process. Folkloristics as a scholarly branch emphasizes non-material culture. Consequently, there is a big potential in bringing existing knowledge of folklore together with current scholarly theories concerning cultural heritage in order to expand the understanding of intangible cultural heritage.

In this thesis cultural heritage is regarded as a symbolic construct, which is spoken of and discussed in specific ways. The study of intangible cultural heritage (Swe. kulturarv) as concept focuses on this area. For a cultural component to be experienced as intangible cultural heritage it is, however, not enough to discuss it in those terms. Instead, cultural heritage status needs to be acted out during lengthy processes. This is demonstrated by the study of intangible cultural heritage as process. As a consequence performativity appears crucial to an understanding of cultural heritage – when a sufficient number of people speak and act as if a cultural component has a special status, it will also be perceived as cultural heritage.

In this dissertation intangible cultural heritage is studied through cultural analysis, more specifically through discourse analysis. The usage of the concept intangible cultural heritage within cultural organizations, in scholarly use and in the Swedish-speaking press in Finland is examined. Traditional music in the Swedish-speaking districts of Finland is used as a case study of intangible cultural heritage as process. The examination concerns how traditional music, an intangible cultural component, has been discussed, transformed, standardized and objectified in a cultural heritage process.

Cultural heritage is generally used as a token of value so that certain cultural components, both intangible and tangible, which are discussed in terms of cultural heritage are perceived to be valuable and should therefore be safeguarded. Intangible cultural heritage depends on performance, that is practitioners use their bodies to act out their traditional knowledge through song, handicraft, storytelling and so on. Intangible cultural components can be transmitted to other individuals in a performance situation, and they can also be documented. In Finland documentation and subsequent filing in archives have been associated with safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage. If the aim of safeguarding is to uphold traditional practices, which is the case for among others UNESCO’s programs aimed at intangible cultural heritage, other efforts are called for: forms of safeguarding that support performance and transmission.

Keywords: folkloristics, folklore studies, intangible cultural heritage, performativity, symbolic value, safeguarding, tradition, folklore, intangible culture, practical knowledge, performance, transmission, heritage process, selection, value ascription, demarcation, objectification, traditional music, Swedish-speaking Finns

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Print ISBNs978-951-765-588-0
Electronic ISBNs978-951-765-589-7
Publication statusPublished - 2011
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • Folklore
  • Intangible cultural heritage
  • the concept of culture

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