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Culture Works

Space, Value, and Mobility Across the Neoliberal Americas

By Arlene Davila

Publication Year: 2012

Culture Works addresses and critiques an important dimension of the “work of culture,”  an argument made by enthusiasts of creative economies that culture contributes to the GDP, employment, social cohesion, and other forms of neoliberal development. While culture does make important contributions to national and urban economies, the incentives and benefits of participating in this economy are not distributed equally, due to restructuring that neoliberal policies have wrought from the 1980s on, as well as long-standing social structures, such as racism and classism, that breed inequality. The cultural economy promises to make life better, particularly in cities, but not everyone can take advantage of it for decent jobs.

Exposing and challenging the taken-for-granted assumptions around questions of space, value and mobility that are sustained by neoliberal treatments of culture, Culture Works explores some of the hierarchies of cultural workers that these engender, as they play out in a variety of settings, from shopping malls in Puerto Rico and art galleries in New York to tango tourism in Buenos Aires. Noted scholar Arlene Dávila brilliantly reveals how similar dynamics of space, value and mobility come to bear in each location, inspiring particular cultural politics that have repercussions that are both geographically specific, but also ultimately global in scope.

Published by: NYU Press


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Title Page, Copyright PAge

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

The main ideas for this book grew out of my regular graduate seminar on culture and consumption, and I thank the students who have participated in this course throughout the years, especially Johana Londoño and Jan Padios, for the inspiring exchanges that led to the overall conceptualization of this book. ...

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pp. 1-20

Culture is on the rise. In most contemporary cities, there is not a project or policy without a “cultural” component, as discussion intensifies over the role culture plays in urban development projects. Tourism and shopping and entertainment based-developments are growing, while cultural workers and “creative classes,” ...

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1. Ideologies of Consumption and the Business of Shopping Malls in Puerto Rico

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pp. 21-47

These are three common responses to the Puerto Rican government’s announcement of a series of emergency measures to address the island’s current economic crisis (Muriente-Pastrana 2008). The sentiments contained in these statements include disbelief that Puerto Rico could in fact be in such bad economic shape ...

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2. Authenticity and Space in Puerto Rico’s Culture-Based Informal Economy

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pp. 48-72

The informal economy has long served as the refuge of the unemployed and underemployed. This flexible sector—which is never isolated from the “formal economy” and encompasses a wide range of unregulated income-generating activities, from street vending to intermittent services and casual work ...

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3. The Battle for Cultural Equity in the Global Arts Capital of the World

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pp. 73-93

In today’s economy, street writers, bomba y plena dancers, and tamale makers are not regularly considered cultural creatives. This label has become overidentified with what Robert Reich called the “symbolic analysts,” people working in technology, publishing, advertising, and the arts, or else with the “creative class” ...

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4. The Trials of Building a National Museum of the American Latino

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pp. 94-111

“That’s a strange world in which to start building a museum to celebrate Latinos”—so said skeptically a Washington Post editorial challenging the viability of building an “old-fashioned, balkanized museum of ethnic identity” (Kennicott 2010). In this culture critic’s view, in fifty years we may not even have Latinos ...

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5. Through Commerce, for Community: Miguel Luciano’s Nuyorican Interventions

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pp. 112-134

Since the 1980s “Hispanic art boom,” when museums and galleries discovered the marketability of exhibiting Latino and Latin American artists under a pan-Latino category, Latino artists have had to maneuver through established boundaries of artistic and identity categorization. ...

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6. Tango Tourism and the Political Economy of Space

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pp. 135-163

For years, tango has been Argentina’s most prized attraction, to the point that tourism representatives often equate its promotion with that of Buenos Aires and Argentina at large. From shows to souvenirs to classes to tango-themed dinners, tours, and festivals, tango is now at the core of Buenos Aires’s growth as a global city ...

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7. Urban/Creative Expats: Outsourcing Lives in Buenos Aires

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pp. 164-188

Tourism has often been prized by Latin American governments for the profit and validation it bestows on their countries’ cultural attractions. But when first-world citizens from the United States and Europe with education, options, mobility, and resources choose to settle more permanently in cities ...

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Conclusion: The Cultural Politics of Neoliberalism

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pp. 189-200

I wrote this book with two primary goals in mind. The first was to explore the work of culture in neoliberalism with a critical eye. The cultural turn in urban cultural policies, be it in urban planning or tourism, is often celebrated as the solution to the standardization of space and the mainstreaming of culture that often characterizes neoliberalizing contexts. ...


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pp. 201-206


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pp. 207-220


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pp. 221-231

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About the Author

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p. 232

arlene dávila is Professor of Anthropology and American Studies at NYU. Her previous books include Latino Spin: Public Image and the Whitewashing of Race (NYU Press, 2008), Barrio Dreams: Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and the Neoliberal City, Latinos Inc.: Marketing and the Making of a People, ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814744314
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814744291
Print-ISBN-10: 081474429X

Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 787848542
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Culture Works

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Latin America -- Cultural policy.
  • Latin America -- Civilization.
  • Arts -- Americas.
  • Cultural industries -- Americas.
  • Neoliberalism -- America.
  • Latin Americans -- Economic conditions.
  • Latin Americans -- Social conditions.
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