Parading Respectability: An Ethnography of the Christmas Bands movement in the Western Cape, South Africa

Posted in Africa, Anthropology, Dissertations, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, South Africa on 2012-07-08 14:31Z by Steven

Parading Respectability: An Ethnography of the Christmas Bands movement in the Western Cape, South Africa

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
May 2012
238 pages

Sylvia R. Bruinders

The Christmas Bands march through Adderley Street late at night during the “festive season” in Cape Town, 2001.
Picture by Henry Trotter. The author releases it to the public domain.

A Dissertation Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Musicology

In this dissertation I investigate the Christmas Bands Movement of the Western Cape of South Africa. I document this centuries-old expressive practice of ushering in the joy of Christmas through music by way of a social history of the colored communities. The term colored is a local racialized designation for people of mixed descent–often perceived as of mixed-race by the segregationist and apartheid ideologues. In the complexity of race relations in South Africa these communities have emerged largely within the black/white interstices and remained marginal to the socio-cultural and political landscape. Their ancestral area is the Western Cape where most still live and where several of their expressive practices can be witnessed over the festive season in the summer months from December through March. The Christmas Bands Movement is one of three parading practices that are active during this period.

Drawing on Foucault’s notion of “embodied subjectivity” and Butler’s work on gender and performativity, I explore three main themes, two of which are overlapping, throughout this dissertation. First, I investigate how the bands constitute themselves as respectable members of society through disciplinary routines, uniform dress, and military gestures. Second, I show how the band members constitute their subjectivity both individually as a member and collectively as a band; each has a mutual impact on the other. Even though the notion of subjectivity is more concerned with the inner thoughts and experiences and their concern with respectability is an outward manifestation of a social ideal, these two themes overlap as both relate to how the members constitute themselves. Third, I explore how the emergent gender politics, given renewed emphasis in the new South African constitution (1995) has played out in local expressive practices through the women’s insistence on being an integral part of the performance activities of the Christmas Bands Movement. Their acceptance into the Christmas Bands has transformed the historically gendered perception of the bands as male-only expressive forms. Furthermore, I will illustrate how this cultural practice has gained in popularity during the last seventeen years of democratic rule in South Africa, which may suggest that the historical marginality of the communities is still very present.

Read the entire dissertation here.

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