Dissertation Defense Announcement
College of Arts and Sciences announces the Final Dissertation Defense of
Isabel Machado dos Santos Wildberger
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
January 11, 2019 at 10:30 AM in Mitchell Hall, Room 221
Advisor: Aram Goudsouzian
Marked Bodies and the Invention of Tradition in Mobile, Alabama's Mardi Gras
ABSTRACT: This project uses Carnival as a vehicle to understand social and cultural changes in Mobile, Alabama in the Post-WWII period. Employing oral history and archival documentation and combining narrative with theory, it explores gender, class, race, sexuality, representation, space, and identity. Borrowing from the semiotic concept of "markedness," from Eric Hobsbawm's definition of "invention of tradition," and from the debate over the function of Carnival either as a vehicle for inversion or affirmation of social norms and hierarchies, it argues that defiance and endorsement of normativity are not mutually exclusive. The process through which queer and/or African American Mobilian men and women appropriated a white supremacist and heteronormative institution served as a mechanism of empowerment and social ascension, but also enforced respectability, and thus was policed and excluded. By looking at the roles assigned, inaccessible to, or claimed and appropriated by heterosexual African Americans and black or white LGBTQ people in the festivities, it seeks to understand power dynamics through culture and ritual. At the ground level, this project contributes to our knowledge of the local history of a fascinating port city. At the regional level, it expands and complicates the scholarship on U.S. southern identity. At the national level, it contributes to post-WWII U.S. urban, LGBTQ+, and African American historiographies. At a conceptual level, it dialogues with diverse, and interdisciplinary scholarship: Carnival studies, performance studies, and queer theory. By showing Mardi Gras as an important element in the identity creation and community formation of different social groups in Mobile it disrupts the separation between black and/or queer and southern identities. By looking at Carnival as an "invented tradition" and as a semiotic system associated with discourses of power it engages in a transnational conversation about the phenomenon. Using performance and queer theory as a template to approach black and/or queer bodies in Mobile Mardi Gras, it shows how discourses of normativity and respectability affect self-expressions, perceptions, and portrayals of marginalized groups without necessarily entailing lack of agency and pleasure.