Politics, Culture and Economy in Popular Practices in the Americas

by Eduardo González Castillo (Volume editor) Jorge Pantaleón (Volume editor) Nuria Carton de Grammont (Volume editor)
©2016 Monographs IX, 258 Pages


This collection of essays on popular culture and politics in the Americas presents the study of ethnographic and historical data from different countries: Canada, United States, Mexico, Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina. Each chapter brings to light a distinct focus on the way in which popular cultural practices evolve in the context of contemporary globalization. Accordingly, this book aims to improve our understanding of the way in which subordinate groups participate in the process of state building and in the reproduction (or rejection) of the major macroeconomic and cultural processes shaping contemporary societies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Prologue
  • The Popular Revisited through a Polyphonic Overview: An Introduction
  • I. On the Study of Popular Practices and Cultures
  • Post-popular Cultures in Post-populist Times: The Return of Pop Culture in Latin American Social Sciences
  • The Popular in Parenthesis: State Interpellation and Popular Culture—A Case Study of Immigrant Youth in Montreal
  • II. Legitimations
  • Disputes over Senses of the Popular in the Circus Arts in the City of Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Making the State: Forming and Educating the Public, Presenting and Circulating Contemporary Dance in Brazil
  • III. Aesthetic Imaginaries and Representations
  • The Aesthetics of Informality, Self-Management, Popular Culture, and Urban Imaginaries in Mexico City
  • Pankration: The Spectacle of Masculinity in Mexican Political Culture
  • IV. Identitarian Activisms and Revendications
  • Popular Culture and Urban Indigenous Youth
  • Concientización, Praxis and the Radical Habitus: Youth and the Re/Formation of Popular Contestations on the U.S.–Mexico Border
  • V. Cross-Border Economic Practices
  • Being in the Interstices and Existing in the Margins: Agency and State in the Triple Frontier
  • Between Savings and Celebratory Expenses: Popular Economy among Mexican Seasonal Farm Workers in Canada
  • Contributors

← vi | vii →




Department of Anthropology

Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Iztapalapa

Mexico City

The concept of culture, and more specifically that of popular culture, has commonly been approached from different perspectives and planes of meaning, making its definition very complex both on the bases of distinguishable paradigms and the experiences of different countries and continents. The resulting impression is one of a complex kaleidoscope generating intersecting figures that accommodate themselves differently to every movement of the kaleidoscope. It’s a kaleidoscope of meaning with an infinite number of interactions.

We find that culture, as a social category, has been understood in different ways, such “as learned behavior, as an institutional area dedicated to the manufacture of meanings, as creativity or agency, as a system of symbols and meanings and as a practice.” Like any concept, culture has a long-standing history and has been subject to transformations which have determined the ways in which it is understood and used. Authors such as Adam Kuper and J. B. Thompson, among others, conducted a detailed analysis of the history of this concept, showing precisely those parts of the kaleidoscope where historical moments are marked by specific paradigms. Since the eighteenth century, the interest in the culture of exotic peoples laid the groundwork for understanding the many others within the emerging nations of the nineteenth century. Folklore and antiques were re-valued in relation to the concept of heritage and memory, with their inclusion in institutions such as museums, universities and government bodies. At first, the focus was on description and conservation. Little research was undertaken into the context of the production of the popular, nor were efforts made to locate it within the general socio-economic fabric. However, on the political plane, these descriptions played a central role in the formation of a national consciousness in which the ← vii | viii → definition of the popular culture sector was crucial to the formation of the social order in each country. This was particularly so in Latin America, where anthropology and folklore studies offered a rich empirical knowledge base of the various ethnic groups within each nation.

But this history is neither homogeneous or continuous. In the nineteen-nineties, Esteban Krotz published in Mexico a small book called La cultura adjetivada. In it, he accounted for the development of the concept of culture, its apparent dissolution for at least three decades (from the nineteen-sixties to the nineteen-nineties), the possible causes of its demise in the social sciences, particularly in anthropology, and its reappearance in the late twentieth-century as a concept that was accessed through its concretization with adjectives like working class culture, mass culture, work culture, peasant culture, etc., all encompassed under the concept of popular culture. Krotz locates the factors that demarcate this process, and within them the social and theoretical elements that influenced the questioning of the concept and its temporary falling into disuse. The internal facts he identifies include the economic crisis of capitalism in the nineteen-sixties, the social movements, the military dictatorships, and the socio-political transformations. Among the external factors he distinguishes the dilution of ethnicity in the category of the peasant, the consolidation of the Marxist paradigm, the expansion of disciplinary boundaries, and the criticism of indigenismo in Mexico.

