2nd Dec 2015 5:00pm-7:00pm

Grand Parade, G4

Dr Thomas Carter (University of Brighton)

Sussex bonfires are situated in a local historical narrative of tradition and heritage that is used to mark the distinctive nature of being a Bonfire Boy or Girl. They all claim a heritage tied to a celebratory moment of national crisis narrowly avoided, yet the interpretations of that link range more widely than might be thought. Articulated as distinct from Englishness or Britishness, the narratives various communities around the region use to explain why they build enormous towers of material to burn and march through their towns and villages in torchlit processions preceding the lighting of a bonfire are as varied and distinct as each community is from the others. This paper considers these spectacles as something more profound than some mere historical commemoration. Drawing on three years of ethnographic fieldwork, this paper provides preliminary analysis on one of the central relationships regarding tradition, heritage, and narrative. in this paper I argue that Sussex bonfires are spectacles of current community concerns expressed in spectacular fashion. Consequently, this paper examines how the effigies and tabula burned as part of “Sussex Bonfire tradition” act as contemporary commentaries on what is preying upon local citizens minds. Thus the heritage invoked is not one of visible performance consumed in flame but a particular social ethos towards specific relationships between the powerful (local, national, or global) and the residents constructing these performative narratives.

Thomas Carter is an anthropologist who focuses on multiple aspects of the politics of spectacle, having conducted research in Cuba, Northern Ireland, Ecuador, and the US prior to his work on the Sussex Bonfire Societies.