Date of Award

Spring 5-18-2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Degree Program

Urban Studies

Department

School of Urban Planning and Regional Studies

Major Professor

Jeffrey Ehrenreich

Second Advisor

Renia Ehrenfeucht

Third Advisor

Connie Atkinson

Fourth Advisor

David Gladstone

Abstract

ABSTRACT

Casa Samba is a cultural organization and samba school that has been operating in New Orleans’ performance scene since 1986. The group has been run by an American couple, Curtis and Carol Pierre, since its inception. Their son, Bomani Pierre, has been raised in the Afro-Brazilian drumming and dance practices that Casa Samba teaches and performs. Life histories of the group’s founding family are the basis of this qualitative case study. Using the details of individual lives and the context that these details provide, this dissertation seeks answers to two key questions: How and why does an American couple run a samba school? How does Casa Samba’s presence in New Orleans shape its practices?

As Carol and Curtis described their early lives and young adulthoods, it became apparent that each of them was seeking a way to remake their identities. The terrain for analyzing this search became personal authenticity, and I examine how each of the adult Pierres is on a quest for personal authenticity that begins early in their lives and continues through their creation and maintenance of Casa Samba. But the sense of personal authenticity that underwrites the Pierres’ construction of Casa Samba comes into contact with another form of authenticity, one that is external, evaluative, and also the root of New Orleans’ tourism economy. Thus, further questions arose regarding Casa Samba’s location in New Orleans and its cultural landscape. How does the tourist industry shape what is “authentic”? How is Casa Samba an “authentic” New Orleans cultural organization? In what ways is it an “authentic” representative of Brazilian carnival?

In the end, authenticity may be too narrow a concept from which to understand the totality of who the Pierre family is and what Casa Samba is. For this reason, this research examines Casa Samba as a utopian project, a site of cultural belonging, and an Afrocentric venture. I propose that Curtis and Carol Pierre have drawn on their knowledge of what is valuable, meaningful, and important—that is, authentic—to produce a cultural organization that reflects their sensibilities to the fullest extent possible.

Rights

The University of New Orleans and its agents retain the non-exclusive license to archive and make accessible this dissertation or thesis in whole or in part in all forms of media, now or hereafter known. The author retains all other ownership rights to the copyright of the thesis or dissertation.