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Social media and whirling dervishes: Countering UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage

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Since 2003, UNESCO has officially safeguarded intangible heritage through the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. Since 2005, individual, communities and institutions including UNESCO have been uploading videos of intangible heritage on YouTube, transforming this video-hosting service into a colossal user-generated archive of heritage. YouTube is not only an archive but also a living archive of intangible heritage: collections of intangible heritage are being continuously created by users, enabling this video-hosting service to capture and store diverse practices in their lived context. Through the case study of the Mevlevi Sema ceremony of Turkey, this study argues that the participatory nature of YouTube that captures intangible heritage in its lived context has the potential to disseminate heritage narratives that counter the gendered narratives put forward by nations states through UNESCO. The methodology of this research is interdisciplinary, combining performance studies, critical heritage studies, gender studies and social media with historical and contemporary research on the Mevlevi Sema ceremony. Theoretical and historical approaches are interconnected with an ethnography of a Sufi community in Istanbul and analyses of YouTube videos.
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Keywords: Mevlevi Sufism; UNESCO; YouTube; gender; intangible heritage; whirling dervish

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Saint Paul University

Publication date: May 1, 2015

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  • merging from an international network project funded by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economics and Social Research Council, and research collaboration between academics and practitioners, Performing Islam is the first peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal about Islam and performance and their related aesthetics. It focuses on socio-cultural as well as the historical and political contexts of artistic practices in the Muslim world. The journal covers dance, ritual, theatre, performing arts, visual arts and cultures, and popular entertainment in Islam-influenced societies and their diasporas. It promotes insightful research of performative expressions of Islam by performers and publics, and encompasses theoretical debates, empirical studies, postgraduate research, interviews with performers, research notes and queries, and reviews of books, conferences, festivals, events and performances.
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