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Akademia Cartonera: Academic Articles, Cartonera Publications Catalog and Bibliography /Artículos académicos, Catálogo de publicaciones cartoneras y Bibliografía available in original text on CD (2009)

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Animita Cartonera: the Body and Soul of Literary Production in Contemporary Chile

“[I]n the economic and socio-cultural conditions brought about by the
dictatorship, either books become integrated into the mechanisms of the
culture industry or they run the risk of becoming marginal products,
and even having to be recycled into raw materials.[1]

Bernardo Subercaseaux, The History of the Book in Chile. Body and Soul[2]

In 2006, Jaime Collyer, an internationally read Chilean writer, published a short novella titled, El abismo todos los días (People on the Prowl). This text stands out within Collyer’s well-respected oeuvre, not necessarily because of the erotic and fantastical prose that audiences have come to expect of his work, but rather because of the unusual material form in which the text is published. The book is made of a recycled sheet of cardboard that has been carefully cut into three sections that form the book’s front, back, and spine, all of which have been hand-painted to display a colorful and completely unique cover design.

Upon opening this non-traditional book, the reader sees a piece of copy paper containing the text’s bibliographic information hand-glued to the inside front cover. It reads:


Figure 1: Photograph of Jamie Collyer’s book El abismo de todos los días (front cover). Santiago: Animita Cartonera, 2006.  Photograph by Nélida Pohl.

Artistic object created and hand-painted with the help of trash collectors and young people. First Edition, 2006, Santiago, Chile. Chilensis Collection. Animita Cartonera Editions is a social, cultural, and artistic project that seeks to contribute to society in a creative way. Responsible persons: Ximena Ramos, Fernanda Arrau, Tanya Núñez. We thank the author for his cooperation, authorizing the publication of this text. Contact: N0 157.894. ISBN 956-8625-00-3.[3]

At the bottom of this copyright page the reader sees the press’ signature logo, a hand-drawn picture of a small house with the words “Animita Cartonera” printed beside it.

The material body of this book provides an interesting story about the past thirty years of Chilean print culture. Animita Cartonera opened its doors in 2005, fifteen years after democracy was reinstated in Chile. Yet the press’ unique editorial techniques draw an immediate connection to many experimental practices innovated by young writers and artists


Figure 2: Photograph of copyright and title page of Jamie Collyer’s El abismo de todos los días.  Santiago: Animita Cartonera, 2006. Photograph by Nélida Pohl.

of the dictatorship years (1973-1989). The military state’s cultural policies of censorship, along with its implementation of neoliberal economic policies directly attacked book production in general, and literature in particular through state policies that censored literary and editorial activity and placed books at an institutional disadvantage over other cultural products. From the view of the authoritarian state, book production was ‘dangerous’ due to the symbolic power that writing has to produce social critique and political descent.[4] Likewise, the economic hegemony of neoliberalism during the dictatorship years (and since) has censored book production in Chile by weakening the power citizens have over the material production and distribution of national literature. Under neoliberalism, publishers print what will sell according to global market trends that typically favor “sensational” or “light” literature.[5]  In response to state and market censorship, young writers banded together to illegally produce their own publications without state authorization and independent of neoliberal publishing houses. They did so through clandestine and artisanal methods of literary production through which they hand-made books and literary journals out of the most convenient and cheap materials they could find, namely butcher paper, envelopes, bags, and other remnants of re-used materials.[6]

Animita Cartonera’s own artisanal method of book production shares many similarities with illegal and unsanctioned publishing trends of the dictatorship era, specifically its use of recycled waste materials in the hand-made production of non-traditional books. Like its dictatorial predecessors, Animita Cartonera also responds to the culture of editorial repression brought about by the military dictatorship by conflating the production of literature’s symbolic value with that of its physical construction as an economic good. It does so through an artisanal and community-based method of producing what it terms “book-objects.”  Central to this editorial practice is the social space of the taller, or “workshop,” where marginal social actors become valued cultural producers through their material labor, hand-making books out of recycled cardboard, photocopy paper, staples, and poster paint. Through this artisanal technique of book-object production, Animita Cartonera effectively challenges the neoliberal hegemony that has dominated Chilean literary culture since the dictatorship years. The book-object critiques the way in which neoliberalism has privileged culture’s function as an economic good and attempts to erase a more anthropological definition of culture as a communal project of identity formation and meaning making. Instead, the press uses its workshop as a social space of identity formation via collective literary production. Specifically, by targeting underprivileged urban youth and trash collectors as its ideal laborers, Animita empowers the local working classes who, through the social space of the workshop, come to identify themselves as active producers of Chilean national culture.

