Cultures of Politics/Politics of Cultures: Re-Visioning Latin American Social Movements

By Sonia E. Alvarez; Evelina Dagnino et al. | Go to book overview

artistic narratives. The resulting social movement "can successfully reproduce itself, not only despite, but because of, the pervasiveness of complaint and conflict" ( Lancaster 1988, 162-163, emphasis in original).

COCEI illustrates a radical politics characterized by flexible and changing mixtures of Leninist and new social-movement political practices. COCEI's leaders chose over the course of twenty years to maintain and elaborate the distances between the discourses of the movement and those of its supporters because the resulting political strategies were extraordinarily effective in wresting concessions from the state and maintaining organizational cohesion. Similarly, ordinary Juchitecos' tactics for describing and adapting the practices of daily life were effective in fostering survival and pleasure in workplace and courtyard, as well as in the more formal locations of radical politics. In its mixture of these two sets of activities, COCEI maintained multiple locations of "complaint and conflict" and indeed reproduced itself in the face of formidable opposing powers.

COCEI's striking success in fostering cultural autonomy and in creating a political voice for indigenous people suggests that essentialist class and ethnic discourses, when combined in ambiguous ways with other forms of belief and action, can simultaneously reflect people's experiences and be of considerable strategic use. It is precisely within such spaces of ambiguity, the distances between militant confrontation and neighborhood accommodation, between Marxist analysis of development and daily work experience, between nonviolence and violence, that ordinary people act as "agent[s] of culture in process" ( Fiske 1990, 86), reforming and adapting their own practices and beliefs to those invented by others. This is where ordinary Juchitecos as well as their leaders -- at times in tension with one another -- perform "an 'art of making' that proceeds by manipulating imposed knowledges and symbols at propitious moments" ( Escobar 1992a, 74, drawing on de Certeau). In family courtyards, neighborhood committee meeting places, cantinas, and schools as well as in the many activities of the city's Casa de la Cultura, Juchitecos forge justifications for and limits to violence, reinterpret the meaning of their labor, cajole and defy political opponents, and reinvent ritual and art through a discourse of political opposition. In this way, they give life to a political movement that can challenge existing relations of power.


Notes
1
Pronounced ko-sáy.
2
See this volume's Introduction; see also Dagnino and Slater, in this volume.
3
Several chapters in this book illustrate the centrality of cultural borders with the outside -- how they are constructed and maintained, how fluid they are, who controls them -- to the cultural politics of social movements ( Yúdice; Slater; Diaz Barriga; Grueso, Rosero, and Escobar; Warren; da Cunha; and Pratt).
4
For other examples of strategic essentialism, see the chapters (in this volume) by Grueso, Rosero, and Escobar; and Warren. For a less essentialist position, see the chapter by da Cunha.

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