“For the Cultural Unity of the Colombian Nation”: Colombia's Liberal Republic (1930–46) and the Political Uses of "Popular Culture"

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:30 AM
Ontario Room (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Catalina Muñoz, Universidad del Rosario
This paper examines the efforts to provide a “social function” to culture during Colombia’s ‘Liberal Republic’ (1930-1946).  Reformist liberal intellectuals in charge of cultural policies used music as a tool for social transformation through programs like state funded choral societies and popular ensembles.  Liberal music policies were deeply ambiguous and reveal the hopes and fears of the ruling elites: on the one hand their desire for unified national community brought together by the shared goal of progress, and on the other their fear of the deep fissures that their negative conception of the ‘pueblo’ implied for the national project.  My work reveals the ambiguous relation that the Liberals in power fashioned between the ruling elites and the ruled, as they considered the latter to be at the same time the “soul” of the nation and an object in need of transformation.  At the same time, it questions the sharp differentiation between liberalism and conservatism established in the existing historiography by stressing the similarities between the leaders of both parties in their construction of Colombia’s lower classes as problematic and in their understanding of the role of ‘culture’.  Additionally, I contrast the rulers’ vision of a ‘national culture’ and the actual cultural practices of the population.  While cultural managers sought to consolidate a national community through culture, Colombians were reaching beyond the national towards a growing market of transnational music through new technologies like radio and records.  The analysis I present is based on sources such as cultural magazines, documentation of the Ministry of Education at the Archivo General de la Nación, and the Archive of Antonio María Valencia, one of the main collaborators of the Ministry’s music policy.
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