Cultural Agency in the Americas

Cultural Agency in the Americas

Book Pages: 392 Illustrations: 19 b&w photos, 1 table Published: January 2006

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Latin American Studies

“Cultural agency” refers to a range of creative activities that contribute to society, including pedagogy, research, activism, and the arts. Focusing on the connections between creativity and social change in the Americas, this collection encourages scholars to become cultural agents by reflecting on exemplary cases and thereby making them available as inspirations for more constructive theory and more innovative practice. Creativity supports democracy because artistic, administrative, and interpretive experiments need margins of freedom that defy monolithic or authoritarian regimes. The ingenious ways in which people pry open dead-ends of even apparently intractable structures suggest that cultural studies as we know it has too often gotten stuck in critique. Intellectual responsibility can get beyond denunciation by acknowledging and nurturing the resourcefulness of common and uncommon agents.

Based in North and South America, scholars from fields including anthropology, performance studies, history, literature, and communications studies explore specific variations of cultural agency across Latin America. Contributors reflect, for example, on the paradoxical programming and reception of a state-controlled Cuban radio station that connects listeners at home and abroad; on the intricacies of indigenous protests in Brazil; and the formulation of cultural policies in cosmopolitan Mexico City. One contributor notes that trauma theory targets individual victims when it should address collective memory as it is worked through in performance and ritual; another examines how Mapuche leaders in Argentina perceived the pitfalls of ethnic essentialism and developed new ways to intervene in local government. Whether suggesting modes of cultural agency, tracking exemplary instances of it, or cautioning against potential missteps, the essays in this book encourage attentiveness to, and the multiplication of, the many extraordinary instantiations of cultural resourcefulness and creativity throughout Latin America and beyond.

Contributors. Arturo Arias, Claudia Briones, Néstor García Canclini, Denise Corte, Juan Carlos Godenzzi, Charles R. Hale, Ariana Hernández-Reguant, Claudio Lomnitz, Jesús Martín Barbero, J. Lorand Matory, Rosamel Millamán, Diane M. Nelson, Mary Louise Pratt, Alcida Rita Ramos, Doris Sommer, Diana Taylor, Santiago Villaveces


“[A] magnificent collection of essays. . . . [T]he volume contains an exciting, very well thought-out set of articles that constitute a state-of-the-art discussion concerning pressing questions in the field of culture, agency, and disciplinary studies in Latin America.” — Ileana Rodríguez, The Americas

“[T]his book represents a confirmation that culture matters, that art has a purpose, and that a relationship between creators and intellectuals could be rich and promising.” — R. Hernandez Rodriguez, The Latin Americanist

“Perhaps the biggest contribution of this book is what it tells us about the difference between Latin American public intellectuals and cultural agents and their relation to the social processes in which they are inserted, and that of American academics condemned to the radical divide that marks scholarly life from public life in American universities.” — Silvia L. López, A Contracorriente

“The project as a whole and the book as a part of it move us forward to new scholarly practice and approaches. As such, the book represents an important contribution and essential reading for those interested in taking up the challenge of being reflective cultural agents.” — Jennifer Fraser, Journal of Latin American Studies

"The collected pieces provide a sampling of the especially vibrant, generous, and hopeful cultural agency—which the older term social activism refers to to some extent—occurring in heterogeneous Latin American cultures seeking new social forms in the ambiance of postmodernism."
— Henry Berry, Midwest Book Review

“In titling itself as it does, Cultural Agency in the Americas makes a foundational gesture. The thing to be founded is a scholarly praxis, a blueprint for academic work committed to advancing energetic, creative, nonharmonious but nonviolent democratic relations.” — Mary Louise Pratt, from her afterword


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Doris Sommer is Ira Jewell Williams Jr. Professor of Romance Languages and Director of Graduate Studies in Spanish at Harvard University. Her books include Bilingual Aesthetics: A New Sentimental Education, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction: Wiggle Room / Doris Sommer 1

1. Media 29

Intervening from and through Research Practice: Meditations on the Cuzco Workshop / Jesus Martin Barbero 31

Between Technology and Culture: Communication and Modernity in Latin America / Jesus Martin Barbero 37

DNA of Performance / Diana Taylor 52

A City that Improvises Its Globalization / Nestor Garcia Canclini 82

2. Maneuvers 91

The Cultural Agency of Wounded Bodies Politic: Ethnicity and Gender as Prosthetic Support in Postwar Guatemala / Diane M. Nelson 93

Tradition, Transnationalism, and Gender in the Afro-Brazilian Candomble / J. Lorand Matory 121

The Discourses of Diversity: Language, Ethnicity, and Interculturality in Latin America / Juan Carlos Godenzzi 146

Conspiracy on the Sidelines: How the Maya Won the War / Arturo Arias 167

Radio Taino and the Cuban Quest for Identi...que? / Ariana Hernandez-Reguant 178

Olodum’s Transcultural Spaces: Community and Difference in Afro-Brazilian Contemporary Performance / Denise Corte 203

Political Construction and Cultural Instrumentalities of Indigenism in Brazil, with Echoes from Latin America / Alcida Rita Ramos 229

Questioning State Geographies of Inclusion in Argentina: The Cultural Politics of Organizations with Mapuche Leadership and Philosophy / Claudia Briones 248

3. Cautions 279

Cultural Agency and Political Struggle in the Era of the Indio Permitido / Charles R. Hale and Rosamel Millaman 281

The Crossroads of Faith: Heroism and Melancholia in the Colombian “Violentologists” (1980–2000) / Santiago Villaveces-Izquierdo 305

Afterword: A Fax, Two Moles, a Consul, and a Judge / Mary Louise Pratt 326

Afterword: Spread It Around! / Claudio Lomnitz 334

References 341

Contributors 371

Index 375
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3499-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3487-3
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