HIP-HOP & SOCIAL MEDIA AS NEW SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ACTORS IN CUBAN CIVIL SOCIETY, FROM THE SPECIAL PERIOD TO "RAULISMO"
Lazzaro, Francisco Manuel
The arts and social media have become an important forum in which ordinary Cubans evaluate competing political alternatives, rethink the basic values of the revolution, and reformulate visions for the future. It is through these discussions and debates that new alliances and realms of agreement are consolidated between artists, bloggers, ordinary Cubans and the state. Artists, bloggers and public collaborate with government actors to reincorporate critical expressions into official discourses, often strategically and self-consciously. By raising marginalized issues that were kept under lid until they became part of the collective conscious, these new actors in the arts and social media field have successfully broadened public discourse within their communities and state institutions.Despite the reprimanding of the state apparatus, Cubans continue to find ways to channel their plight and find a common voice to rise above their collective subconscious of how they understand their living circumstances since the special period to present day. Hip-hop and social media (bloggers) have played a crucial role in this new dynamic and have become central figures to both the formal and informal agreements between the government and citizens that have stemmed following the crisis of the special period and that continue until present day.This thesis will try to highlight the uniqueness of the Cuban case, where the relationships between spheres of public action and state power may not be resolved if they are seen strictly through a black and white lens within the confines of formal organizations.I will explore the Cuban case considering its governance is not confined to the state's political apparatus, and that critical activity has indeed developed within the delicate marriage of official institutions (i.e., Agencia Rap) and its aligned and non-aligned actors in the hip-hop community and social media. Organizations whose objectives are not necessarily political reform, play an important role in the construction of civil society and the debate of ideas (Quiroz 2003). The hip-hop movement and new social media outlets look to push the balance of power toward society.To further support the argument of Cuba's uniqueness, I based much of my approach on the views of Ariel Armony (2004, 2005) who stated that: if we wish to understand civil society in Cuba, we cannot adopt a restrictive approach. Cubans constant questioning, political debates over socialist models and economic reform, non-political youth movements (hip-hop artists and bloggers for the purposes of this thesis' argument) and other social networks are spaces that can be described as civil society. These spaces define a public sphere made up of numerous autonomous niches vis-à-vis the state. For this study's purposes, civil society in Cuba will be seen as a conflictive space.It is my thesis that through the delicate arrangement stemming from the special period, where the state relaxed its controls and exerted a dynamic of a tolerance by omission rather than through explicit policies (Dilla 2002, 2005), the hip-hop and social media movement has been able to occupy valuable public space within Cuban civil society. Under this environment, new artistic public spheres have been created despite the collusion of the state to shape which messages arising from these spheres can be considered acceptable within the framework of the government and the revolutionary project it pushes forward. In the same way that many studies have previously emphasized it, the vision of social actors in this paper will not be as socioeconomic or demographic aggregates, but rather as groups of subjects interacting with the rest of society, the state and their own conscience (CIPS 2003).Through my research and observations in Habana, and the desk review of existing literature on the subject, I conclude that Hip-hop artists and bloggers indeed exist as relevant social actors and creators of accepted new social and cultural expressions within Cuban civil society, and that in turn, they have effectively influenced the public sphere.In order to properly give voice to the actors in this paper, and to gather genuine information straight from the sources, I held open interviews with multiple subjects consisting of hip hop artists, book-writers, journalists, state officials, art critics, officials from cultural organizations, religious priests, music producers, magazine editors and hip hop aficionados. Given the sensitivity of some of the topics of discussion explored, and following the request of most of my interview subjects, the names of the participants in my interviews will remain anonymous. The fieldwork for this paper was carried out during a 3-week stay in Habana and its surrounding areas. The vast majority of my interviews and observations took place in the neighborhoods of Habana Vieja, Playa, Vedado and Alamar
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