Folkloric dance, civil society, and the public sphere in the Bolivian saint's festival of the Virgin of Urqupiña
This thesis analyzes the practice and politics of folkloric dancing at the Bolivian patron saint's festival of the Virgin of Urqupiña. Folkloric dancing is a mainstream phenomenon in the Andean parts of Bolivia. The folkloric dancers present themselves on a highly public stage, and they perform national and regional cultural heritage in conjunction with their act of religious faith. Moreover, the folkloric groups and their overarching association of confraternities are organizations of civil society in which members come together to deliberate and decide on their own affairs and interact with agents of the public administration. In and through their organizations, the folkloric dancers rehearse the cultural practice that provides local meaning to universal ideals of democratic governance, and they approach the state with their specific requests. This thesis looks at the folkloric groups as civil society organizations which are a part of the Bolivian public sphere. It analyzes the specific practices and metaphorical associations which the social world of folkloric dancing at patron saints' festivals contributes to Bolivian society and the political process.
This thesis is based on more than twenty months of ethnographic fieldwork with folkloric confraternities in Bolivia. It gives an ethnographic description of how participants from urban and suburban middling sectors prepare to dance, and then perform in costumes and masks that mostly represent the national indigenous populations and the demons that folklore locates in the Andean landscape. At the example of the testimonies of select dancers, it explores motivations and frames of significance for the activity of folkloric dancing for the Virgin. Through an analysis of the narrative representation of a conflict with the town authorities in the course of an organizational assembly, it describes the notions of authority and transgression that inform the dancers' interactions with outside entities. This thesis concludes with an analysis of the symbolic, economic, and social-pragmatic dimensions of the circulation and consumption of beer provided by the local brewery, the main sponsor of the folkloric activities. This thesis seeks to contribute to an ethnographic grounding of theories of democracy, civil society, and the public sphere.