The similarities between Animita Cartonera and counter-cultural literary producers of the dictatorship era, however, end with their shared artisanal forms of material production and the communitarian and democratic effects they produce. For while the self-publishing writers of the 1980s and 1990s were marginalized by state and market institutions to the point of criminalization, Animita Cartonera occupies a dramatically different position within post-dictatorial literary culture as an integrated member of Chile’s new democratizing program of “cultural institutionalization” and as a member of Chile’s commercial editorial industry. Animita Cartonera’s production of artisanal book-objects, while still marginal within Chile’s post-transition literary culture, is decidedly legal; the press follows the state’s new cultural policies to the letter of the law, making sure their books are fully legitimate in the eyes of the state. It also engages the market while still remaining independent of neoliberal economics through its sales of book-objects in local bookstores and its membership in organizations of local industry professionals. These stark institutional differences allow us to read Animita Cartonera’s editorial project as a measure of Chile’s democratic development over the past two decades of political reconstruction. The press’ alliance with state and market institutions evidences Chile’s democratic success in integrating types of cultural producers and cultural products that were once marginalized (even outlawed) by the dictatorship into the mainstream of national culture.

Indeed, Animita Cartonera’s relationship with the state’s new program of cultural democratization is evidence of the ways in which the state has both dramatically changed its cultural policy from dictatorship to democracy and the ways in which it has remained the same. As opposed to the state’s institutional “punishment” of literature during the dictatorship years, Animita Cartonera is an example of the institutional support the newly democratic government has given to marginal cultural producers and, consequently, evidences the central role that culture and the margins have played in Chile’s official plan for democratic reconstruction. The press is a product of Chile’s official policy to democratize national culture—a policy that has taken shape through the state’s “new cultural institutionalization” (NCI), a governing body composed of public and private institutions that promotes and regulates the nation’s cultural activity in the newly democratic period.[7]  What is most important about Chile’s new cultural institutionalization is that it sees cultural development as a necessary element of democratic reconstruction, proving a stark contrast to the dictatorship’s policies of cultural repression. More specifically, the NCI functions on the premise that neoliberalism, and globalization at large, threaten the unique diversity of Chilean national culture by imposing a dominant ‘world culture’ that erases local difference. Chile’s NCI believes it can counter neoliberalism’s homogenizing effect by implementing policies that strengthen the economic autonomy of Chile’s local editorial industry.[8]  

Animita Cartonera helps the NCI fulfill its democratic objectives. As a local press committed to publishing national authors for national readers, Animita helps strengthen the economic autonomy of Chile’s domestic literary industry. Furthermore, the press’ focus on marginal social subjects as literary producers helps enfranchise citizens who have traditionally been kept in the periphery of Chile’s national cultural production. Because of these reasons, two separate agencies, both products of Chile’s new cultural institutionalization, support the press: the National Council on Culture and the Arts (el Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes, CNCA) invests in the press financially while Balmaceda 1215 (a cultural center for urban youth, named after its physical address, number 1215 on Balmaceda avenue) allows the press to house its workshop in its building; in exchange Animita Cartonera offers writing workshops to Santiago’s underprivileged urban youth through the Balmaceda 1215 program. Animita Cartonera fulfills the democratic mission of these state organizations by producing literature through a cooperative partnership with individuals, communities, and organizations across Chile’s socio-political spectrum, from trash collectors on the street, to industry leaders and state officials, all of whom play an indispensable role in the editorial project of this press. Furthermore, as a ‘minority’ cultural producer, Animita Cartonera is evidence that the NCI has made it possible for certain marginal social actors to gain greater power in the struggle for hegemony in a newly democratic Chile; or, to use the words of the Chile’s current Minister of Culture, Paula Urrutia, Animita Cartonera “expresses a conviction that [Chile’s] growth be founded on the transcendence of marginality” (2007).[9]  Animita Cartonera has transcended the barrier of social marginalization to enter the mainstream of national culture as a minority literary producer within Chile’s new cultural economy.

Such institutionalization and mainstreaming, however, comes at a price. Indeed, Animita Cartonera’s institutional privilege helps us see the exclusionary and marginalizing tendencies of Chile’s ‘democratic’ transition. In abiding by the NCI’s new cultural policies on literary production and distribution, Animita Cartonera reproduces a category of marginal literature that lies outside the bounds of “legitimate” culture. The NCI’s goal of defeating neoliberal hegemony and constructing a strong and autonomous national literary culture relies on an essentially economic definition of culture as private property, rather than a notion of culture as collective and public ‘spirit.’ In accordance with this definition of culture, Chile’s NCI has passed numerous pieces of legislation to further protect intellectual copyright laws and criminalize cultural piracy. Animita Cartonera not only loyally abides by the state’s new laws disciplining literary production and distribution, but it is a member of professional organizations of Chilean editors that have cooperatively worked with the state in authoring such legislation. These national cultural policies, like those of the military regime decades before, police the boundaries of what is considered “art” and what is considered illegal activity. Within the post-transition period, cultural pirates become the enemy of national culture in the same way that counter-cultural self-publishing authors of the dictatorship years were outlawed by the state. Once again, the idea of literature as creator of a collective identity, spirit, or national soul is threatened by culture’s existence as an economic good capable of reproducing capital. Animita Cartonera participates in these exclusionary practices through its partnership with the state and the market; however, it also challenges them through its artisanal method of book-object production—a method that retains culture’s material and economic existence without sacrificing its spiritual, i.e. social, function.


