While the UNESCO World Heritage Convention is a huge publicity success, and a World Heritage title often works miracles for redirecting prestige, tourists, and cash flows, critics deplore the increasing “politicization” of the World Heritage Committee, whose decisions tend to be dominated by diplomatic deal-making in favor of national interests rather than expert advice. Based on ethnographic fieldwork at World Heritage Committee meetings, this article argues that, more than heretofore acknowledged, this trend is because the World Heritage arena has embraced an anthropological notion of culture but has done so only half-heartedly. The broad and non-elitist conception of cultural heritage approved in the 1990s has spread and had lasting influence on World Heritage List inscriptions. Yet, at the same time, conventional conceptions of heritage remained in place, and European sites continued to dominate most heritage categories, old and new. The ambivalence and frustration created led to rebellion by strong states of the Global South, and after several years of turmoil, nation-states have now settled on respecting each other’s wishes. However, Eurocentrism prevails in many overt and covert ways. As with other UNESCO initiatives concerning culture, the deliberate turn to an anthropological notion was merely additive and did not question the conventional elitist notion of the term, leaving the established expert communities and their perspectives in command. Debate about the uses and abuses of the culture concept should take into account “culture chaos,” that is, the parallel use of contradictory referents of culture, in many contemporary settings.


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pp. 1203-1233
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