The Cultural Imaginary
The Cultural Imaginary is a theory derived from different concepts in Latin American and Latina/o Cultural Studies. In order to understand what the imagined is, two concepts are put together to form a community’s cultural imaginary, the definition of culture by Stuart Hall and Benedict Anderson’s idea of the “imaginary”. Alicia Camacho also expands upon the notion of the migrant community imagining their own culture, in a space neither here nor there. Stuart Hall’s definition of culture is one used by the class and is one that helps define the cultural imaginary. Hall emphasizes the notion of ‘meaning’ and the process that comes with the production and exchange of “meaning” within a society . The ways and forms that this “meaning” is shared is the core of a culture, the social actors that reproduce this sense of meaning is within that culture. It is this definition that forms the basis of Latin American and Latina/o Cultural Studies. Benedict Anderson sees the nation as an ‘imagined community’; it is imagined because most members of said community will never meet or hear from other members of this community, yet each has in their minds the image of their communion . It is this notion of the nation as a community that gives culture, and the production of culture, it’s meaning amongst people with a sense of collectiveness. Professor Hector Perla (University of California - Santa Cruz) describes the Latin American identity as an imagined community, one that is “socially constructed through narratives, myths of origins, symbols, rituals, and collective memory…imagined by people who see themselves as part of that group…” . It is also this sense of identity and how culture reinforces it that contributes to the imaginary. Cultural Imaginary used in this course is a term used to describe the production, identification, and reproduction of culture within Latin American and Latina/o cultural studies. Heather Levi uses the example of the Luchador and his/her mask in a way to create a cultural tie to Mexican indigeneity. Masks used by the Luchadores create an imaginary with the ceremonial masks used by indigenous peoples in Latin America, thereby creating a sense of connection between Lucha Libre and the culture it appeals to. The Luchadore’s appeal to mainstream audiences in Latin America resulted in the creation of an imaginary through which, both high and low cultures were able relate to one another. This reproduction of the indigenous culture and the identification with the Mexican identity create the cultural imaginary. Identity and nationhood also apply to the cultural imaginary. In trying to hold onto this nationhood, Alicia Camacho sees the migrant experience of workers from Latin America to the U.S. as a form of cultural imaginary; one exaggerated as to not lose their sense of identity. She sees culture as “[not] merely a detached set of ideas but rather the means by which [people] work through their connections… and create a sense of relatedness to a particular time, place, and condition” . Because of the loss of sense of belonging, the cultural imaginary is one that helps define identity and meaning in a setting of neither belonging “here nor there”. Cultural imaginaries are socially constructed to fit the needs of a particular group. Food, music and dance are social constructions built to define what it means to be a part of a selective group. These constructions and their imaginaries help form the sense of belonging and “meaning” to a community, which directly relates to Hall’s definition. The shared space or bond created by culture is what makes the imaginary; a notion of meaning that gives people a sense of communion. Because an idea is given meaning that only makes sense within certain cultural parameters, it is imagined and only applies to that culture/community.
- Hall, Stuart. Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (Culture Media and Identities Series). London: Sage Publications, 1997. Print
- Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities. London:Verso,2006. Print
- Perla, Hector. Latin American and Latino Studies 1. United States, Santa Cruz. 31 Mar.2011 Speech
- Levi, Heather. The World of Lucha Libre: Secrets, Revelations, and Mexican National Identity. Durham:Duke UP, 2008. Print.
- Schmidt, Camacho Alicia R. Migrant Imaginaries: Latino Cultural Politics in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. New York:New York UP, 2008. Print