Within the concept of popular culture, various social phenomena were then grouped together: from handicrafts to soap operas, religious festivals to dance halls, the huipil and the jorongo, and even jeans and tattoos.

This polysemous nature of the term leads Néstor García Canclini to propose that the popular does not correspond precisely to an empirical referent, or clearly identifiable subjects or situations in social reality. It is an ideological construct, whose theoretical consistency is still to be achieved. It is more a field of work than a scientifically defined object of study. Nevertheless, we should be able to pose the scientific problem with some independence from the historical pressures and interests which excessively determine the ways in which social scientists interrogate the popular. We do not expect an impossible degree of asepsis in scientific discourse with respect to the environment in which it is produced, circulated, and used. While no social practice can entirely wash its hands of its context, we think that it is a property of scientific work to make visible and debatable, and therefore somewhat more neutralizable, the relationship between its discourse and the conditions in which it is generated. The return of the concept of culture—described or specified—to the stage of the social sciences is going to give rise to a moment of profound ← viii | ix → economic, social and political transformations, especially in a globalized world where the interconnections are multiplying, everything becomes a commodity before the neo-liberal gaze, and governments restructure their historical role towards society.

It is important to emphasize that the return of culture to academic discourse exploring Latin America was the result not only of a change in scene, rather a change in several underlying issues. When popular culture is identified as the cultural practices performed by subaltern groups, with their own structure of meaning, the concept of power is incorporated. This is because it develops as a reflection of the hegemonic culture. But it is a power relationship that is not unilateral. The subaltern practices impact on the hegemonic and vice versa, yet in an unequal, but ongoing, dialogue. In this process, the set of practices not valued by the hegemonic discourse is now made visible by locating them as part of Culture (capitalized). By changing places, they also reveal differences of social class and ethnicity—favoring in certain cases a better understanding of the multi-cultural exchanges which multiply exponentially as a result of globalization. In this sense, the peripheral, the marginal, involved in popular culture, is relocated academically and socially, becoming a symbolic resource through which it is possible to become aware of otherness, of difference, of the segregated.

It is important to here note that this conceptual change is not due solely to an action of theoretical reflection. The emergence of Latin American social movements has nurtured this reflection and has forced the social disciplines to take notice of its processes, as a key part of the social explanation of cultural phenomena.

This anthology belongs to and represents this contemporary intellectual movement. It’s an important exercise in accounting for the permanent construction of this concept, relocating the popular from the periphery to the center, as a critical way of constructing a different experiental reality. Popular culture is approached from different disciplinary perspectives, anchored in new empirical materials from which the voices of those involved emerge. The themes are multiple—the circus, wrestling, urban aesthetics, contemporary dance, young migrants, indigenous youth, national borders and intellectual borders. The organizing principle is clear: the subaltern in the contemporary world, a world woven from discriminatory contrasts and inequalities.

Finally, in this critical exercise, Latin America is also relocated, not only because it focuses on the subalternity existing within our countries, but because it is given a place of its own in the generation of knowledge, making it visible to the Anglo-Saxon world, which rarely gets to know and read us. ← ix | x →

← x | 1 →


The Popular Revisited through a Polyphonic Overview: An Introduction


Politics, Culture and Economy in Popular Practices in the Americas is a compilation of studies addressing the concept of the popular from different perspectives. Its contributors are researchers also having diverse academic profiles. They pose diverse questions about the persistence and scope of the popular through reflections drawing both on everyday life and how everyday people employ and understand the term; by examining the place of the popular within the consolidation of global societies and in the evolution of the study of the popular in academic thinking. In the latter, the present work can be seen as a response to the silencing and condemnation of popular culture studies in Latin America beginning from the nineteen-nineties, and particularly during the boom of Latin Americanist cultural studies. Thus, although the different chapters of this book explore the practices of populations from the whole of the Americas, the reflections on the popular presented here should be read in conjunction with the conception of popular culture common in Latin America.1 In this region, the use of this notion has been strongly (but not exclusively) associated with Gramscian thought and has been used almost exclusively to refer to the cultural practices of the dominated or, as they are also frequently described, as subaltern groups. Consistent with this, we understand the popular as a set of practices and motives which often appear when the question is invoked of how inequality and power relationships are lived through the cultural practices the abovementioned groups.

