Social Practices, Traditional Culture and Museums: an Educational Perspective

By Mr. Mohamed Badry

HeritageForAll Initiative – Global Collaborations Program

Amer, M. (2019), Egyptian Rural Practices: Living Heritage and Musealization. In ICOMOS Advisory Committee Scientific Symposium “Rural Heritage – Landscapes and Beyond”. Marrakech: ICOMOS Morocco. [DOI:10.7275/9yw4-0q19]


Museum is a great place to safeguard and educate our folklife. As a cultural entity, it contributes pedagogically sustaining our cultural heritage. Material culture is not easy knowledge to exhibit or deliver along the upcoming generations. This disquisition aims mainly at reviewing the significance of intangible cultural heritage especially the manifestations of social practices and traditional culture within the museum programs in collaboration with the local community.

Social Practices: Intangible Heritage Preservation

In 1989, UNESCO has been presented, during the 21st General Conference, a group of recommendations safeguarding the traditional culture and folklore and valorising the local community-derived practices. It has been stated that:

Folklore (or traditional and popular culture) is the totality of tradition-based creations of a cultural community, expressed by a group or individuals and recognized as reflecting the expectations of a community in so far as they reflect its cultural and social identity; its standards and values are transmitted orally, by imitation or by other means. Its forms are, among others, language, literature, music, dance, games, mythology, rituals, customs, handicrafts, architecture and other arts.“(UNESCO, 1990, p. 238)

Then, in 2003, UNESCO convention for the safeguarding of the intangible cultural heritage (ICH) has been included the social practices as one of ICH categories that

the [ICH] means the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills – as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith – that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This [ICH], transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity. For the purposes of this Convention, consideration will be given solely to such [ICH] as is compatible (…..) with the requirements of mutual respect among communities, groups and individuals, and of sustainable development.“(UNESCO, 2003, para. 2.1)

According to Britta Rudolff, social practices as a representative of cultural behaviour – which needs a suitable environment or context to grow up – are included tangible or intangible heritage as one entity or closely two faces of one coin (Rudolff, 2006, pp. 29, 95). If tangible heritage vanishes, consequently ICH will rapidly or directly disappear. Therefore, museum is considered the main organization which have an ability to deliver the manifestations of social practices and transform these from generation to generation. UNESCO has been asserted this role stating that “museums… can be used as civic spaces for dialogue and social inclusion, helping to reduce friction and foster cohesion” (UNESCO, 2016, p. 52). Respectively, museum is socially a responsible for enhancing the sense of belonging, and emancipating the local community involvement (Lamberta, Boukasb, & Yeralia, 2014, p. 571).

Investing history, museums are the greatest narrator to transmit the stories or the knowledge itself along the past to the present forming the vision of the coming generations of people. Subsequently, the main function of museum is as a projection of cultural identity of each community. As a result of that, local community and authority can preserve heritage as a sign and a narrator throughout safeguarding the value of performance of both tangible and intangible heritage together.(Rudolff, 2006, pp. 36, 38, 39, 69)

Acting the former mission, the local communities are globally considered the main and sustainable representative of intangible cultural heritage including their social practices, traditions, customs, and habits. This representation was come throughout “their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity.(Imnaishvili & Taktakishvili, 2013, p. 374)

Unfortunately, the social traditional life, as one of ICH forms, is one of the fragile and non-renewable heritage materials which own a unique authentic value (UNESCO, 2012, p. 7). It is mainly represented by the continuous traditions and habits that were revived through our daily life routine (Brooks, 2011, p. 501). Considering the former changed environment, there are numerous international governmental organizations, especially museums, which keen systematically arranging the preservation and management principles of material culture-derived issues and seek to deliver educationally its values with the upcoming young generation.

