Reinventing Cultural Heritage

A joint international conference of the University of Tehran and the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS, Paris, Fr)

With the support of the Anthropological Society of Iran (ASI), Institute of Archeology (University of Tehran), Center for Tourism Studies (University of Tehran), Research Institute of Cultural Heritage and Tourism (Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Tourism),  and the French Institute for Research in Iran (IFRI)

9-10 October 2020

This international conference gathers a multidisciplinary team composed of anthropologists, historians, linguists, and archaeologists to study cultural heritage as an object through various methodological approaches and from case studies mainly, but not exclusively, questioning the Iranian domain. It is a scientific contribution in the MOU frame signed in November 2017 between the EHESS and the University of Tehran. This international conference's transdisciplinary approach will also seek the consideration of multiple scales, from local to global spectrum.  

Cultural Heritage as a collection of tangible and intangible objects is a category so familiar, so frequently used daily that it seems almost imminent. However, the cultural heritage awareness in the modern sense is a relatively recent invention, especially considering the age of some of its objects, such as the famous Kaluts of the Lut desert in Iran. The concern for safeguarding the past traces does not appear in France until the early nineteenth century. It is not a mere coincidence if this process is concomitant with the human sciences' institutionalization and, peculiarly, of the European ethnographic knowledge. This phenomenon is even more recent in Iran.

Far from being passive legacies of a collectivity ([ethnic] groups, nations, humanity) with an immediate substance, these ancestral legacies that belong to the fields of environment, art, monument, objects and/or traditional knowledge and know-how, are also subject to processes of symbolical detachment,  transmission, sharing, and appropriation (individual or collective) that are also rooting for identity construction. These steps have their basis on identification, legitimation, interpretation, and involvement, given their emotional charges. The most recent examples of these cultural heritage institution processes are undoubtedly the UNESCO lists of intangible cultural heritage. This type of heritage includes the living heritage that its experts are not restricted to the outsider scholars but extends to the very practitioners of these traditions. 

This "patrimonial" turning point invites to question further the making processes of cultural heritage. The field appears abyssal: from the monument to its indigenous and/or global exegeses, going through the renewal of its techniques, categories, and objects. Facing this overload of viewpoints, we decided to narrow the focus on three main questions at the core of the contemporary topic of cultural heritage reinventions.

As pointed out by Daniel Fabre, understanding the contemporary modes of attribution of a cultural value requires interrogating the past. That is the dialectical relationship between historical evidence (scriptural, monuments; objects; traditional know-how) and contemporary valorization? Another question will be about the impact of the development of new technologies (geophysical prospection, drones, and so on) on the contemporary valorization of the cultural heritage? How do UNESCO's global policies contribute to these new cultural heritage renewals, and what is their impact?

In order to answer these questions, this international conference is organized according to the following three axes as follow.

1-Cultural Heritage and History: ambiguous relationships?

Within this axis framework, the often ambiguous relationships between cultural heritage and its historical mediums will be analyzed. How can the analysis of the historical and /or archaeological sources available reshape the understanding of a patrimonial object, that is, the exegesis that has usually been associated with it? What are, in return, the effects of such a retrospection on the phenomena of identifying as cultural heritage?

2-New technologies, new cultural heritage?

This axis will examine how the development of new technologies allows professionals (archaeologists, historians, and anthropologists) to rethink the apprehension of cultural heritage, from a methodological viewpoint and its understanding. In the last instance, the aporia inherent to the researcher's positionality will be questioned: readily shaped in today's world as a hyper-scientist, this position remains dependent on technologies in perpetual evolutions as well as the multiple imaginaries on the contribution of these technologies.

3- Patrimonial quests? Between UNESCO's policies and local cultural heritages: varied effects

How do UNESCO's global policies reinvent the logic of cultural heritage awareness at the national and local levels? From an analysis mainly focused on the Iranian field that will be examined against other examples, we will seek to grasp the dialectic between these different scales.

Conference Committee

  • General Chair: Emilia Nercissians (Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Tehran)
  • Chairs of Academic Board:
  • Claudine Gauthier (Professor in Anthropology, IIAC-LAHIC (EHESS)/University of Bordeaux
  • Mehrdad Arabestani (Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Tehran, President of Anthropological Society of Iran),

Academic Board (In alphabetical order)

  • Pooya ALAEDINI (Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Tehran)
  • Mostafa DEHPAHLAVAN (Archeologist, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Literature and Humanities, University of Tehran)
  • Sébastien GONDET (UMR 5133Archéorient, Univ Lyon, CNRS/Lyon 2 University)
  • Alireza HASANZADEH (Anthropologist; Research Institute of Cultural Heritage & Tourism, Tehran)
  • Sepideh PARSAPAJOUH (Anthropologist; CNRS CR, CéSor; EHESS, Paris)
  • Fabrizio SPEZIALE (Professor at the EHESS, CEIAS)
  • Hamed VAHDATI NASAB (Associate Professor, Tabriat Modars University)

Publication and medium

 The proceedings of the international conference will be published at Brepols (Turnhout, BE). The medium of the conference is English.


Fariba Seddighi (

Mehrdad Arabestani (


Mehrdad Arabestani

Chair of Academic Board

Reinventing Cultural Heritage International Conference