Having said that, this work does not propose a nostalgic return to the conceptualization of popular cultures that was in vogue more than two decades ago. The fact, which has arisen spontaneously, that some of the authors in this volume refer to “the popular” much more frequently than to “popular ← 1 | 2 → culture” is a more than revealing indicator in this regard, as is the use of the concept of “popular practices.” In scholarly writings of late, it has appeared in connection with concerns about modes of social legitimacy, agencies (not only social ones), institutional interpellations (which may include physical or symbolic violence), governmentalities, rhetorics and aesthetics in the contexts of upward and downward social mobility, territorialized and deterretorialized identities, etc. This has preserved the concept of “practice” in better shape than that of “culture,” when the need has arisen for a fundamental concept capable of entering into dialogue with the above-mentioned scholarly inquiries, without ceasing the study of the construction of meanings produced in the context of the relations of social asymmetry. In that sense, if “culture” appears in this volume, it does not necessarily do so within explicit conceptual formulations. It appears, rather, as an object of policy analysis and of the cultural industries which, with advances and pauses, have continued to populate the agenda of interventions (governmental and nongovernmental) in the Americas in recent years. In these analyses of objectified culture, the very definition of culture, generated by the actors involved in the different contexts being studied, is one of the main foci of attention in the actual contributions to this volume.

But, nevertheless, the popular persists: buried by many people and banished by others in Central and Southern America, its specters do not seem to have been dispelled. Whether in the form of resistance, sometimes idealized by the spontaneous movements of united multitudes, or at others seemingly evident in organized collective action, or as a set of prohibited and punishable practices, the popular seems to emerge constantly in different social fields. It remains there, still wandering around the offices of the academy in spite of the most postmodern of spells cast on it. The popular, and the specters of the “good” or “bad” people that represent it, seems to persevere as a set of dispersed and floating questions relating to the practices of those oft-considered to lack the sources of power in our societies (i.e. capital, in its economic, political and social variants). The prism of the popular, at the same time both ethereal and dense, seems to form, thus, kaleidoscopic and mobile bodies which break the diversity of the observed landscape by means of forms which always reveal a mismatch, a dislocation related to the effects of relationships of power over society and culture.

Academic interest in the specters of the popular involves an exchange of perspectives with the others who also perceive, pursue, put pressure on, and banish them: the political parties, the repressive variants of government which see in the popular a risk to opportunities for containment and control, the government agents interested in financing culture, from the museum curators or “committed” artists to the members of the dominated or subaltern classes ← 2 | 3 → themselves, for whom the problem of the popular also seems to be a matter of interest. These diverse “others” not only perceive the specters of the popular, it also occurs to them that they are their victims: the specters possess them one moment and abandon them the next, only to then seduce them and drive them away. Nevertheless, the exchange of perspectives does not come to an end, for the eyes of all those others seem to look for, in the floating bodies of the popular (and from different angles), not only the meaning of the practices of the dominated, but also their own meanings. In this search, the perspective of the day labourer intersects with that of the anthropologist, that of the police with that of the young immigrant, that of the artist with that of his critic, that of the juggler with that of the social worker. This book is thus a testimony to and an object of those exchanges of perspectives. Thus, it’s in the diversity of views that intersect in this volume that this work finds one of its key strengths, and not only by reason of the oxygen which the different approaches provide, but also because of the contrasts and oppositions that are drawn out.


IX, 258
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2016 (April)
Populism Mexico Masculism Frontier
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. IX, 258 pp.

Biographical notes

Eduardo González Castillo (Volume editor) Jorge Pantaleón (Volume editor) Nuria Carton de Grammont (Volume editor)

Eduardo González Castillo is a social anthropologist whose studies concern popular culture, youth activism, alternative media and urban space in Mexico and Canada. Currently, he works as a lecturer at University of Montreal and at University of Ottawa. Jorge Pantaleón is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Montreal. His interests include economic ethnography and social and cultural transformation in Latin-American contemporaries societies. Dr. Pantaleón is the author of several books concerning popular economic practices, immigration and development. Nuria Carton de Grammont is a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for International Studies of the University of Montreal (CERIUM), where she also coordinates the Réseau d’études de l’Amérique latine. Dr. Carton de Grammont works on the aestheticsviolence and on the impact of narcotraffic in art and popular culture in contemporary Mexico.


Title: Politics, Culture and Economy in Popular Practices in the Americas
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
270 pages