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Accepted Paper:

States of fear and laughter: Authoritarian absurdity in contemporary Cuba  
Ståle Wig (University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on 18 months of ethnographic research in Cuba, this paper suggests that authoritarian states with centralized economic structures and leaders who are unaccountable to the people's feedback and sentiment, are prone to produce popular experiences of absurdity.

Paper long abstract:

In everyday chatter and in popular culture, Cubans tend to depict the state as an entity capable of both great power and great folly. While the official governing apparatus of Cuba can inspire fear and alarm, at the same time people portray the state as a ridiculous entity, prone to making absurd decisions and declarations. As when a four-star, 91-year-old general announced on countrywide TV that the popular masses should start rearing ostriches to create a shining path towards national economic development, or when lawmakers suddenly banned all private 3D cinemas for no apparent reason. People use jokes, hyperbole and cynicism to critique and comment on these states of absurdity. Although absurdity is a possible tendency of human existence anywhere, this paper argues that Cuba’s centralized and authoritarian political-economic system produces absurdity of a particular kind. Furthering a comparative argument, I will attempt to draw parallels between Cuba and similar post-socialist states, in which official discourse is often strictly controlled, and where decisions are made by leaders and lawmakers who are partly insulated from, and unaccountable to ordinary people's feedback and sentiment.

Panel P063a
States of the absurd I
  Session 1 Tuesday 26 July, 2022, -