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Journal of Interdisciplinary History 32.2 (2001) 296-297

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Book Review

Freedom for Catalonia:
Catalan Nationalism, Spanish Identity and the Barcelona Olympic Games

Freedom for Catalonia: Catalan Nationalism, Spanish Identity and the Barcelona Olympic Games. By John Hargreaves(New York, Cambridge University Press, 2000) 178pp. $64.95 cloth $22.95 paper

Freedom for Catalonia provides a stimulating sociological exploration of the dynamic interaction between regional, local, and national identities during the organization and staging of the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992. Through a detailed reading of the symbolic messages of the Games, as well as of the struggles over their meaning and configuration in the months before the event, Hargreaves concludes that globalization does not always eviscerate national and local identities and in some cases stimulates them.

In theoretical terms, this conclusion recommends what he calls the "weak version" of globalization--that is, that global culture competes with, and is mediated by, local and national cultures. In contrast, the "strong version" of globalization envisions a steamroller destroying all heterogeneity, including distinct national identities, in its wake. As he argues, globalization is not a postmodern phenomenon sweeping away the modern world, but a part of the ongoing process of modernization, in which it shares a continuing role with nation-states and nationalism. In other words, national and global culture need not be mutually exclusive, and in certain instances, as in Barcelona in 1992, can even be complementary.

Hargreaves' position implies a theory of power relations rooted in individual and group agency in the face of broad social forces, like global culture or capitalism. Thus, he focuses on how identities are created, solidified, and changed through a process of negotiation, conflict, and struggle. In this process, contingent factors, like individual negotiating skills, are given as much weight as the rules of the political culture or the economic imperatives of global capitalism.

What makes the Barcelona case study so interesting is the intersection of competing national identities, given the strength of the minority Catalan nationalism in its struggle for autonomy from the Spanish state.The combination of a premodern "ethnonation" and the uneven [End Page 296] modernization of the Spanish state had created the conditions for an emergent minority nationalism in late nineteenth-century Catalonia. Repression of Catalan language and culture under the Franco regime only fueled this nationalism, and although the democratic regime installed in the late 1970s has attempted to strike a balance between a civic Spanish and an ethnic Catalan nationalism, tensions remain and the exact nature of the relationship is constantly evolving.

Hargreaves' argument is that the Barcelona Olympics provided a site for the ongoing renegotiation of identities. On one level, the Olympic setting is the ideal point of contact between the local, national, and global. On another level, as an inter-national sporting event, it provides many opportunities for deploying the symbolism of the nation, and symbolism is the most potent way to communicate nationalist ideology. Although not all sport is nationalist, he argues, both sport and nationalism are rooted in common cultural traditions, which can provide shared points of reference. Through symbolic conflict and negotiation, Catalan, Spanish, and Olympic protagonists worked to fill in the details of a functional relationship between Catalonia, Spain, and the world, in which all parties would benefit. To put it another way, the Games were a step in the process of negotiating Catalan autonomy within the framework of a democratic constitution. In Hargreaves' model of social process, symbols are not substitutes for "real action" but are themselves constitutive of change.

The outcome was the achievement of a paz olimpica, based on the prominent deployment of the Catalan flag, national anthem, language, and culture within the Olympic ceremonies. The "Catalanization" of the Games was achieved at the partial expense of "Espanolization," but the choreography of the Games respected both identities, as well as those of Olympic internationalism and European, American, and global culture. Although the explanation for this peaceful co-existence of identities lies in a confluence of factors, from the skills of Barcelona's socialist mayor...


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