The importance of Animita Cartonera’s editorial production within the context of Chile’s post-transition literary culture lies in its ability to use the material modes of literary production as the site of local identity formation and the construction of social meaning. Specifically, Animita’s technique of artisanal book production deconstructs the distinction capitalism makes between culture’s symbolic and material production, and in so doing, directly challenges the neoliberal hegemony dominating Chile’s local culture industry. For Raymond Williams, the spiritual, or anthropological definition of culture emerges in eighteenth century Europe during which time culture comes to be thought of as “the ‘spirit’ which informed the ‘whole way of life’ of a distinct people,” or in other words, as the norms of behavior and beliefs that define one community as distinct from another.[10] This definition casts culture as something that belongs equally to each member of a community, all of whom practice and reproduce it on an everyday basis. Williams differentiates this definition of culture with another, more tangible and material one that he describes as “the specific forms taken by its cultural manifestations.”[11] Thus he explains that the distinction between culture-as-spirit and culture-as-material form is a result of capitalist modes of production. Capitalism, Williams claims, differentiates between cultural production and that of the “general productive order” (meaning the production of non-cultural commodities); the later produces objects of “utility” whereas the former produces objects of “art.” Capitalism has defined cultural production as distinct and separate from other kinds of material production since cultural production does not produce objects of “use.”  What emerges from this divide is the differentiation between ‘art’ (the symbolic) versus ‘craft’ (the material) in which only the later is “useful” in any practical sense.[12] The result of this spirit/body divide is that the value of art is seen as coming almost solely from its non-material matter—in other words, its symbolic or aesthetic content and not from the material form that manifests said content.

The definition of culture-as-spirit has become especially important within the context of post-dictatorship Chile. Chilean literary historian and critic Bernardo Subercaseaux argues that during the dictatorship period, the symbolic spirit of books came under attack by state censorship and neoliberal economics, both of which saw literature’s spiritual value as a potential, or direct, threat to their hegemony. The devaluation of literature’s social function was so great, claims Subercaseaux, that books became defined as almost purely economic, or material, goods. Subercaseaux claims this happened in one of two ways: “[E]ither books become integrated into the mechanisms of the culture industry or they run the risk of becoming marginal products, and even having to be recycled into raw materials.”[13] What Subercaseaux means by this is that either authors conform the spiritual content of their texts to meet the demands of the “culture industry” (by which Subercaseaux means the global market), or that books forfeit their symbolic constitution altogether and become recycled raw materials which are fed back into the modes of general production to produce objects of tangible ‘utility’ that are no longer ‘cultural’ products.

In the first scenario, literature loses its ‘soul’ because the neoliberal market silences its symbolic power to create social critique, identity, history, and difference. Chilean book-object publisher Pía Barros agrees with this interpretation of neoliberalism, proposing that under such a system “[s]ymbolic goods are valued, but not valorized.”[14] In what she refers to as “mall culture,” the only books that count are those that enable quick, mindless consumption. During the 1990s in Latin America, Barros maintains that the logic of mall culture demanded books with easily accesible stories and rejected anything that profoundly questioned “the efficiency of the system.”[15] Removing literature’s spiritual function in this way reduces critically thinking citizens to unreflective consumers, “incapable of ‘reading’ their surrounding and decoding them.”[16]  

In the second scenario, those books not commodified by the global culture industry suffer the second consequence of Subercaseaux’s model, which is that they lose their material form as books, and thereby cease to be literary at all.

“They are books that are destined to be chopped up, pulverized, and converted into raw materials. [. . .] This has to do with a kind of reverse resurrection in which the soul of the book expires in order to resurrect its body, a body that is transformed into wrapping paper, napkins, and envelopes.” [17]

Subercaseaux’s  metaphor of “reverse resurrection,” and its intentional invocation of death, can only mean that he sees items such as wrapping paper, napkins, and envelopes as non-literary commodities. If literature ‘dies’ in order for these other material objects to ‘come to life,’ it must mean they are no longer ‘literary’ since what was literary about them, their artistic ‘spirit,’ is no longer present. Thus Subercaseaux’s logic understands literature’s spirit as solely residing in the text’s narrative content, which, in turn, is distinct from non-literary material objects, such as napkins and envelopes, that derive from the modes of general (and not symbolic) production.

