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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Fringe festivals, cultural politics, and the negotiation of subjectivity Willems-Braun, Bruce


Social theory, influenced most recently by poststructuralism, has found renewed interest in questions concerning the subject, representation, ideology, and social formations. Rejecting earlier structuralist attempts to theorize the subject as ultimately tied to essentialist conceptualizations of society, it is suggested, rather, that individual subjects and social formations are constituted within a plurality of contesting discourses which form no totalizing logic, and in which no necessary relations can be defined. Attention has thus shifted to culture - its products, practices and representations - as sites where subjectivity (including gender, race, and class identities) and social formations are constructed, challenged and transformed. Social formations are viewed as mutable, their elements always able to be articulated within alternate formations. It is at the level of representation and dissemination, then, that a "politics of culture" emerges. This thesis examines Canada's Fringe Festivals as sites where subjectivity is negotiated and social formations constituted and transformed. These festivals are shown to provide possibilities for diversity and plurality - providing room for the production and consumption of cultural products which would otherwise remain invisible within the rationalized structures of Canadian society. This occurs through their accessibility (both to artists and patrons), their inversion of the wage relations of traditional theatre, their subversion of criticism (excellence and universality) and their transformation of rationalized urban spaces into spaces of "festivity." The festivals encourage interaction between patrons, artists and "representations" thereby moderating the influence of traditional evaluative media and positioning the negotiation of "meaning" in an intersubjective, "public" context. While an emerging literature on festivals has emphasized their "liminality" - considering them spaces of pure possibility where the structures of everyday life are suspended and transformed - the present work argues that such events should be understood as "situated" - inseparable from the social relations of the city. Whether examining characteristics of the Fringe "public," the selective images used in promotional literature, the production of "taste" across social groups, or the instrumental rationality behind state support of the festivals, the Fringe Festivals, their products and participants, are found to be constituted within multiple (often contradictory) discourses which simultaneously subvert and reproduce existing social formations.

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