Spreading The Word: Music as a Communicative Strategy in the Contemporary Zapatista Movement

Andrew Green

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This dissertation examines the use of music as a tool of political communication in the contemporary Zapatista movement, which emerged after a 1994 rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico conducted by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). On the basis of ethnographic research carried out in Chiapas, Mexico City and Los Angeles in 2012 and 2013, I examine the related notions of “dissemination”, “spreading the word”, “telling stories” and “transmitting the message” as key structuring concepts for musical practices in different sites in the contemporary Zapatista movement in Mexico. However, recent scholarship in the field of communication theory has tended to critique the dualist, linear models of communication this emic discourse reflected. Correspondingly, I demonstrate that activity structured around these one-way notions of “disseminating” or “transmitting” pro-Zapatista messages had a series of often unrecognized effects that may be highly significant for understanding the potential and limitations of this music-centred activism. As pro-Zapatista musicians in rural Chiapas, San Cristóbal de las Casas and Mexico City used various strategies to disseminate messages through musical practice, they also brought into play a number of dynamics involving the ongoing constitution of organization, the cultivation of ties, the sonic production of social space, the creation of means and capabilities for the “independent” production of music within a logic of (Zapatista) “autonomy”, and the communication and contestation of the notion of “Zapatismo” itself. Music, in this interpretation, may be understood not only as a means of communicating message in a unidirectional fashion, but as a multifaceted practice that serves to hold together this complex, geographically diffuse social movement as a meaningful entity.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Stobart, Henry, Supervisor
Award date1 Mar 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2016


  • Music, activism, politics, Zapatista, Mexico, communication

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