Animita Cartonera offers an alternative scenario to the two provided by Subercaseaux. Its solution depends on the artisanal production that bridges the divide between ‘art’ and ‘craft’ and, therefore, between spiritual and material production. The deconstruction of such a divide takes on particular political importance in Latin America, where “art” has become more synonymous with “high art” and societal elites, whereas “craft” is commonly associated with “low culture” and marginal social sectors. For instance, economist Javier Stanziola explains that during the era of national independence, Latin American governments believed the only way to legitimate the arts in their countries was to “spiritualize” them through cultural policies that associated ‘art’ with quiet contemplation (by elites) in cultural centers such as museums.[18] This, claims Stanziola, privileged ‘high culture’ at the exclusion of indigenous groups and the cultural traditions that belong to them. Indeed, indigenous culture is at the heart of the symbolic/material divide in Latin American art. As García Canclini documents in his book, Transforming Modernity: Popular Culture in Mexico, ‘craft’ is traditionally associated with artesanía (artisanal cultural production). While García Canclini does not explicitly equate Latin American artisan crafts with indigenous culture, the logic of his research defines it as such, since the only artisanal production he analyzes is that of indigenous cultures. He claims that indigenous societies do not evidence the strict divide between symbolic and material production that has come to characterize industrialized capitalist societies. This is because indigenous artisanal production traditionally takes place in the family home, a domestic sphere strongly influenced by the family’s spiritual belief system. Thus García Canclini critiques the dominant view that artisanal crafts are more ‘material’ than ‘symbolic’ (due to their more practical use-value as everyday objects), and thus subordinated to ‘legitimate art’ or ‘high culture.’  Instead he argues that they embody a more cohesive and dynamic relationship between symbolic and material production, dissolving the division that separates them.[19] It is this characteristic of artisanal crafts that make them uniquely capable of challenging the hierarchical social relations produced by capitalism. The use-value of artisanal crafts is their social value—their ability to create community, identity, and symbolic meaning through material production and consumption.

Through the social space of the taller, or workshop, Animita Cartonera resurrects the symbolic spirit of literature by returning to artisanal modes of literary production. The artisanal workshop is the body and soul of Animita’s editorial project and democratic contribution. Through the workshop, the press evidences its commitment to building community bonds through cooperative, locally-based, and non-industrial literary production. For instance, on its website, Animita Cartonera describes itself as “a press with a social, cultural, and artistic mission where we see artistic expression and creation as tools that integrate different members of society. Our principal purpose is to create a community consciousness that attends to the interests of various people since we believe that art is a tool that generates spaces of dialogue and the exchange of ideas and experiences.”[20] This sentiment makes us question the extent to which the term ‘culture industry’ must equate ‘modes of capitalist production,’ for as we shall see below, Animita Cartonera is an installed member of Chile’s local literary industry; it is a for-profit business (“Sociedad de Responsabilidad Limitada”) and as such sells its books at industry fairs and through local bookstores. The press’ ability to actively participate in Chile’s national culture “industry” without industrializing its mode of production is one of the ways in which it brings literature’s social spirit ‘back to life.’  Through its hand-crafted production of book-objects in the workshop setting, Animita Cartonera rejects the first of Subercaseaux’s scenarios by refusing to integrate its editorial practice into the capitalist modes of production indicative of the neoliberal culture industry. We thus need to qualify Subercaseaux’s anlaysis to specify that while his claims are accurate, they only pertain to the context of the modes of cultural production controlled by the global culture industry and not those that function outside of it, either through the local industry or from its margins. Animita Cartonera explicitly demonstrates that it is possible to sell books on the market without sacrifing literature’s ability to generate social spirit and a shared way of life.

Furthermore, Animita Cartonera equally rejects the second scenario Subercaseaux describes, which is that books that are not integrated into the neoliberal publishing machine become recycled into raw materials and cease to be ‘literary.’  This rejection is evident in the fact that Animita uses the image of death as a staple motif in its material production. Specifically, through its very name as well as its logo, the press directly connects the dead body of literature (the primary materials used in its editorial practice) with the image of dead human bodies. For instance, the word “Animita” references “all those people who have died in tragic accidents and who are revered with candles on Chilean highways.”[21] The press’s logo, inscribed on all its book-objects, is a picture of the roadside tomb citizens erect throughout the nation’s highways in honor of their fallen citizens. The motif of death, while honoring the passing of fellow citizens, equally serves as a metaphor for the death of locally based cultural production at the hands of neoliberal hegemony.

The second invocation of ‘death’ is of course the fact that Animita makes its books out of the material they are recycled into once they are no longer economically attractive to the dominant sectors of Chile’s cultural industry.


Figure 3: (Left) Photograph of a cardboard “Animita” roadside tomb, hanging on the wall in Animita Cartonera’s Balmaceda 1215 workshop. Photograph by Jane Griffin, courtesy of Fernanda Arrau.  (Right) Photograph of two Animita Cartonera book-objects with hand-painted “Animita” logos on their back covers. Photography by Nélida Pohl.

