Plaza is a video-based study of social interaction in an urban plaza in South America, Plaza de la Trinidad in the old working-class neighborhood of Getsemani in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. Every night, a sizeable part of the community inhabits the plaza, and, by observing the interactions of its members, gains an immediate sense of itself. The plaza enables the community to sustain itself as a face-to-face society. The community enacts and embodies itself in the Plaza, and local identity is enacted, embodied, and represented in the dynamic, enfolding interactions that make up plaza life. The study is an attempt to understand how a social form—a traditional, trans-generational form of social integration—is produced and sustained through face-to-face interactions.
To understand this social form, I have filmed how plaza dwellers enter, move about, and take positions in the place, and how they establish sustainable relationships with each other and the plaza as their shared place. I am particularly interested in the active role of children in the structuring and reproduction of the local community: how they initiate interaction with older children and adults, how they negotiate access and participation in established interactional systems, and how they maintain consensus and compete within these age-graded, but fluid social systems.
The study is based on three weeks of open video-recording in July and August 2010, made possible by the support and validation of Carmelo Rodriguez, president of the neighborhood junta. Getsemani, part of the walled city but outside the center, was a neighborhood of freed slaves and poor European and Middle-Eastern immigrants and a cradle of Colombian independence (Cartagena was the first city in Latin America to gain independence from Spain, in 1811). During the regime of the drug cartels, Plaza de la Trinidad was a violent open-air drug market. Now the Plaza is under pressure by real-estate developers, who, with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank, want to turn the neighborhood into an expensive tourist spot, anchored by a marina. Upwards of 40% of Getsemanisense would lose their homes. A main motive for making these video-recordings was to document social life in in the Plaza in its current state of relative autonomy and self-organization, as a childhood haven and a public arena for children’s social development.