Dissertation Abstracts

Everything but the Funnel Cake: Cultural Production in the University of Puerto Rico Student Occupation of 2010

Author: Everhart, Katherine , katherine.t.everhart@vanderbilt.edu
Department: Sociology
University: Vanderbilt University, USA
Supervisor: Richard Lloyd
Year of completion: 2014
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: culture , social movements , political sociology , new media
Areas of Research: Communication, Knowledge and Culture , Social Classes and Social Movements , Political Sociology

Abstract

My dissertation explores the use of art and culture in protest. In the summer of 2010, students occupied the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) for 62 days, protesting the austerity measures of newly elected governor Luis Fortuno. The occupation was striking for its use of artistic and cultural performance; subsequently, it is remembered as the “Creative Strike” due to this overwhelming aesthetic dimension. Drawing upon two years of ethnographic data, including both on-site and virtual observations, 31 in-depth interviews, and movement documentation, my research is situated at the nexus of sociology of culture and social movements.

The use of artistic intervention in protest is not novel; however, contexts specific to the 21st century, including new media, pave the way for an emerging tactical consensus in response to neoliberalism and austerity measures. The UPR protest resembles past actions like the 1999 Battle of Seattle and anticipated coming interventions such as Occupy Wall Street. These actions are notable for the heterogeneity of the participants and a stated commitment to non-hierarchical organization. This dissertation illuminates the elevated role of art as a means to manage this movement pluralism, showing how aesthetics are deployed to both unify and differentiate movement participants. In doing so, it illuminates both longstanding protest challenges and 21st century configurations.

My approach contrasts with existing literature that emphasizes the role of art in creating a single collective identity, in that my data shows that artistic expression allows participants to perform multiple activist identities. In turn, while too much diversity of identity within a movement can lead to infighting among activist groups, artistic and cultural interventions act to ease the tensions among groups. It combines major theoretical perspectives from social movements, the sociology of culture, and political sociology, filling in subdisciplinary gaps in the engagement with movement tactics, “user created” culture and identity formation, and the challenge of political pluralism.

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