Its very name cartonera (meaning “she who sells cardboard trash”) strategically calls attention to the text’s material form and signals literature’s physical body as part of its spiritual composition. In Chile, as in many other Latin American countries, the word cartonero/a, refers to individuals who make their living collecting and selling cardboard trash on the street. Animita Cartonera’s raison d’être depends on cartoneros and the cardboard they sell to the press, which they then use as the materia prima of their literary production. This is a prerequisite of carrying the “Cartonera” title. The four young women who founded the publishing house, Ana Moraga, Ximena Ramos, Tanya Núñez, and Fernanda Arrau (all in their twenties at the time) modeled their press after the original cartonera publisher, Eloísa Cartonera, founded in Buenos Aires in 2003 by Argentine writer Washington Cucurto and several other artists. In an interview, the young women explain that Cucurto gave them permission to open a Chilean cartonera press on the condition that they would respect the founding principle of the project, which is to buy the cardboard from cartoneros at a higher price than they typically sell it on the street and, thus, “work with the people who really need the money, giving them the freedom to express themselves artistically.”[22] Respecting the communitarian spirit of cartonera publishing, Animita Cartonera explains how its use of recycled raw materials deconstructs the division that separates works of ‘art’ from objects of ‘utility’: “We establish systems of receiving our cardboard supply from independent collectors with whom we create a mutual agreement in order to determine the price per kilo of material (generally 400% higher than the market price), with the goal of revalorizing the work of the cardboard collector and reusing the cardboard.[23] [. . .]  In this way, the book is transformed into an object of art, making each copy unique and exclusive.[24] This quote clearly demonstrates the focus Animita places on the material production of literature as an act of artistic production and cultural spirit.

In addition to community identity construction, Animita’s use of recycled trash also helps liberate the local printing industry from its subordination to transnational firms by finding a cheap way to make books. One of the reasons local publishers have a difficult time competing with global publishing and printing firms is because, as opposed to the later, they cannot afford the high cost of raw materials required for book production. This view is expressed by two leading voices in Chile’s local publishing industry, the professional organizations Fundación Chile Veintiuno (Chile Foundation Twenty-One) and Editores de Chile (Editors of Chile) who claim that “international presses benefit from important and sizeable economies and they can revel in the competitive sale of raw materials, particularly of paper, [whereas] the local publisher is faced with an oligarchy of paper [suppliers].”[25] Recycling cardboard trash provides a viable alternative to the high costs of production expenses that position local publishing houses at a disadvantage to their neoliberal counterparts. Thus Animita Cartonera’s use of recycled cardboard serves several democratizing purposes: it deconstructs the division between literature’s material value as an economic good and its symbolic value as the manifestation of a collective spirit, thereby resurrecting a definition of culture as communal property from its attempted annihilation at the hands of Chile’s military dictatorship and neoliberal economic hegemony. Additionally, the method of using recycled raw materials helps strengthen the autonomy of Chile’s national literary production from its domination by foreign capital. Both of these outcomes fit perfectly into the state’s policy of cultural democratization and explain Animita Cartonera’s intimate partnership with Chile’s new program of cultural institutionalization.


As both a partner and product of Chile’s new cultural institutionalization, Animita Cartonera directly contributes to the state’s democratic project of incorporating the margins of Chilean society into the mainstream of national culture. The press has established institutional affiliations in two ways: the first is through its partnership with and financial reliance on state cultural institutions (specifically Balmeceda 1215 and the National Council on Culture and the Arts), and the second is through its commercial activity and membership in associations of local industry professionals (namely Editors of Chile). In the first regard, Animita Cartonera is dependent on the state’s cultural institutions for its physical infrastructure and financial stability. Like many other small, independent cultural producers of the newly democratic period, Animita has had to find creative means of keeping its editorial project alive in a neoliberal economic environment that places local, independent publishers at a disadvantage in comparison to foreign-owned firms.[26] The coalition administrations that have governed Chile throughout its democratic transition have recognized this problem and attempted to address it by creating numerous cultural institutions, agencies, and organizations to aid local cultural production and distribution. As a minority cultural producer, Animita Cartonera is the ideal recipient of such institutional assistance, which it receives from the two organizations mentioned above, both of which have been created by Chile’s program of new cultural institutionalization. In addition to its partnership with state cultural agencies, Animita equally establishes institutional power through its commercial activity and participation in the market. The decision to sell their book-objects for profit was a conscious choice made by Animita’s founding editors and is a characteristic that differentiates this cartonera press from its Argentine predecessor, Eloísa Cartonera, which was not initially a legal business.[27] The fact that the press makes very little profit from their book sales makes their choice to sell books through mainstream circuits of capitalist exchange more symbolic than practical; it is a symbol of their legitimacy as minority cultural producer.[28]

