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A polyethnic London carnival as a contested cultural performance – Abner Cohen (2002)


Author(s):  Abner Cohen
Organisation/Publisher: Ethnic and Racial Studies, 5:2, pp. 23-41 (Taylor & Francis)
Date: 1982

In this article, an attempt had been made to show potentialities of carnivals for articulating both hegemonous and opposition political formations. Both orientations are present in every carnival, posing a contradiction within a unity of form. Like a grand joking relationship, carnival expresses both alliance and enmity, both consensus and conflict, at one and the same time. It is an ambiguous symbolic formation that camouflages and mystifies a contradiction. In an ideal type carnival, hegemony and opposition are in a state of balance. If the festival is made to express pure and naked hegemony, it becomes a massive political rally of the type staged under totalitarian political systems.

On the other hand, if it is made to express pure opposition, it becomes a political demonstration against the system. The politico-cultural structure of the event is different every year. This love-hate relationship is nearly always expressed in the symbolic structure of carnival. The structural incongruity is perhaps most dramatic in the role of the police in carnival.

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