Making Mardi Gras: the Celebration and Experience Of Mardi Gras in New Orleans
Westrene, J.M.I. van
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"In this research project, we aim to examine how the celebration of Mardi Gras is created and negotiated, as well as dissect how meaning is attached to these celebrations. We argue that there is not one particular way in which Mardi Gras is celebrated. The way in which Mardi Gras is celebrated is contingent upon multiple socio economic factors making a uniquely individual experience. We examine this issue through the use of our main research question: How is the celebration of Mardi Gras practiced and experienced by both local residents and visitors in New Orleans? . The key theoretical concepts we employ are social practice, spectacle and space. Social practice theory reflects upon on the formation of the social world, through a dialogue between social structure and human agency. The concept of practice has been defined as a temporally and spatially dispersed nexus of doings and sayings . Practices should be understood as dynamic entities that are performed across a specific timeline by individual carriers. As such, practices are influenced by, and an influence on their practitioners. We use spectacle to illustrate the commoditization of Mardi Gras. The concept refers to the staged visual production and imagery events and other cultural practices. We use the term space to refer to the fluid non-physical environment that is constructed by cultural specifics and cultural change. We suggest that space should always be understood as shared, as multiple experiences can share cultural and historical particularities and therefore move within the same cultural space. The shared space can be divided into front stage and backstage. The front stage refers to the accessible and public space, and the backstage to the private and exclusive space. In the fourth chapter, we examine the way socio-economic factors influence different entities of Mardi Gras: parades, balls, krewes and royalty. Krewes perpetuate closed societal loops, ensuring that it is virtually unachievable for anyone outside their small circle to break through. Through the recreation of Mardi Gras traditions, notions about who has access to certain aspects are also continued and reproduced. As such, Mardi Gras retains its association with exclusivity and wealth. The fifth chapter examines the way in which meaning is attributed to the celebration of Mardi Gras. Connectivity and community are important elements in the practice of parading as it enables for the performance of parading through catching and throwing to take place as well as ascribes meaning to these processes. In addition, the function of Mardi Gras in New Orleans society shifts to reflect the different hardships and triumphs that the city experiences. Mardi Gras becomes a mirror, in which society is depicted, and reversed. In chapter six we focus on the various forms of space that can be dissected in the celebration of Mardi Gras. We argue that Mardi Gras should be understood as a geographical space, as a social space, and as a cognitive space. Mardi Gras as a space if shared by both local residents and visitors, whose access to the front and backstage determines their Mardi Gras experience. Chapter seven focuses on the presence of Mardi Gras in New Orleans outside the carnival season. Mardi Gras related practices for local residents, such as the involvement with Krewes, are turned inward to the backstage outside of the Mardi Gras season, but do not disappear completely. Other events reproduce Mardi Gras related practices, such as throwing and catching objects. And lastly, Mardi Gras remains present in New Orleans through its utilization in a marketing strategy. Throughout this thesis, the themes of access and meaning have been established as essential to the celebration of Mardi Gras. We argue that the meaning of celebrating Mardi Gras is different to local residents and visitors. For local residents, celebrating Mardi Gras is often focused on community and connectivity. For visitors, Mardi Gras is often regarded as an opportunity to party and let loose. Access is an important aspect to Mardi Gras as it is decisive in how Mardi Gras can be celebrated. Different levels of access are appointed to local residents and visitors creating a difference in the experience of Mardi Gras. In conclusion, we have argued that Mardi Gras is a shared space, built upon several places, which all interact and intersect. The boundaries of these places are defined by access and meaning, along with temporal and spatial specifics. As a result, the celebration of Mardi Gras is an accumulation of uniquely individual experiences that are negotiated within the social context that Mardi Gras is embedded in."