Its classification as a legal business has allowed Animita Cartonera to join Editors of Chile, a nonprofit organization that represents Chile’s local editorial industry and advocates for the economic and political interests of its members. Organizations such as the Editors of Chile, and others like it (including Chile Foundation Twenty-One, the Chilean Bureau of Books, and the Chilean Copyright Society) have become extremely influential and politically powerful agents in Chile’s new cultural institutionalization.[29] These organizations serve as some of the most prominent vehicles through which members of civil society have increased their political power and economic wealth during the transition period. This is somewhat ironic seeing as scholars typically describe these types of organizations as “non-profit;”[30] however, it is important to remember that within the context of post-dictatorial Chile, private non-profit organizations, such as Editors of Chile, are still capitalist in nature since their primary objective is to work with the public sector in securing greater financial gains for their members, including Animita Cartonera. I do not draw out this distinction in order to criticize these organizations for having capitalist interests. Within the oppressive neoliberal context of post-dictatorial Chile, it is no wonder that professional cultural producers have banned together to protect and advance their shared interests against the threat of foreign domination. The major difference is that as members of civil society, industry associations have flexed their increased power by partnering with the state and creating national cultural policies that benefit the economic interests of their members.

As a result of this partnership, Chile’s NCI has focused its activity on strengthening the legal protection of intellectual property and criminalizing cultural piracy as two key efforts in its goal of democratizing national culture and defeating neoliberal hegemony. The emphasis on securing culture’s economic profitability is not that surprising considering the participation of industry professionals in writing the state’s new cultural policies. As Raymond Williams explains, “professional societies” historically emerge as a result of the need to protect copyright and anti-piracy laws. Moreover, Williams cites editorial and literary industries as typical in this respect due to the fact that the technology development of the printing press made copying a ‘problem’ for printed media before it became a problem for other art forms.[31]  The fact that recent technological advancements make piracy a more immediate concern for the music and film industries does not mean that print piracy is not still a central issue in contemporary Chile. Indeed, despite the local industry’s increased output during the transition period, illegal literary activity (typically in the form of photocopied reproduction) has risen.[32] Agustín Squella reports that piracy represents 25% of book market activity in Chile today, explaining the high-volume of anti-piracy rhetoric and legislation in Chile’s new cultural institutionalization.[33] Without denying that the “copyright industry” has become one of the principle factors of generating wealth in the era of globalization, the leaders of Chile’s local editorial industry argue that anti-piracy policies do more than serve their own private economic interest; they also claim they serve the greater public interests of protecting the integrity of creative production, helping empower local small businesses, and fighting neoliberalism.[34]

The first Chilean legislation passed on intellectual property and copyright was the Literary and Artistic Property Law in 1834, but it is the 1970 Intellectual Property Law that has shaped the current condition of copyright protection in contemporary Chile. This law has been modified twice, once in 1985 to specifically address the issue of piracy, and again in 1992 to establish the Chilean Copyright Society (SCD), the nonprofit organization that is now one of the country’s leading authorities on this issue. In April of 2007, the CNCA presented new legislation to congress that would once again modify the 1970 copyright law. Piracy is at the center of this latest attempt at cultural reform. The proposed reform would increase the punishment for copyright infringement from three to five years in jail and increase the fiscal penalty 400 times. The reform describes piracy as “an urgent necessity and one of the principle desires of our artists, creators and culture industries,” and it expands the definition of what counts as piracy to include a number of specified actions, including plagiarism.[35]

In addition to intellectual property and copyright laws, in 1993 the state implemented the Promotion of Books and Reading Law (Law 19.227, Article 8), mandating that all books (and many other printed or published materials) register themselves with an International Standard Book Number.[36] As both a partner to and product of Chile’s new cultural institutionalization, Animita Cartonera faithfully complies with the state’s new regulations, specifically the ISBN requirement. The registered ISBN printed on every cardboard book signifies Animita’s compliance with the state’s new mechanisms of cultural regulation. More importantly, the number certifies the book-object’s identity as a “legitimate” artistic object, recognized as such by international cultural institutions via the ISBN. The presence of the ISBN in all Animita book-objects is somewhat shocking considering the undeniable artisanal quality of these books. The hand-made nature of these texts creates an individual uniqueness (or what Benjamin might have called aura) that cannot be attained through capitalist modes of production. The important role Animita Cartonera gives to the production of difference in its editorial techniques seems at odds with the ISBN enterprise that seeks to standardize global norms of cultural production and circulation.

