Capoeira and transnational culture: Investigating the social role of a globally mobile traditional cultural practice
Embargoed until: 2019-04-06
MetadataShow full item record
Capoeira is a syncretic cultural system that simultaneously encompasses martial-art, dance, ritual, musical performance and theatre. It was forged by the interplay of diverse ethnicities in Brazil. Over the centuries, the practice served as a form of resistance to enslaved Africans, Amerindians, mestizos and exiled Europeans to counter slavery and an oppressive establishment. It has been argued that Capoeira functions ‘as a sign of history, preserving cultural patterns from former times, and as a sign in history evolving along with changes in the social order’ (Lewis, 1992: 9, italics in original). Despite its increasing popularity and multinational acceptance since the 1970s, the majority of the research done on Capoeira over the last few decades has been in the field of history. By contrast, applying theories of globalisation and transnational culture, this thesis addresses Capoeira’s process of transnationalisation and the matters of geographical and ethnic authenticity that are brought to the surface as Capoeira is practised throughout the world. The research also uses the example of Capoeira to study the application of transnationalised cultural practices in community development programmes promoting cultural understanding and social inclusion. The thesis draws on ethnographic data collected by the author, an experienced Capoeira teacher, during fieldwork conducted in Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Brazil, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Norway. A sample of 226 Capoeira practitioners (124 male and 102 female) from 43 countries, aged from 17 to 62 years (M = 27.64, SD = 6.623), and at variety of skill levels, voluntarily answered questionnaires containing demographic variables and Capoeira data. From these ten countries, and from within the same sample, 38 individuals voluntarily took part in in-depth interviews. A descriptive analysis was applied to statistical data gathered from questionnaires, and a Chi square test of proportions (χ2) was used to investigate proportional differences between Brazilians and non-Brazilians in regards to educational levels. A combination of qualitative and content data analysis was used to analyse data coming from in-depth interviews and secondary sources of data (online interviews and discussions, and social media websites) respectively. The position of the researcher as an insider in his field of research is also discussed in relation to the relevant literature corroborating to the understanding of the advantages and challenges of such an approach (Bennett, 2002, 2003; Hodkinson, 2005). The findings of the study reveal that in the case of transnationalised cultural practices, such as Capoeira, there is a dialectical relationship between the hegemonic type of globalisation (or globalisation from above) and the counter-hegemonic type (globalisation from below) influencing the global diffusion of culture. Moreover, the study of the transnationalisation of Capoeira corroborates with the argument that ‘globalisation from above’ carries in itself counter-hegemonic possibilities, as posed by Boaventura Santos (2006), Milton Santos (2008) and Giddens (1990). Such dialectic relations between the hegemonic and counter-hegemonic forces allow for the birth of what Boaventura Santos (2006) calls ‘insurgent cosmopolitanism’, a cosmopolitan identity that is developed bearing the counter-hegemonic values of globalisation from below (Santos, 2006: 397-398). This study also calls attention to the fact that the institutionalised organisational framework created to run Capoeira groups (for example, the creation of businesses, associations and NGOs to run classes and events), although aligned with the hegemonic type of globalisation, was the most efficient way for capoeristas to (re)create their groups and (re)produce, or emulate, Capoeira’s cultural principles, values and shared meanings within the new territories to which Capoeira was spreading. Such a framework continued to strengthen the monopoly of information (chiefly over teaching, organisational and promotional methods), a highly competitive attitude among different Capoeira groups and a rigidly hierarchical framework. All of these factors, I argue, are hindering the absorption of Capoeira’s interdisciplinary, intercultural and progressive legacy by our globalised societies. This study of the global diffusion of Capoeira thus exemplifies the shift that local practices undergo when their local function, meaning and ancestry are questioned by our current and often deterritorialised way of relating to each other and to the cultural practices in which we engage in a globalised world. In addition, this study argues that the use of social media, because it lowers the transaction costs of organising activities and bringing people together to practise, is challenging the ubiquitousness of the institutionalised framework, allowing for different kinds of Capoeira-related groups to evolve and for those involved in Capoeira to question ingrained notions of geographical and ethnic authenticity and authority in their international community. Finally, the study argues that the involvement of some Capoeira practitioners with social media and community development projects is an attempt by these practitioners to connect with Capoeira’s historic legacy as a form of resistance and as a progressive and inclusive art-form. This kind of engagement brings today’s worldwide and deterritorialised practice closer to Capoeira’s early inclusive, intercultural and cooperative principles.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
School of Hum, Lang & Soc Sc
The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.