'Cartonera' publishing in Latin America: Anthropology between art and literature
Alex Flynn (UCL)
Paper short abstract:
This paper addresses Latin American cartonera publishing, a grassroots phenomenon that involves the recycling of materials from the street to produce low-cost books making literature more accessible. How might this South-South circulation of art and literature stimulate anthropological methodology?
Paper long abstract:
Editoriales cartoneras are small, independent publishing projects that make books out of recycled cardboard and sell them at prices much lower than books from larger publishing houses. Since the 2001 economic crisis in Argentina, the movement has spread across and beyond Latin America, taking on various forms and socio-cultural aims: some retain strong links to waste-picker collectives; others work with immigrant groups, indigenous communities or school children; others are principally interested in disseminating their catalogues to a wider audience. What is particular however about these publishers are the books themselves: each book's cover is unique and hand painted and thus proposes a tension between its status as an art object on the one hand, and a text on the other. These aestheticised objects cut through the multiple layers of social stigma that contextualise their production, starting from the recycling co-operatives where they are made before travelling to contemporary art biennials, book fairs and museum spaces. As these books' social context is so key, any analysis must necessarily consider their production methods, organizational logics and social networks across Latin America. Ethnographic data and literary analysis must work together through an aesthetic encounter of form and content to fully engage with the agency of this particular form of knowledge production. How might this be achieved? This paper contextualises the cartonera movement before suggesting how ethnography, expography and literary analysis might be put into productive dialogue to address this particular form of unsettling art.
Aesthetic encounters: the politics of moving and (un)settling visual arts, design and literature