This apparent paradox with regards to Animita’s ISBN registration leads us to question the contradictions that arise when marginal social actors and/or cultural producers move into society’s mainstream and gain institutional power. Indeed, when we look closely at the cultural policies and practices implemented by the newly democratic regime and its civil society partners, we see that they exhibit a number of exclusionary and marginalizing tendencies. In fact, there is reason to believe that the NCI’s policies regarding the ISBN, intellectual property, and cultural piracy reproduce the logic of neoliberalism and non-democratic definitions of culture that were characteristic of the dictatorial period. Specifically, the questions of who counts as an artist and what forms of material production count as artistic is at the heart of the copyright debate. While Chile’s NCI argues that intellectual copyright protection is a requirement for democratic advancement, many scholars question the ethics of national and international copyright laws and anti-piracy campaigns. One of the most frequently cited problems with these laws is that they reproduce the logic of nineteenth century liberal political theory and, as an extension, contemporary neoliberalism. To be sure, international intellectual property and copyright laws directly depend on liberal definitions of ‘property’ and ‘the individual.’[37] Such definitions are problematic in the first sense because the liberal individual, while claiming universality, is actually a decidedly western and patriarchal historical construct.[38] Secondly, equating ‘culture’ to private property means that it no longer belongs to the whole community and cannot be democratically accessed by all. Rather, culture only becomes accessible to those who can afford it. Indeed, law professor Jessica Litman has argued that the desire of copyright owners to expand the protection over the ideas and information contained in their works conflicts with the democratic notion that those ideas and information be free for other to use.[39] Ronald Bettig agrees, arguing that defining culture as private property necessarily excludes others from using it.[40]  Thus it would seem that such a definition of culture would defeat the NCI’s goal of democratizing national culture since it would not make it freely and equally accessible to all.

More concerning than this, however, is the way in which the focus on intellectual property presents a seeming contradiction to the anti-neoliberal and pro-nationalist stance embodied by Chile’s new cultural institutionalization. It is somewhat curious that the NCI would so fervently embrace stricter copyright legislation when historically intellectual copyright law has been used by global industrial powers as a means of ensuring their economic and cultural domination over the developing world.[41] Many scholars typically describe the international debate on intellectual property as emblematic of the North/South global divide. For instance, Laikwan Pang argues that copyright is a Western legal concept that secures current global hierarchies, ironically outlawing certain kinds of cultural practices in order to preserve the “diversity of culture.”[42] Like Pang, economists Stephen Richardson and James Gaisford argue that the intellectual property debate functions off a power division that divides the world into an antagonistic binary. They conclude that it is nearly unavoidable that “Less Developed Countries [sic] as a group will tend to lose from the worldwide standards on intellectual property protection.”[43] They will lose, according to communications scholar Ronald Bettig, because international copyright laws increase the hegemony of the global cultural industries (who own the majority of copyrights), which in turn furthers the homogenization of cultural products worldwide. Bettig claims that this, “in turn, fosters the erosion of national, regional, ethnic, and group autonomy, undermines democratic participation in cultural expression, and increases inequalities between people and nations.”[44] Through this view we can see that the cultural policies Chile has adopted to economically strengthen its local literary industry and defend national difference actually endanger local identity and reinforce global homogenization.

Not only is copyright law thought to be non-democratic but there is also substantial academic literature supporting the view that copyright laws stifle artistic creativity more than cultural piracy does.[45] Representative of this view is the work of Laikwan Pang, which recognizes culture’s inherent body/spirit divide as paramount to the intellectual property debate. Pang’s research shows us that intellectual copyright protects against two separate kinds of cultural piracy: the first is “ideas copying,” which Pang defines as the copying of themes, styles, ideas, characters, or plots; the second she labels “plagiarism,” which is direct product copying or simply piracy.[46] This “idea-expression” dichotomy, as Pang calls it, is the same spirit/body, symbolic/material binary inherent in culture that we have been discussing here. While Pang argues that copyright discourse is more concerned in policing the material reproduction of cultural products over symbolic copying, she also strongly defends the notion that these two aspects of culture cannot be separated from one another. She argues that restricting the reproduction of cultural goods as material commodities equally limits our ability to copy ideas, which, according to Pang, is the driving force of cultural production and artistic expression. This suggests that the spiritual definition of culture depends on processes of copying, imitation, intertextuality, mimesis, and repetition, all of which are criminalized by the NCI’s official policies on intellectual property. We can therefore conclude that Chile’s new cultural institutionalization has drafted a policy of cultural reform that simultaneously enfranchises minorities (such as Animita Cartonera) while excluding those cultural producers it deems “illegal” (such as cultural pirates). In other words, Chile’s democratic cultural policy increases the rights of some cultural producers at the expense of revoking those of others. It marginalizes in order to mainstream the margins.


