Seminar 6: paper 1

THE ORDINARY CITY AS A STAGE FOR CULTURE, CREATIVITY & SOCIAL INCLUSION: A study of the social circus in Brazil & Latin America in the first decades of the 21st century

Alice Demattos Guimarães, PhD Candidate Western Norway University of Applied Science. CrowdCul project 

If one considers that we are living through a transformative moment, we can have in mind that every transformation is, essentially, a cultural project: changing socioeconomic and cultural values. Therefore, perhaps, this ongoing moment can lead to a better global-urban-local model and a more inclusive common future. 

Latin America is the region with the highest rates of social inequality and urbanization in the world. This unevenness is structural, multidimensional, and persists – even increasing in the exclusive model of contemporary cities. In this sense, the right to the city,  an important political banner in the region since the end of the 1980s, articulates voices of diverse actors, claiming to have their social rights included amidst the marginalized sociospatial urban process. Indeed, the reality of the 21st century is urban. 

Sociopolitical-cultural movements have emerged in multiple elsewhere contesting the formation of globalizing cities which, under the neoliberal context, have exposed the uneven urban development and sociospatial inequality worldwide. Therefore, grounded on the urban space, this research has investigated ‘categories of cities’ (mainly the ‘global city’ and the ‘creative city’), concluding that such labels have limited the scope of imagining alternative-possible urban futures. 

As cities are a social, political, and cultural arena where the instrument of the right to the city verbalize the appeal for equal opportunities and an adequate pattern of life to all, to embrace the vision that cities are ordinary enhance the improvements of urban future imaginaries. Ordinary cities are diverse, complex, and internally differentiated, accounting with an own capacity to foster creativity, to be found very much on any street: like someone juggling at the traffic light. 

Historically, the circus art have arrived in the (ordinary) city. This art when liked to social interventions concerned with suppressing the lack of opportunities to the youth at vulnerable conditions can transform the territory in a socially creative city. The ordinary cities are the most suitable stage to accommodate the potentialities of the magic reality of the circus. The social circus is a relevant cultural-creative tool to youngsters to conquer their right to the (ordinary) city: appropriating their own future perspectives when inequal opportunities are real. 

The social circus is part of the trending cultural-creative economy. Increasingly in the 21st century, urban policies have been strategically placing culture and creativity to revitalize urban conditions and adapt the economy to the ongoing global transition: from manufacturing to knowledge-intensive and service-based industries, driven by technological and digital innovation, and configuring the cognitive-cultural capitalism.

The cultural-creative industries, although boomed as a ‘neoliberalism policy prescription’, thus negatively impacting the making of post-colonial urban societies in their uneven development, are also an instrument of social transformation. The CCIs within the neoliberalism discourse disregard the diverse local sociohistorical backgrounds, promoting gentrification, displacement, and labor precariousness; also reinforcing the asymmetry between the Global North and Global South. The endeavor was not to dismantle the contemporary creative economy due to its negative features but search how to stretch the concept to engage with de-westernized interpretations in the means of epistemologies from the South. Analyzing Latin American literature on the theme, CCIs were approached to social rights, understanding cultural policies as a depth of the social ones. Art is the ‘space of dreams’: enabling the youth to think about alternatives right to the city, using culture and creativity in search for social emancipation.

The social circus, an innovative-creative fusion between the circus art (a performance cultural industry) and social intervention, has increased worldwide since the 1980s. With CCIs closer to social right in the Latin American context, this research expanded the comprehension of the social circus practice as enhancer of opportunities (and dreams) in the regional uneven urban reality. In this perspective, the research used a combination of diverse methods: analysis of secondary data from different statistical departments, mapping, interviews, oral history, to photographs, aiming to achieve all the nuances that the social circus practice represent to youngsters’ life and to the urban territory. Working with the notion of the possible due to social isolation in pandemic times, a qualitative approach intended to deepen the comprehension of the social circus’ role for its different actors: students, collaborators, and the city itself.

Concluding, in a narrative process, embedded in a postcolonial effort, this study presented a literature review in urban studies and cultural-creative economy, having the social circus practice as it mains character performing at the stage of Latin American ordinary cities in the 21st century. In the contextualized-multifaceted Latin American social inequalities, collection of facts, events and perceptions configured plots of stories in the research construction. In the most suitable scene (ordinary cities), the social circus performed as a CCIs approached to social right: a social intervention which resignified  culture and creativity as a tool for political and social transformation, expanding social rights, including the right to the ordinary city. The social circus gets all the light not as industrial business stricto sensu, but empowered as a tool for social emancipation in Latin American ordinary cities in the 21st century. 

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