Who Can Stop the Drums? Urban Social Movements in Chavez's Venezuela

By Ryan, J. Michael | Anthropological Quarterly, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Who Can Stop the Drums? Urban Social Movements in Chavez's Venezuela


Ryan, J. Michael, Anthropological Quarterly


Sujatha Fernandes, Who Can Stop the Drums? Urban Social Movements in Chavez's Venezuela. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010. 320 pp.

Sujatha Fernandes' new book Who Can Stop the Drums? Urban Social Movements in Chavez's Venezuela is an interesting contribution to the literature on social movements, particularly urban social movements, and the lives and politics of Venezuelan society. In the words of the author, the book explores " the mobilization of historical memory, identity, and place by urban social movements, as they contest the utilitarian logics of the hybrid state" (215). Building on several years of ethnographic research in the barrios of Caracas, the author presents a side of Venezuela that is rarely captured in the very Chavez-focused literature of the last decade. The rich ethnographic data presented in this book provides new insights into the everyday life of the Venezuelan revolution as it is rarely seen- through the eyes and hearts of the people living it.

Fernandes begins by tracing the history of contemporary urban social movements in Venezuela. Drawing on fascinating interviews with barrio residents, she illuminates the transition from guerilla insurgencies to cultural resistance to the devastating impact of neoliberalism and on up to the era of Chavez. A focus on the personal testimonies of people who actually lived through, and are living through, these movements allows Fernandes to provide a captivating historic account not found in the general literature on recent changes in Venezuela. She carefully and skillfully paints her respondents in such a way that the reader not only feels more informed about the issues, but also about the people.

The author goes on to discuss the role of community-based fiestas, radio, and murals in the resident-led barrio movements. She demonstrates how each of these, particularly community-based radio, acts as a nexus for statesociety relations. Barrio based radio stations, for example, have been an important tool for raising community consciousness and promoting local history and heritage. Their focus on local music, culture, and personalities has provided a positive alternative to the often negative view of the barrios as sites of crime and violence often presented by much of the mainstream media. These stations, however, are often dependent on state level funding and technical support. In this way, they are still subject to the administrative regulations and monetary restraints of the larger state. Thus, community based radio represents a location where the politics of everyday life are pitted against the technocratic rationalities of the state.

Traditional conceptions of civil society have often been class, race, and place based. They have tended to focus on organized, often institutional, groups as the main sites of alternative representation. Fernandes, however, makes a powerful case that conscientious researchers must be open to understanding how emerging new forms of popular organization are constructing alternative means of association outside of our traditional understanding of civil society. Thick descriptions of cultural fiestas, murals, and the aforementioned community based radio stations add great weight to her call to broaden our understanding of traditional movements in order to capture the richness of the growing barrio-based associational forms that are becoming increasingly integral to the lives of many Venezuelans.

Perhaps the most interesting contribution of the book is Fernandes discussion of a post-neoliberal order "as a hybrid state formation that has mounted certain challenges to the neoliberal paradigm but which remains subject to the internal and external constraints of global capital" (23). …

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