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“Human Towers for Democracy:” The Use of Cultural Performances for Catalan Nation Building and Independence

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Spain faces the greatest challenge in the post-Franco era to the nation’s constitutional unity as Catalans rally behind the idea of their independence. This paper argues that, among the available Catalan cultural performances like the sardana dance and football, the choice of the human towers castells as symbol of the current independence movement reflects Catalans` changing attitudes toward Spain. First, this paper establishes that the human towers are the dominant emblem of the movement. Then it reviews the sovereignty process, and shows the ways human towers engage its objectives. Finally, it explores the impact of their instrumentalization on politics and on the existing practice and values of castells. This paper assesses the efficacy of performance as a model of “making a nation,” and addresses the dilemmas and limitations of the political use of cultural and folk performance genres. This ethnographic study of performance as nationalist icon yields insight into current political processes in Europe, where the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and Catalan efforts challenge existing concepts of national sovereignty.

Mariann Vaczi (University of Nevada, Reno) is a social anthropologist focusing on modern sports, indigenous games, and folk performance genres. She is author of the monograph Soccer, culture and society in Spain: An ethnography of Basque fandom (Routledge, 2015).

This talk is part of the Cambridge Endangered Languages and Cultures Group series.

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