Museum and Local Community

According to UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums and Collections, Their Diversity and Their Role in Society (2015), UNESCO has been affirmed the great significance of cultural heritage overall for all categories of the community that to earn the ability of respecting the cultural diversity, therefore to act a real social cohesion and the sustainability factor or in the other word “Sustainable Development”. As a result of that, UNESCO has been considered “Museum” a suitable cultural space allowing various categories to do the previous task that to transmit and preserve the cultural identity throughout a group of numerous capacity building actions.(UNESCO, 2015)

Museum is a magnificent entity which contribute and collaborate effectively raising an awareness of the local community for the cultural and natural significance of their own heritage as well as their responsibility of appreciating, caring, and transmitting it value from generation to generation. Also, it supports financially the local development presenting within the cultural and creative industries and tourism. (UNESCO, 2015)

UNESCO and also the 1972 Declaration of Santiago de Chile identified the main role of museum partnering the sustainable development goals. It mainly safeguards our heritage, and enhance the cultural diversity prospect. It transfers the heritage knowledge contributing the development of the national educational policy and guaranteeing the social cohesion and integration within a respective intercultural dialogue. (UNESCO, 2015)

Furthermore, UNESCO has been addressed the social framework of the museums that:

Museums are vital public spaces that should address all of society and can therefore play an important role in the development of social ties and cohesion, building citizenship, and reflecting on collective identities. Museums should be places that are open to all and committed to physical and cultural access to all, including disadvantaged groups. They can constitute spaces for reflection and debate on historical, social, cultural and scientific issues. Museums should also foster respect for human rights and gender equality.” (UNESCO, 2015)

Museum, as an indispensable part of the local community’s life, seeks usually sustaining its cultural identity, being the social storytelling’s destination, and supporting physiologically the sense of belonging and ownership. Therefore, it uses a qualitative data surveying the community requirement, and documenting their social life. Additionally, it compiles ideas developing the new perspectives of exhibitions, festivals, and projects to display the various manifestations of their intangible heritage in partnership with the community leaders and groups, and government representatives. Thus, the emancipation of the local community involvement level at the decision-making process is so significant to earn new opportunities safeguarding and celebrating the community’s heritage. (Deutscher Museums Bund, 2016, p. 10; Dewhurst, N’Diaye, & MacDowell, 2014, p. 455; Willie & Dusome, 2003, p. 8)

Providing the former aspect, in 1967, the Smithsonian’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage has been created the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival which was organized into thematic programs collaborating with the governmental organizations and the local community. This festival aims at documenting the local traditions; creating dynamic actions to display and transmit effectively the heritage knowledge along the upcoming generations. (Dewhurst et al., 2014, p. 456)

In addition, in 1985, the Michigan State University Museum’s Michigan Traditional Arts Program was founded in partnership with Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs in responsive to the community requirements transmitting the social capital to the local community in Michigan (see fig.1). This collaboration has been produced a group of exhibitions – both at the MSU Museum and in USA communities -, educational programs and publications.(Dewhurst et al., 2014, p. 457)

Basket dance by members of the Tohono O-odham Nation in Carriers of Culture: Native Basketry (Dewhurst et al., 2014, p. 463)

Considering the social practices, museum takes into its mission the social dimension of sustainability, which was stated at the definition of International Council of Museums (ICOM) that museum is an “institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment”. (Pencarelli, Cerquetti, & Splendiani, 2016, p. 34)

Estimating the obstacles that museum faces raising its rapports with the local community, Maria Rosario Jackson stated that

In any community, a museum is a special place. It holds treasures, marvels, and stories— old and new. A museum has the authority and responsibility to highlight objects and ideas that compel, challenge, inspire, and move people to be more reflective, critical, and humane. But all too frequently, museums are considered merely as sources of childhood memories, places to take out-town visitors, or institutions that are elitist, inaccessible, detached, or irrelevant. Too often, they are on the sidelines of civic life. . . the museum field [faces] a noble challenge—to stretch its boundaries, step away from the sidelines, come to the center of civic life, and become a more active participant and even a leader in social-capital and community-building processes.“(Jackson, 2002, p. 29)

Furthermore, in 2002, she realized the indicators of community vitality and how museum to become an effective agent in the field of community development. She asserted that

The challenge to museums to engage in civic processes and play an important role in community building is no small request. . . . This can be difficult, frustrating, and time and resource intensive. But the prospect of a more engaged and relevant museum holds much promise. In the long run, museums will benefit in many ways, as well as the communities they seek to serve and inspire.“(Jackson, 2002, p. 37)

