Everything but the Funnel Cake: Art and the University of Puerto Rico Student Occupation of 2010

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 11:00 AM
Room: 418
Oral Presentation
Katherine EVERHART , Sociology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
My dissertation, Everything but the Funnel Cake: Art and the University of Puerto Rico Student Occupation, explains the use of aesthetic performance and display in protest. In the summer of 2010, students occupied the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) for 62 days, protesting austerity measures by newly elected Governor Luis Fortuño. In retrospect, the occupation would be referred to as “The Creative Strike,” for its overwhelming aesthetic dimension. Drawing upon two years of ethnographic data, including both on-site and virtual observations, 31 in-depth interviews, and movement documentation, my research is situated at the nexus of sociology of culture and social movements.

The use of artistic intervention in protest is not novel; however, contexts specific to the 21st century, including new media, paved the way for an emerging set of tactics in response to increasing privatization and economic austerity measures. The UPR protest resembles past actions like the Battle of Seattle in 1999 and anticipated coming actions, such as the Occupy movement. These actions are notable for the heterogeneity of participants, stated commitment to non-hierarchical organization, and dynamic aesthetic atmosphere. This dissertation illuminates the elevated role of art as a means to manage movement pluralism, demonstrating how aesthetics are deployed to both unify and differentiate movement participants. It combines major theoretical perspectives from social movements, the sociology of culture, and political sociology, filling in subdisciplinary gaps in “user-created” culture and identity formation, and the challenge of political pluralism. In doing so, it illuminates both longstanding protest challenges and 21st century configurations.