Associate Professor of Social Communication, St. Paul University/University of Ottawa

Sheenagh Pietrobruno's research explores the relationship between social media and digital heritage. This work examines how the archiving of videos of intangible heritage on YouTube has the potential to counter official heritage narratives put forward by nation-states through UNESCO. This challenge to official heritage arises as YouTube archives videos of intangible heritage uploaded by UNESCO as well as by a range of users including individuals, institutions and communities. The storing of UNESCO and user-generated videos of intangible cultural heritage is producing informal and dynamic archives that are continuously shifting in response to user-generated content and algorithms.

Social archiving can contest the UNESCO-sanctioned narratives of intangible heritage proposed by national governments through the stories related in user-generated videos, metadata and posted texts. This archiving can further challenge national heritage stories by situating particular videos on fluid lists produced by search engines through algorithms and user-generated input. YouTube’s potential to counter UNESCO-sanctioned narratives of intangible heritage nonetheless succumbs to the politics of code. As an unofficial archive of heritage, this platform is under the control of algorithms that Google designs and continuously upgrades to monetize the labour of YouTube users.

white dervish

A Woman Dervish, Istanbul 2012

The potential of both cultural forms – narrative and lists – to counter official heritage disseminated on YouTube’s archive of intangible heritage is approached through various case studies of global heritage, most notably the Mevlevi Sema (or whirling dervish) Ceremony of Turkey. Although UNESCO, through the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism, promotes the Mevlevi Sema Ceremony as an exclusively male practice, online videos of men and women taking part in this ceremony together through the religious practices of a specific Mevlevi community in Istanbul circulate on YouTube. This case study combines a range of methods and critical approaches:

Sheenagh Pietrobruno - YouTube Channel

Background research for this project has been published as book chapters and articles in international journals, including New Media and Society, the International Journal of Heritage Studies and Performing Islam