Sociability and the public sphere in the Fallas of Valencia
This thesis is an empirical study of the sociability and the public sphere in the Festival of the Fallas of Valencia (Mediterranean Spain). It argues (a) that festive traditions are not necessarily opposed to modernity but may be successfully interwoven with present-day experience, (b) that festive traditions have a 'festive sociability' which is 'reflexive' and (c) that this reflexivity generates a distinctive public sphere. Extensive interviews, participant observation and involvement in the work of several Fallas show that they are community associations which permanently deploy festive sociability in preparing an annual Festivity which reaches its climax between the 15th and 19th of March. These communities are widespread throughout the Valencian Region and beyond. There are 750 associations which, in the City of Valencia alone, have more than 100,000 members. Their main objective is to construct the gigantic satirical and artistic monuments which are burned on the night of the 19th of March in celebration of St. Joseph's Day. A network of close families and groups of friends are the main agents of the festive tradition of the Fallas; and the core mechanisms for transmitting it across space and time are play, humour, comensalism and 'festive work'. The tradition is flexible enough to link its permanent festive sociability with modem institutions such as schools or the City Council and rich enough to include modem economics, administration and voluntary associationalism in its community based action. This festive sociability makes selective use of forms of modem, critical reflexivity which feed into its corresponding public sphere, thereby preserving and modernising a form of European popular culture heavily influenced by Carnival. Fallas' sociable debates, their reflexive relation with the mass media, their satirical and critical parades with fancy dress and their satirical, artistic and ephemeral monuments are the centre of this public sphere. It incorporates modern experiences into a tradition which structures its social criticism in terms of myths and the symbols of the grotesque body.