Beyond Binarism: Exploring a Model of Living Cultural Heritage for Dance

Valeria Symonds, David H. K Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Citations (SciVal)


This essay, inspired by the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, explores meanings and definitions of the term ‘cultural heritage’ as it may be applied to dance. UNESCO’s effort to include many different types of human expressions in its lists is commendable and an important attempt to safeguard the aspects of the world’s cultural heritage. However, the binary oppositions of ‘tangible’/’intangible’, frequently used to describe material and immaterial elements of culture and heritage create a false dichotomy. This label is particularly problematic for dance, given its complex, multi-dimensional nature in which intangible and tangible elements are indissolubly linked. Instead, we suggest an alternative perspective of ‘living cultural heritage’ which is informed by three post-dualist conceptions contained within Giddens’ Structuration theory (structure-agency), Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology (mind-body) and Bourdieu’s theory of cultural practice (field-practice-habitus). This essay introduces the idea of a living cultural heritage by using the above post-dualist concepts as a stepping stone towards a more inclusive and fluid model of heritage. In this model, the cultural, embodied, practical, spatial, temporal and artefactual elements of cultural heritage are retained as each contributes to an emergent process of exchange and dialogue resulting in cultural heritage.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-105
JournalDance Research
Issue number1
Early online dateApr 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2016


  • Body
  • Dance
  • intangible cultural heritage
  • Cultural Heritage
  • dualism
  • duality


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