In recent decades, the sociological theory of action has paid a good deal of attention to the concept of performances. This is particularly the case for the Strong Program in Cultural Sociology’s notion of social or cultural performances. The concept presupposes, among other things, that in order to be successful, performances should be harmonic and avoid marked differentiations, sanctioning a dominant cultural structure. This article offers an example of how the opposite may be true, through an analysis of the contentious performances of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela (1999–2012). From these, I identify two main dynamics. One is of condensation, where events and agents are dragged into a populist framework, characterized by the binary opposition of the people vs. elites. The other dynamic is of displacement, where the meaning of revolution is changed (from moral, to political war, to socialist revolution). I conclude that, in the context of a Global South nation like Venezuela, the symbolic environment might be constituted by hybrid cultural structures, and charismatic leaders may interpellate dominant binary codes and highlight other, subordinated ones. This is relevant to stretch the use of performances beyond their original context, and provides clues for a performative theory of cultural change.
American Journal of Cultural Sociology – Springer Journals
Published: Aug 25, 2016