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Power and Persuasion

Power and Persuasion: Fiestas and Social Control in Rural Mexico

Stanley Brandes
Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Power and Persuasion
    Book Description:

    Demonstrates how the annual fiesta cycle reflects political dependency of local communities on the nation-state, helps maintain formal authority, and perpetuates behavioral norms and social values.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9249-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. ONE Studying Fiestas and Social Control
    (pp. 1-19)

    In a far-ranging, insightful overview of her chosen discipline, Elizabeth Colson once wisely observed that “Anthropologists have a liking for paradoxes” (1974: 37). Certainly, when we examine research findings that bear on the topic of order and social control, this remark could not be more accurate. Consider gossip, for example. On the surface, talking behind someone’s back seems divisive, uncharitable, and contrary to the norms of human decency, and yet many anthropologists, Elizabeth Colson among them, have demonstrated that gossip contributes to social consensus. It allows people to pool information, evaluate what they have heard from various contradictory sources, and...

  6. TWO The Social Context of Tzintzuntzan Fiestas
    (pp. 20-39)

    Any consideration of power on the local level should begin by outlining the formal administrative bodies that wield control, as well as the territories that they govern. In Tzintzuntzan, as throughout rural Mexico, formal power is in the hands of church and civil authorities. There exists no single centralized administration. Rather, the situation is similar to that which Clifford Geertz (1967:267) described for Bali, where “A village is … a concrete example of the intersection of the various planes of social organization in a given, only broadly delimited locality.” Like other rural Mexicans, the people of Tzintzuntzan are affiliated with...

  7. THREE Fiesta Organization
    (pp. 40-58)

    Fiestas are expensive, elaborate occasions that require clearly defined leadership. The issue of who finances and organizes these complex events drives to the very core of any consideration of controlling processes. As Maurice Bloch (1974) has cogently demonstrated, ceremonial leaders are highly constrained by the formalization and repetitiveness of sacred action but at the same time derive authority from the very holiness of the activities over which they preside. Fiesta leaders are responsible for the proper deployment of ceremony to ensure the appropriate veneration of God and the saints. In their power, too, rests the well-being of community members, who...

  8. FOUR Contract and Exchange
    (pp. 59-87)

    In fiesta organization, the lines of leadership are clearly delineated. The analysis in Chapter Three shows that we can determine who holds responsibility for certain tasks at any given moment, and whose initiative has resulted in one ceremonial activity or another. However, Mexican fiestas also reveal more diffuse types of authority, which draw virtually all villagers into their orbit. More than anything, the exchange of favors and the formation of implicit social contracts provide a framework through which we can observe community power relations—a theme that has long received anthropological attention.

    The compelling power of all types of exchange,...

  9. FIVE Tourism and the State
    (pp. 88-109)

    In contemporary Mexico, as in Spain (Díaz Viana 1981; Greenwood 1977), tourism exerts one of the most potent influences on folk Catholicism. This circumstance is particularly evident in fiesta celebrations, which provide exceptional opportunities for elaborate, attention-catching performances and other forms of diversion. Recognizing that traditional fiestas can further its financial and ideological goals, the Mexican government since the early 1970s has systematically promoted the touristic development of particular religious occasions, including most importantly the well-known Day of the Dead. Tzintzuntzan has been among the many villages affected by this national campaign. It is therefore worthwhile to examine Tzintzuntzan’s Day...

  10. SIX Pyrotechnics and Politics
    (pp. 110-126)

    Fiestas not only illuminate the role of outside powerholders and the state in influencing events and molding local identities; they also serve as barometers of internal political affairs. A single, discrete component of fiestas can reflect formal community power relationships. Fireworks in Tzintzuntzan are important not simply because they are expensive, spectacular, and loud (although these features should be considered in any overall estimation of their significance). Rather, fireworks bear anthropological attention for their political meaning. By tracing the way fireworks are handled, the community power structure is placed in bold relief.

    When speaking of fireworks, we enter directly into...

  11. SEVEN Social Control Through Dance
    (pp. 127-145)

    Whether we examine town government, religious brotherhoods and committees, or state and national agencies, the official power structure is not the only controlling influence that makes its effect apparent through fiestas. There also exist subtle means of control, including religious beliefs and social norms, that receive reinforcement throughout any fiesta proceedings. Particularly in the case of dramatic and artistic performances—those that are indigenous to the village and not imposed as in the Night of the Dead (see Chapter Five)—the controlling messages come through indirectly. What seems like mere entertainment may actually contain highly charged symbolism, through which beliefs...

  12. EIGHT A Christmas Morality Play
    (pp. 146-166)

    From the time of Redfield’s study (1930) of the fiesta cycle in Tepoztlán, readers of accounts of Spanish—American village life have tended to assume that the ritual cycle is immutable, a repetitive annual round that has persisted since Catholicism was introduced to native Americans early in the sixteenth century. To some extent, of course, this is true. The basic church observances have been essentially the same, worldwide, since Corpus Christi was added to the annual cycle early in the fourteenth century. But within this unvarying framework of Easter, Corpus Christi, the Ascension, All Souls’ and All Saints’ Days, and...

  13. NINE Fiestas and the Social Order
    (pp. 167-186)

    To conclude this volume, it seems appropriate to question Octavio Paz’s characterization of Mexican fiestas (1961: 50–51): “In certain fiestas the very notion of order disappears. Chaos comes back and license rules…. [The] fiesta is not only an excess, a ritual squandering of the goods painfully accumulated during the rest of the year; it is a revolt, a sudden immersion in the formless, in pure being.”

    If we consider the Tzintzuntzan data, Paz is partially correct, and for at least three reasons. First, and most obviously, fiestas are the time when deviant behavior is not merely tolerated but actually...

    (pp. 187-188)
    (pp. 189-202)
  16. Index
    (pp. 203-212)