Carnival culture

Authored by: Karen B. Halnon , Harini D. Gunasekera

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138288621
eBook ISBN: 9781315267784
Adobe ISBN:


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Long the territory of literary scholars, historians, and anthropologists, the study of “carnival” is gaining visibility in cultural sociology because of the analytic purchase it yields on questions of aesthetics, performance, and power. This chapter analyzes the sociocultural significance of carnival, a pre-Lenten festival popular in Europe during the Christian Middle Ages and now celebrated in many nations and cultures around the world. After elaborating on the diverse formulations of carnival in the US, Latin America, and the Caribbean, we discuss the important contribution of the Russian philosopher and literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, who theorizes the function of carnival in relation to the concepts of “second voice” and “second life.” The remainder of the chapter analyzes a basic tension that cuts across studies of carnival cultures – the degree to which carnival’s “second life” is conservative or transformative. The authors explore issues of spectacle, rationalization, commercialization, consumerism, and postmodernism, concluding with a discussion of the possibilities of future study.

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