Pizza Talk: María Fernanda Escallón

Event Date: 

Friday, March 4, 2016 - 3:30pm to 4:30pm

Event Location: 

  • HSSB 2001A

The Paradox of Recognition: Rights, Inequality, and Afro-Colombian Heritage

The town of San Basilio de Palenque (Colombia) was proclaimed as “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO in 2005. This talk examines how the declaration helped consolidate political and economic inequality within this Afro-descendant town. I focus on the emergence of local intellectual elites and show how they use the language of heritage-based rights to justify their current status. Although Colombian bureaucrats consider heritage nominations as vehicles for integration of Afro-descendants, I show how on the ground, the declaration exacerbated elitism, exclusion, and economic inequity. This talk questions the underlying premise that recognizing cultural heritage as a means to celebrate ethnic diversity is inherently positive. Ultimately, my findings challenge common assumptions held by UNESCO delegates and heritage scholars who believe that heritage declarations bring political visibility to Afro-descendants and provide an alternative for claiming their historical reparation.


Maria Fernanda Escallón is a PhD candidate and dissertation writer in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University. This academic year she is also a Fellow at the Black Studies Department at UC Santa Barbara. She has worked in sustainable development and heritage policy for non-governmental organizations and public entities such as the Ministry and the Secretary of Culture in Colombia. Her dissertation examines the politics of intangible heritage and the recognition of cultural diversity in Latin America. Her work is concentrated on Colombia and Brazil, where she analyzes the intersections between recognition, political rights, and citizenship for Afro-descendant communities. In her research, she evaluates whether heritage proclamations are useful instruments to address broader issues of economic inequality and reparation for minority groups. Her work has been supported by numerous fellowships and grants including funding from Fulbright, the Social Science Research Council, and the Mellon Foundation.