Staging Citizenship: Cultural Rights in the Americas

Photo: Julio Pantoja

7th Encuentro

Universidad Nacional de Colombia

Bogotá, August 21-30, 2009

Our 7th Encuentro invited interested participants to investigate "cultural rights" and their complex relationship to citizenship in both historical and contemporary contexts. We understand cultural rights as a juridical figure, a technology of power and an articulation that brings together multiple political demands, social subjects and modalities of citizenship. They allow us to explore the relationship between performance and politics through diverse expressive forms, analytic categories, disciplines, traditions and movements. Cultural rights necessarily invoke the State, made visible by the same citizens and institutions that it produces, and also highlight the instrumentalization of ritual, identity, protest and art. They also invite us to examine the right to identity and interculturality; the use and promotion of native languages, languages of choice and their hybrids; artistic training and access to its expressions; and the recognition, transmission and transformation of collective memory, among others. Cultural rights also bring attention to the enormous distance between juridical discourse and everyday experience and between written theory and embodied practice, and extol us to examine these tensions, antagonisms and social inequalities and the performative practices mobilized by artists, social actors and states to intervene them.

These themes were organized under three umbrella topics that served as the point of departure of a great variety of performances, installations, exhibits, roundtables, workshops, keynotes and work groups.

1. Memories of Politics and Legacies of Citizenship

Reflecting on the history and the memory of over two centuries of "independence" in the Americas and its colonial legacy, we ask: Can the rights to memory and to history as cultural demands ever be separate from the exercise of political rights? What is the shape of the struggles over the definition, transmission and control of the past in the public sphere? In what ways do hegemonic mechanisms and institutions highlight, disseminate and legitimize particular narratives and practices, while devaluing, restricting or erasing others?

2. The Struggles Over Citizenship

The "normalization" of cultural practices in accordance with ideological interests presumes that culture can exist in homogeneous and static forms. In such contexts, citizenship is defined in the degree to which subjects are able to obtain "equality in difference," recognition or identity-based "empowerment." What strategies have individuals, groups and communities deployed to make themselves visible as citizens or, to the contrary, to make themselves invisible as a form of cultural resistance? How may these discursive and performative processes be categorized and understood? How do practices repeated upon bodies turn these very bodies into territories of contestation and risk?

3. Citizenship and its Frontiers

Since the 1980's, many countries in the Americas have constitutionally recognized multiculturality, ethnic diversity and differential forms of citizenship while others, like the United States, have moved in the opposite direction. During this same period, diverse forms of violence, forced displacement and migration have intensified both within and across national boundaries. How do these phenomena alter and refine notions of citizenship and belonging? What cultural transformations do they bring with them? How can intercultural dialogue be framed in light of struggles for social justice? What debates emerge about place and territory, about the right to land as a cultural right?