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    Sensuous festival: what can the experiential reveal about the role of difference in carnival?

    de Matas, Rea (2014) Sensuous festival: what can the experiential reveal about the role of difference in carnival? Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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    This research takes the sensory turn in academia and applies it to carnival studies in order to offer a “third way of learning” about carnival (O’Neal, 2001, p. 18). I argue that not enough emphasis has yet been placed on the sensory dimensions of carnival, and that the senses, and bodily experience, can help us understand the role of difference in carnival. I define difference as the various and sometimes contested ways in which people experience, sense, reproduce, represent, and understand carnival culture. With this in mind I examine the variety of positions adopted by people within the festival as a result of difference. Although in considering the role of the senses in carnival, I recognise the importance of language, I suggest that language is “just one of the ways we experience and represent the world” (Drewal and Mason, 2003, p. 333). My original contribution to this field lies in my examination of the experiential and of the senses, and how these might cast some light on the concepts of difference and positionality. Together with a reflexive approach this thesis uses autoethnography as it will provide an opportunity for me to explore my own personal experiences, weaving together the personal and the culture being studied, a way of bringing “multiple layers of consciousness” to the research (Ellis, 2004, p. 37). Thus I aim to gain an understanding of people and culture through the process of self-exploration, because autoethnography enables the researcher to use self “to get culture” (Pelias, 2003, p. 372). This research looks at difference at the level of individual experience, a level often unaddressed in social science orientated studies of carnival. I draw from a variety of disciplinary fields (for example psychology, anthropology, performance studies, dance and fashion studies), to shed light on the links between the “partially masked” aspects of carnivalist behaviours, dress and the body, and people’s impulses to dance, celebrate, express and share (Stern, 1998, p. 141). Some of the key theories I use to support my argument are: Paul Stoller’s (1997) “sensuous scholarship” or sense phenomenology; Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s (1962) phenomenology of perception; the function of the body as offering experience from an embodied position (Barbaras, 2001); Pierre Bourdieu’s (1990) habitus and the importance of cultural bodily knowledge; Daniel Stern’s (1977, 1995, 1998) psychological theory of attunement, which is concerned with bonding between infant and mother and which I use to understand bonding and harmonising in a cultural context; Stuart Hall’s (1992) positionality, which is used as a means of understanding the different ways in which people interpret information; Gernot Böhme’s (1993, 2013) theory of atmospheres, and Elizabeth Hallam and Tim Ingold (2007) and Edward Bruner’s (1993 cited in Hallam and Ingold, 2007, p. 2) writings on the improvisatory nature of creativity. This thesis draws attention to how carnival is represented both by those who take part in it and those who study it. It examines the varying claims that research respondents make about carnival, why they interpret it in the way they do, and whether carnival is a means of empowerment or disempowerment. It examines carnivalists’ experiences of the Caribbean diasporic carnival in the United Kingdom (UK), from pre- to post-carnival. It considers how ideas of unity might be susceptible to change: either giving way to different concepts or taking on different meanings in a UK context. I consider how marginalised carnivalists confront, challenge, and embody resistance through craft production, which acts, in UK carnival, as a counterhegemonic response to contestation in the realm of the carnival. In addition I analyse the relationship between culture and hegemony with regards to the cultural politics involved in funding ethnic events, demonstrating the importance of the production and promotion of ideas, and how the ideas of the ruling class have been used to control and manipulate both the masses (who enjoy carnival) as well as carnivalists (who remake1 it). 1 I use the term remake because Caribbean diasporic carnivals are modelled on the Trinidad-style carnival and they are remade differently in diasporic spaces. The empirical research on which this thesis is based was conducted in the UK and data was collected through face-to-face semi-structured interviews and informal discussions with fifteen carnivalists, as well as eighty face-to-face informal discussions with spectators/participants and revellers at carnival events and at mas’ camps, and with members of a steel pan band. Interviews and discussions took place in different locations in the UK: as part of the 2012 Carnival Tour I visited ten carnivals and travelled from south-east England to the Midlands, and on to the north of England. Respondents in the study were aged between 25 and 90 years old. My research also gathered information through participant-observation at a pan yard and at mas’ camps2 in south-east England, in order “to have a nuanced understanding of the world” from the perspective of the carnivalists “being studied” (Yanow and Schwartz-Shea, 2013, p. 196). The thesis begins with a literature review and a comparative study of Trinidad and UK carnivals, highlighting the ideas which I argue have been imposed on carnival by “people in position” that “assert their visions” of carnival (Green and Scher, 2007, p. 9). Consequently, I examine the varying ways in which carnival has been assigned, framed and interpreted. The literature review highlights that dominant meanings about carnival have been constructed mainly in the fields of history, politics and scholarly discourse. I then consider individual experiences, and look at how carnival is adapted, adopted and contested by individuals, focusing on the ways in which people become attuned to carnival, and exploring how the carnival experience is able to impose its unique stamp on people. Moreover, I look at how carnival can, in return, offer people the opportunity to put their own stamp or ideology on carnival. Finally, I look at contestation in carnival, highlighting that the festival is not ‘freely free’, despite the fact that carnivalists maintain that they are free to parade through the streets (Schechner, 2004, p. 5). Their chapter five of this thesis I explain the dilemmas carnivalists face when they attempt to replicate the Trinidad-style carnival in diasporic spaces. 2 Mas’ camps are an integral part of carnival it is where mas’ is made, sold, and bands are organised. It is also a place of learning and teaching and community participation. 3 In ‘The Anthropology of Music’ Alan Merriam (1964) describes syncretism as RdM 2014 8 experiences reveal that whilst they are attuned to ideals of liberation, within carnival’s varying forms of cultural expression, carnivalists experience conflict, constraint and dependency: the very opposite of freedom as it is presented in various discourses.

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