On the Plaza: The Politics of Public Space and Culture

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Winner, Robert B. Textor Prize for Excellence in Anticipatory Anthropology, American Anthropological Association, 2000 Honorable Mention, Honorable Mention, Victor Turner Award, Society for Humanistic Anthropology, 2001 Leeds Prize, Society of Urban, National, and Transnational/Global Anthropology, 2001 Friendly gossip, political rallies, outdoor concerts, drugs, shoeshines, and sex-for-sale-almost every aspect of Latin American life has its place and time in the public plaza. In this wide-ranging, multi-disciplinary study, Setha M. Low explores the interplay of space and culture in the plaza, showing how culture acts to shape public spaces and how the physical form of the plaza encodes the social and economic relations within its city. Low centers her study on two plazas in San Jose, Costa Rica, with comparisons to public plazas in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere. She interweaves ethnography, history, literature, and personal narrative to capture the ambiance and meaning of the plaza. She also uncovers the contradictory ethnohistories of the European and indigenous origins of the Latin American plaza and explains why the plaza is often a politically contested space.