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Abstract

This paper critiques the position of flattening as an alternative way to map and analyse power structures in Trinidad Carnival. As will be argued, traditional hierarchies of meaning and value invert in Carnival, with participants using masquerade and the visual arts to perform and critique the contradictions of Trinidad society, and to make or unmake categories of difference. Flattening, as the authors argue, is particularly well suited when speaking about Carnival, whose cultural frames are constantly blurred, stretched, erased or redrawn, and where distortions of social and cultural distinctions are realised visually. Furthermore, flattening emphasises the elasticity and fluidity that often confounds notions of difference; and it captures the experiences of fragmentation and flux that are central to displays of difference at Carnival. The selected case studies introduced in this paper draw on diverse visual accounts. Such an analysis enables an opportunity to view Trinidad Carnival as a localised social representation of difference, suggesting a blurring of identity conventions in Carnival that offers an opportunity not only to scrutinise social change in Trinidad but also to assess the meaning of social change in the Caribbean more broadly.

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