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Cultural repression and artistic resistance: The case of Argentina’s last dictatorship

Elodie Marie Bordat
Institut d'Études Politiques Aix-en-Provence
Mathilde Arrigoni
Sciences Po Paris
Elodie Marie Bordat
Institut d'Études Politiques Aix-en-Provence
Open Panel

Abstract

In this paper we analyse the organization of cultural repression by an authoritarian regime and how, in spite of that repression, a protesting artistic movement emerged. First, we analyse the types, methods and justifications of cultural repression during Argentina’s last dictatorship (1976-1983). Due to the lack of theoretical material on cultural repression, we will adopt an empirical method using mainly archives and interviews. Through the example of book repression, we demonstrate that the State’s cultural repression was organized, fierce and well financed. During Argentina’s last dictatorship, the regime justified its recourse to cultural repression mainly by drawing on the arguments of fighting “subversion” and the Marxist threat. Two types of cultural repression actions can be distinguished: legal and clandestine. The regime looked for legal justifications in order to ban, forbid and burn thousands of books. On the other hand, it carried out undercover operations to persecute, threaten and “disappear” hundreds of writers. This paper analyses the mechanisms of cultural repression, led by the Home Office and the Education and Culture Secretariat. Yet, despite fierce and systematic repression, a protesting cultural movement managed to emerge: Teatro Abierto. The Argentinian playwright Osvaldo Dragun created in 1981, with twenty of his colleagues, a dissenting theatre festival. Each playwright tackled the Proceso and its by-products with different practices (metaphor, for instance). We chose to combine two new methodological approaches in social sciences. First, we propose a dramatic art analysis to understand how theatre can be political: which elements did playwrights use to get around censorship? Which stage elements did directors give priority to? Secondly, we link this analysis with the approach developed by James Jasper, reintroducing emotions into collective action studies. But we move away from his conception of emotions, considering that they are not only the reason why actors commit themselves. We argue that they are the protest we must explain. We will ask which emotions were produced by Teatro Abierto in order to protest in a society paralyzed by anxiety.