MAKING MEANING: MATERIAL CULTURE IN NEW ORLEANS’ CARNIVAL
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New Orleans’ carnival is a rich and complex celebration that people participate in across the city in many different ways. Notably, carnival is characterized by a spectacular display of material culture, which refers to the material things that fill our worlds, such as the stunning, whimsical costumes that people wear. This thesis addresses a gap in the literature by examining material culture in the context of the alternative, walking parades that roll in downtown New Orleans, which are distinct from the better-known large mainstream float parades that roll uptown. These new-wave carnival krewes typically feature elaborate handmade costumes, throws (small items paraders give out to spectators), floats, and other items used to put on krewes’ parades, such as puppets or signs. I argue that this subset of material culture and the processes of making it have important meanings for both the makers and the people engaging with them during carnival parades and other events. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork during carnival, digital ethnography, and semi-structured interviews with new-wave krewe members, I focus on three key findings of my research: the meanings of (making) material culture, the social relations involved in its creation and the interactions it frames, and the broader role of the objects themselves. In this way, this thesis explores the significance of object relations to people’s social worlds and contributes insights on the role and value of handmaking material culture.