Corinne A. Kratz and Ivan Karp, scholars of museum practice, observed other notes the challenges of linking between the museums and the local community that:

Museum work is not without strife and conflict. Many in our field seek to avoid engaging in the issues that occupy their community and choose to be sites of only reflection and reverence. While museums do play a valuable role in these ways, today, museums are finding themselves more marginalized due to global forces and we are just beginning to understand the intensity of the challenge that lies ahead if indeed we want to be players in our civic landscapes and to be a central force in the cultural commons of our communities.” (Kratz & Karp, 2006, p. 2)

In sum, Museum carries a great responsibility for the local community creating a long-term vision for its upcoming generations throughout considering these issues (inter-generational equity or inter-temporal distributive justice). Consequently, it has been indicated that museum faces two obstacles: firstly, to reach various target groups of audience and secondly, to reflect the demographical harmony “social cohesion” of the contemporary community. (Throsby, 2002, p. 107)

Museum and Edutainment Visits

According to the former context, museum alters its perspective being a suitable public space to spend your spare time and at the same time, to earn a new knowledge about the cultural identity and the national cultural heritage in a fun way. Museum has various means of communication with all categories of visitors who can tangibly touch its services throughout a group of exhibitions, programs, or sometimes, to welcome as a working space. Museum mission is considered something complex which must act multiple tasks engaging the visitors with its collections and cultural background. As a result of that, museum can raise an awareness of the visitors and enhance their sense of belonging and loyalty.(Willie & Dusome, 2003, p. 6)

In 2006, museum as a cultural entity was implicitly provided the edutainment visitation throughout the ICOM definition. Museum is “a nonprofit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment, for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment“. Moreover, according to the former definition, museum has a significant social, and cultural role to manage, preserve, and exhibit our folklife cultural heritage to various categories of local and global visitors. (Kamps & Weide, 2011, pp. 8, 18; UNESCO, 2015)

Researcher summarizes the added-values-related visitors at the museum where to have Researcher summarizes the added-values-related visitors at the museum where to have a connecting value. It is a public space displaying the inherited past “Museum Collections”, debating the present identity “discussion on the socio-economic issues”, expecting the future vision “Sustainable Development”, and encouraging the people to respect the cultural diversity “Sense of Belonging”. The former value has traditionally been done at the museum, as a mediator, in a partnership with various multidisciplinary stakeholders either community, governmental or non-governmental organizations. (Kamps & Weide, 2011, p. 32)

There are some researches which separate between the educational and experience values of the museum while from my overview, museum as such cultural entity owns an “edutainamental” value (Education + Entertainment) whatever the category or the target audience. For educational value, museum is a learning area about a culture and as a part of lifelong education. Museum is a life school either for the young, adult people, or researchers. The cultural trip inside such museum is better than being a classroom that in an informal educational way, it is a learning historical journey to find out the inherited past. As a result of that, it has been cleared that cultural heritage education is pedagogically so significant the development of children and teenagers. It interactively teaches them to respect the cultural diversity and to enhance the sense of responsibility and belonging. (Kamps & Weide, 2011, pp. 42–44)

Owning the second part of an “edutainamental” value, museum has a great experience value which to be represented in the opportunities for enjoyment and adventure throughout a group of facilities, services and offered programs and activities. Museum building itself grants visitor the right of critically freedom thinking creating his/her own ideal context for fulfilling his/her personal creativity and making him/her to alter his/her opinions and insights. (Deutscher Museums Bund, 2016, p. 9; Kamps & Weide, 2011, p. 54) Therefore, “local cultural heritage is a valuable, unique and inimitable resource, which has to be enhanced to promote local sustainable tourism development in peripheral areas and satisfy the new and growing demand of cultural tourism (Pencarelli et al., 2016, p. 36)”. In sum, museums are the places where the people can realize the past and communicate emotionally with their heritage (Smith, 2015, p. 459).

