Keeping the recipe

Norwegian folk costumes and cultural capital

in Focaal
Restricted access

Enlisting culture in the service of commercial or political interests inevitably leads to a simplification and standardization of form. This article addresses the tensions between these standardizing processes and discourses of cultural authenticity, raising questions concerning copyright to cultural products and, more widely, the economics of cultural tradition. Empirically, the article is a study of the Norwegian bunad, a folk dress which exists in numerous regional varieties and carries a profound symbolic significance as a marker of regional and national identity. However, the authenticity of particular bunads or other folk costumes is often hotly contested. At the same time, entrepreneurs have begun to produce bunads in low-cost countries, thereby violating a principle considered by many as sacred, that bunads should be sewn by local women. The article reveals what is at stake for the various actors involved, and suggests some comparisons.