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Bringing the visual into focus: Street art and contentious politics in Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina

Ryan, Holly (2013). Bringing the visual into focus: Street art and contentious politics in Brazil, Bolivia and Argentina. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)


Politically committed street art has been mobilised time and again as a crucial strategy and means of expression. Yet, social movement scholars and political analysts have displayed a persistent tendency to overlook the specificities of visual tools and aesthetic experience in contentious politics. Consequently, political action is often described and understood in ways that are reductive and distorted. This dissertation brings together a range of insights from art and aesthetics, communications and cultural studies in order to address this quandary. Fundamentally, this study makes a novel contribution to the discipline of International Relations and to the associated field of Social Movement Theory by synthesising and extending scholarly work on political process and affective encounter in ways that facilitate a thoroughgoing analysis of politically committed street art and ‘what it can do’ in protest. Drawing on research undertaken in Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina, this dissertation argues that street art can and has been utilised strategically and instrumentally in protest, in mobilising resources and galvanising public opinion. It also contends that the framing processes leading to these outcomes have been under-specified due to their recourse to an epistemology that rationalises away the sensate dimensions of protest. A key claim of this thesis is that under certain circumstances street art can very usefully be modelled as a mode of infrapolitics; deliberately veiled expressions that seek to skirt the gaze of the authorities. However, it is also suggested that periods of seemingly rational and strategic deployments of street art are sometimes punctuated by something else, a collective sense of something gone awry, wherein the categories and tools for processing what went wrong are unavailable. In these instances, activists might be moved to produce street art or be moved by producing it. By attending to political street art’s instrumental and heuristic potentials, this piece of work goes beyond current discussions about framing and political opportunity. It also contributes a series of new case studies centred on periods of contention in Latin America.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: J Political Science > JZ International relations
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Policy & Global Affairs > International Politics
School of Policy & Global Affairs > School of Policy & Global Affairs Doctoral Theses
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