IN THE NAME OF CULTURE: THE POLITICS OF CELEBRATION IN THE MULTICULTURAL CIVIL SPHERE
Fisher, Dana R
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A common barrier to the civic integration of immigrant and minority groups is the suite of symbolic classifications that structure everyday relations in diverse societies and set standards for inclusion and exclusion in shared public spaces. Although the regulatory norms governing the civil sphere are increasingly understood to be constituent elements of social power, they are not frequently seen as targets of collective action. As they are held in private attitudes and expressed spontaneously in everyday conduct, these forms of symbolic power do not easily lend themselves to political solutions. What form might a contestation of symbolic exclusion take? This dissertation examines the strategy of celebratory civics pursued through an annual series of 23 free public cultural festivals organized throughout the year by ethnic community organizations in partnership with the city of Seattle. Participating groups ii describe the dominant civil sphere as a place where opportunities for public deliberation about ethnic minority issues are scarce and ineffective, while confrontational protests antagonize potential allies and produce negative associations with minority cultural groups. They are skeptical that traditional civic action targeting policymakers is adequate to addressing discriminatory practices where they are most intimately felt, in the everyday conduct of social life in diverse societies. Through positive emotional appeals directed towards unfamiliar audiences unlikely to engage with them in everyday life, festivals aim to establish “common ground” on which to displace ethnic and racial stereotypes and make viable alternative ways of affirming civic belonging. Based on interviews with ethnic community organizations, their municipal sponsors, and festival visitors, surveys demonstrating the audience profile and expectations for the event, and a year of ethnographic observation at planning meetings and public festivals, this dissertation explores the promise and limitations of a form of civic engagement that takes up positive emotions as both a tactic and the target of its efforts. I demonstrate that this style of collective action seeks to supply members of the dominant culture with the familiarity required not to see ethnic identity as a threat or a curiosity, such that ethnic minorities can feel comfortable conducting themselves in public spaces on other days of the year. This desire defines a multicultural civil sphere that cannot be secured through rights alone, but only through the erasure of symbolic boundaries preventing the viability of diverse cultural practices and different ways of asserting belonging in public space.