Latin American Studies Popular Culture and Globalization
by
O. Hugo Benavides
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0129

Introduction

Latin America has never been an isolated geographical and cultural region. This global interaction has only manifested itself more poignantly since the 1960s, since in the last half of the 20th century, Latin American communities have developed and experienced a series of political (e.g., civil strife, return to democratic rule), socioeconomic (e.g., IMF structural adjustment policies, oil exports), and cultural (e.g., mass media production, migration) processes. The recent selection of Brazil as the site for both the World Cup 2014 and Olympics 2016 reemphasizes these global relationships. Latin Americans continue to be global players who produce distinct cultural lifeways within wider worldwide concerns and exchanges. Latin American popular cultural elements in particular are impacted by global flows that rearticulate the modes by which this cultural production is created, reproduced, negotiated, and consumed. To this degree, Latin American popular culture makes significant contribution in a myriad of manner and areas. In this article, the areas of popular cultural influence are divided into topics (i.e., music, theater, and performance, literature and telenovelas) and cultural products/encounters (i.e., narco culture, migration, Latino identity, and lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered/queer struggles). These two different types of categorization are metonymic devices that serve to highlight, not exhaust, the popular cultural expressions within the greater local-global structure that orders the reproduction and representation of culture in our contemporary world, a cultural representation significantly highlighted in this contribution. Latin Americans, as a result of transnational processes, continue to be important players in these larger regional landscapes but also contribute greater forms of cultural products and encounters that provide continuous spaces of agency, social transformation, and hope.

Foundational Texts

Long before globalization became a buzzword, Latin American writers and scholars had already attempted to outline the complex manner in which local popular cultural production was intimately tied to greater forms of global exchange, as is expressed in Guamán Poma de Ayala 2009, a colonial letter to the Spanish king, highlighting the singularity of American experience and its incongruence with European domination. Also in this sense the analysis in Dorfman 1984 outlines how cartoons and Disney World figures go beyond the obvious and explicit desire to entertain but rather contain larger political agendas inherently engrained in their cultural milieu. These same concerns have been consistently highlighted in a couple of larger gatherings and collections, such as the Colloquiuma on Democracy, Identity and Memory (Franco, et al. 2002, cited under Literature). General meetings build upon decades of intellectual and scholarly inquiry of how a vibrant Latin American culture is continuously reproduced in highly uneven and hierarchical spaces yet manages to provide attractive options for social transformations that are full of historical agency. Many of these similar concerns are expressed in the work by Martín Barbero 1993, García Canclini 2005, Ortiz 1988, and Monsiváis 2000 that further expound on the complex yet rich manner in which cultural representation, different types of media, and identity are intimately related in their different forms of social and political articulation. Finally, Bolaños 1972–1980 provides a tangible example of a popular television program that expressed many of the issues at play in the scholarly debates on popular culture and media.

  • Bolaños, Roberto Gómez. El Chavo del Ocho. Mexico: Televisa, 1972–1980.

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    Bolaños is the creator of this Mexican television sitcom, which gained enormous popularity throughout the Americas and Spain. It centers around the adventures and tribulations of the title character, El Chavo—a poor orphan played by the show’s creator—and other inhabitants of a fictional housing complex in a neighborhood, or la vecindad.

  • Dorfman, Ariel. How to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Disney Comic. New York: International General, 1984.

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    English translation of Para leer el Pato Donald, originally published in 1972. Insightful text that marked a whole generation of Latin American scholars. It is one of the earliest studies to point out the rich implications of popular culture, particularly in terms of the greater global political effects.

  • Achugar, Hugo, and Sonia C’Alessandro, eds. Global-local: Democracia, memoria, identidades. Montevideo, Uruguay: Ediciones Trilce, 2002.

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    A collection of texts from a conference that directly deal with the three richer implications of popular culture: democracy, memory, and identity. The collection highlights many of the contemporary key figures in the realms of popular culture scholarship and theoretical insights that result from it.

  • García Canclini, Néstor. Hybrid Cultures: Strategies for Entering and Leaving Modernity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

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    The text, originally published in Spanish in 1989, is foundational to Latin American cultural studies. The author moves with ease from the ideas of Gramsci and Foucault to economic analysis, of appraisals of the exchanges between Octavio Paz and Jorge Luis Borges, clarifying the development of democratic institutions in Latin America and revealing that destructive ideological trends still exist.

  • Guamán Poma de Ayala, Felipe. The First New Chronicle and Good Government on the History of the World and the Incas up to 1615. Translated by Roland Hamilton. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.

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    English translation of original text written in Spanish as El primer nueva crónica y buen gobierno in 1615. This open letter written by an Andean subject to the then King of Spain continues to provide insightful basis for understanding the elements articulated in the original historical conflicts between Indigenous and European interests.

  • Martin Barbero, Jesús. Communication, Culture and Hegemony: From the Media to Mediations. Translated by Elizabeth Fox and Robert White. London: SAGE, 1993.

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    English translation of De los medios a las mediaciones: Comunicación, cultura y hegemonía. Originally published in 1987. One of the fundamental texts in terms of assessing the manner in which media, politics, and hegemony are intimately related in the contemporary context of cultural production.

  • Monsiváis, Carlos. Aires de familia: Cultura y sociedad en América Latina. Barcelona: Editorial Anagrama, 2000.

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    In this award-winning book, the author discusses the different elements that make a unified Latin American identity a viable political and social reality. Divided into seven essays, the book discusses different cultural products like literature, film, and history to get to the social mores that make up what we believe Latin America to be.

  • Ortiz, Renato. A moderna tradição brasileira. São Paulo, Brazil: Ed. Brasiliense, 1988.

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    How has Brazil shifted in the last decades? Using this central question, the author focuses on the Brazilian cultural problematic to understand notions of national identity, popular culture, modernization, and modernity that have imposed themselves first as cultural projects, and then reflected as traditions.

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