Social Practices and Museum Education

From my overview, social practices are not easy material. Thus, museums seek to develop the engagement methodologies involving educationally various categories of visitors “learners or community” and at the same time, enjoying them. Here, we can be guided by the following patrimonial pedagogic methodologies which highlight the presentation of intangible cultural heritage: (Dewhurst et al., 2014, p. 456; Willie & Dusome, 2003, pp. 20, 21)

First: Interactive Heritage Classroom – Museum educator can interactively create his/her classroom or educational program included games, and exercises which through, visitor can explore new context without leaving the museum building or the educational destination. As well as, this program could have a storytelling or interpretive dresses to transmit the historical value to those visitor.

One of Manifestation of the Feast Celebration at Egyptian Rural Community (Facebook [accessed 29 ‎August ‎2016])

Second: Heritage Fairs – Museum could host a heritage community school fair which through, participants or the whole community develop their own display presenting the manifestations of their own cultural identity included their traditional customs, food, and habits. Then, the local celebrities, or community leaders judge and the win group may join in the regional fairs.

Third: Documentary Videos, Photographs, Audio Stories, or Talks – viewing the historical timeline or event of such community and their oral history.

Fourth: Heritage Class – teaching the history and significance of cultural traditions and its related skills. Providing this methodology, researcher had been participated coordinating a celebration in July 2016 at Children Civilization and Creativity Center (Child Museum). This celebration aims at reviving the preparation rituals, traditions, customs, and traditional songs celebrating a breakfast feast (Eid el Fitr) in Egypt (see fig. 2 & 3). We have already shared this experience with UNESCO New Delhi-supported initiative GoUNESCO under the theme of “Delicious Heritage” and social media hashtag “#‎myfondestfoodmemory”.(Amer, 2016)

Rituals of Feast’s Celebrating (Educational Activity) at Child Museum by Museum Educator Mr. Mohamed Hashem and His Colleagues (© Mohamed Badry, July 2016)

Developing an effective educational system, museum is a suitable public space to represent the national cultural identity as well as the common world cultural heritage to various categories of audience whatever their ages, culture, educational backgrounds, and their socio-economic levels. Museum could informally be an added-value for the schools reviewing various means of learning and enjoying throughout the museum educational services. Thus, museum education could affect on the exhibition scenario and the objects’ display responding the public interest as well as the needs and wants of various target groups of the local community. (Knubel, 2004, p. 199)

The community and traditional culture-related museums compile usually between the museum education and its general policy delivering informally the heritage knowledge to the upcoming generations. Thus, these museums have the great talents and skills to preserve the forgotten and neglected local history and traditional culture and to educate the visitors. Consequently, these are considered a professional entity enhancing the heritage whatever its type and raising the local awareness for it. (Deutscher Museums Bund, 2016, p. 10; Knubel, 2004, p. 120)

The former kinds of museums usually follow the strategy of heritage exhibitions clarifying educationally the cultural and natural heritage as same as being informal classrooms, or workshop spaces where the child, young, or adult visitors can use as special museum education spaces. These spaces provide the heritage knowledge allowing the intensive adventures. Moreover, there are some local community-related museums where use the pedagogic exhibitions enhancing didactically the local cultural heritage and the sense of belonging to a specific cultural identity.(Knubel, 2004, p. 125)

Museum, as a workshop space, could provide an educational context for the artists, and craftsmen, e.g. in pottery, wood, cooking, sculpting, printing or other local traditions, offering appropriate edutainmental programs for the museum visitors who would like to explore their cultural heritage especially the cultural objects-derived techniques. (Knubel, 2004, p. 126) Therefore, researcher recommends applying the “ECONOMUSEUM” (Willie & Dusome, 2003, p. 31) that museum should provide a special context allowing the visitors to live their cultural heritage either tangible, touching the cultural objects within the strategy of the tactile displays and aids, or intangible cultural heritage, living their real local traditions, dressing their local costumes, and cooking and eating their local food (See fig. 4, 5 & 6).

“el-Canoon”, the Common Quick Cooking Oven at Egyptian Upper and Lower Rural Communities (Facebook [accessed 29 August 2016])
The Ritual of Baking Day “Yom el Khabiez”, Egyptian Rural Community (Facebook [accessed 29 August 2016])
The Ritual of Baking Day “Yom el Khabiez”, Egyptian Rural Community (Facebook [accessed 29 August 2016])


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