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Chapter 3 Festivals, Urbanity and the Public Sphere, reflections on European festivals

DOI: 10.23912/978-1-910158-15-9-2653

ISBN: 978-1-910158-15-9

Published: January 2015

Component type: chapter

Published in: Focus On Festivals

Parent DOI: 10.23912/978-1-910158-15-9-2599



“What is a festival?” is a deceptively simple question – but also a deceptively complex one. This is reflected by much of the literature on festivals, in which discussion of their multiplicity and heterogeneity, their complex etymologies and histories, as well as the expansion in the second half of the 20th century, and exponentially since the 1980s in Europe, has seen festivals transformed into one of the dominant formats in the current cultural realm. However, beneath the apparent multiplicity, one major feature helps to clarify the issues at stake when considering their cultural significance: festivals tend to be either “‘traditional’ moments of celebration or... highly orchestrated mega-events” (Waitt, 2008: 513). The first are supposed to be the organic expression of a community; the second, which we may call post-traditional (Giorgi and Sassatelli, 2011: 1-11), are instead mostly associated with the contemporary culture industry and its rationales, their recent exponential growth seen as proof that we are faced by a non-organic, commercially driven phenomenon. The distinction is relevant because, whilst traditional festivals have been studied, in particular within anthropology and folklore studies, as expressions of a given society and an entry point into its culture, values and identity, post-traditional festivals have been dismissed by some writers as banal, and banalizing ‘spectacles’ (Debord, 1994). Different approaches and literatures contribute to deepen this gulf, with contemporary festivals on the whole dismissed by mainstream social science and cultural theory and assessed in terms of their (economic) impact only. In this chapter, after a brief review of the dominant approach in urban festivals research, I try to uncouple these associations. That is, to explore the possibility that contemporary festivals, as expressions of the contemporary society in which they flourish, can provide a valuable analytical perspective on its public culture.

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  • Monica Sassatelli (Author)

For the source title:

  • Chris Newbold, De Montfort University (Editor)
  • Christopher Maughan, Freelance writer (Editor)
  • Jennie Jordan, De Montfort University (Editor)
  • Franco Bianchini, Leeds Beckett University (Editor)

Cite as

Sassatelli, 2015

Sassatelli, M. (2015) "Chapter 3 Festivals, Urbanity and the Public Sphere, reflections on European festivals" In: Newbold, C., Maughan, C., Jordan, J. & Bianchini, F. (ed) . Oxford: Goodfellow Publishers http://dx.doi.org/10.23912/978-1-910158-15-9-2653


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Published in Focus On Festivals

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