Theses Doctoral

Beyond Desencanto: Challenging the Archivization of the Spanish Transition (2010-2018)

Marin-Cobos, Almudena

How does history turn into memory? Specifically, how has the Spanish Transition been memorialized in the last ten years? Between the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975 and the landslide victory of the Socialist Party in 1982, Spain slowly transitioned to a standardized European democracy. This historical period of seven years, officially labelled as the “Spanish Transition,” has been subjected to archivization—production and record of this process—since the eighties up until the present. My dissertation unveils how the transition has become a discourse, that is to say, an archive, particularly paying attention to the post-recession scenario (2010 onward, when the limits of its mythified success were publicly exposed). Through the study of autobiographies, documentaries, and museum exhibitions, I demonstrate the impossibility of separating the cultural performance of the transition from its archivization. In other words, we cannot separate the history of the transition, as shaped through these cultural objects, from the memory it has become.

I have set up a methodology that is rooted in the concepts of performance and archive. I argue that these concepts are inextricable from one another. I use performance as a lens to penetrate the socio-political and cultural transition from dictatorship to democracy. Performance, then, functions as an episteme in which the categories of history and memory converge. Through this approach, history can be perceived as an ongoing process, which connects with the intervention of cultural historians in the public sphere. This vision of history as a continuum, in addition, allows us to focus on the processes of memorialization, which chart the transformation from the specificity in time and space of a cultural performance—a concrete experience—to its archivization as an event and a fact. In this vein, performance (history) shapes the archive (memory) and opens up a dynamic reading of history, a history that is still under construction and is drawing on a contingent memory.

Each chapter focuses on a different medium that have in common their hybrid nature: respectively, autobiographies, documentaries, and museum exhibitions. The first chapter is about autobiographies by popular icons in which memory is a stage for the self to re-perform. A case in point is the Fabiografía, Fabio McNamara’s auto-hagiography in which Fabio, aided by the media star Mario Vaquerizo, creates a genre of his own and turns his life and version of the transition into a fetish. The second chapter questions the role of performing bodies in the construction of consensus and dissensus on documentaries about the transition. One specific instance is Mi querida España (2015), where we find performing bodies conveying through their actions dissenting ways of understanding the transition. The third chapter analyzes museum exhibitions as branding spaces for the transition. A case in point is Ocaña’s museum in his hometown, Cantillana del Campo (Seville); despite being empty of objects, this museum legitimizes Ocaña’s presence in the village, making of him an Andalusian standard-bearer of freedom. These three media show history and memory as coterminous and contingent, embodying the cultural performance of the transition and its reconfiguration in the archive.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Latin American and Iberian Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Medina, Alberto
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 13, 2020