While we have a good reason to critique Chile’s new cultural institutionalization, such a critique does not prevent us from acknowledging the democratic value of mainstreaming Animita Cartonera’s alternative style of book production. In fact, Animita, although complicit in the NCI’s marginalizing and disciplinary tactics, does temper those tendencies through its own community-minded and minority editorial activity. On a local level, we have seen how Animita empowers Santiago’s marginalized social sectors as valued artists, giving them an opportunity to produce unique cultural products and a shared cultural identity. On an international level, the press provides a possible solution to the problem of how local Latin American cultural economies can participate in globalization in a way that strengthens their individual differences rather than erases them. We see this in the fact that Animita is one piece of an international movement of recycled cardboard publishers that reaches across the Latin American region.[47] Thus, we can agree with Subercaseaux’s claim that Chile’s literary industry has had to become more globally dependent as a result of its authoritarian past, but we do not have to share his view that this phenomenon need be predominantly oppressive. Rather, the cartonera movement constructs a transnational solidarity of community-based cultural producers that occupy their own place within the diversity of global culture. In Chile, Animita Cartonera evidences the important role minority cultural producers play in countering the exclusionary tendencies of the nation-state’s democratic transformation. On a regional level, the cartonera movement might not need to enter the mainstream of the global editorial industry; rather it has the potential of becoming its own cultural institution whose social, political, and economic power is not derived from either the state or the market, but rather from the ordinary men and women who toil together in workshops, making art out of trash.

Jane Griffin is visiting assistant professor in the department of Spanish and Portuguese at Indiana University. Her current research project, The Labor of Literature: Gender and Literary Culture in Chile from Dictatorship to Democracy, documents how Chile’s recent political transition has altered the material conditions and gendered politics of literary production, distribution, and consumption. She holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Irvine.


[1] All translations of cited material are by the author.

[2] Bernardo Subercaseaux, Historia del libro en Chile (Alma y Cuerpo) (Santiago: LOM Ediciones, 1993), 166.

[3] “Objeto de arte realizado y pintado a mano con la ayuda de recolectores y jóvenes. Primera Edición, año 2006, Santiago, Chile. Colección Chilenisis. Ediciones Animita Cartonera, proyecto social, cultural y artístico que busca intervenir de manera creativa en la sociedad.  Responsables: Ximena Ramos, Fernanda Arrau, Tanya Núñez. Agradecemos autor su cooperación, autorizando la publicación de este texto. Contacto: N0 157.894. ISBN 956-8625-00-3.”

[4] For a thorough review of the military regime’s political persecution of the book form, see Subercaseaux, Historia del libro en Chile.

[5] In an interview with Guillermo García-Corales, literary icon and published Animita author, Pedro Lemebel describes Chilean literature of the 1990s as “un poco light.”  Guillermo García-Corales, Dieciséis entrevistas con autores chilenos contemporáneos: la emergencia de una nueva narrativa / [entrevistas realizadas por Guillermo García-Corales (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2005), 155. Chilean writer and book-object publisher Pía Barros articulates a similar view in her unpublished essay “Movimientos culturales, industria cultural” (2005).

[6] While little scholarship exists on underground self-publishing trends of the dictatorship years, Horacio Eloy and Jorge Montealegre, both participants in this counter-culture, are the best sources of information on this topic. See Horacio Eloy, “Informe final: Revistas y publicaciones literarias editadas en dictadura, una historia por contar (1973-1990),”  Santiago: Consejo del Libro y la Lectura, Beca Creación Literaria, (no date);  Horacio Eloy “Revistas y publicaciones literarias durante la dictadura (1973-1990),” in Simpson 7: Revista de la Sociedad de Escritores de Chile. Vol. XII (Santiago, 2000). Also, see Jorge Montealegre, “Algunas notas (autocomplacientes y hasta nostálgicas) sobre La Castaña,” Revista de Crítica Cultural 31 (June 2005); Resha Cardone., “Acting Up and Carrying On: Women Writers of Chile, 1945-2006” (Doctoral Dissertation, University of Kansas, 2006).

[7] This governing body consists primarily of the National Council for Culture and the Arts; however, I use the term NCI since it includes other agencies and programs beyond the CNCA that are also part of Chile’s official cultural program and that directly participate in Animita Cartonera’s editorial project. For a detailed history of Chile’s new cultural institutionalization, see, Agustín Squella, El jinete en la lluvia: La cultura en el gobierno de Lagos (Santiago: Aguilar, 2005).

[8] For a precise articulation of this logic, see Editores de Chile y Fundación Chile Veintiuno, Una política de Estado para el libro y la lectura: Estrategias para el fomento de la lectura y el desarrollo de la industria editorial en Chile (Santiago: Fundación Chile Veintiuno y la Asociación de Editores de Chile, 2005); Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes, Política nacional del libro y la lectura (Santiago: Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes, Consejo Nacional del Libro y la Lectura, 2006); and Eduardo Carrasco, Bárbara Negrón, and José Weinstein, eds., Industrias Culturales: Un aporte al desarrollo (Santiago de Chile: LOM Ediciones; Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes, 2005).

[9] Paula Urrutia, “Palabras Ministra de Cultura: Firma Proyecto Modificatorio de la Ley de Propiedad Intelectual” (accessed April 12, 2009).

[10] Raymond Williams, Culture (Glasgow: Fontana Paperbacks, 1981).

[11] Ibid., 11.

[12] Ibid., 50.

[13] Subercaseaux, Historia del libro en Chile, 166.

[14] Pía Barros, “Movimientos culturales, industria cultural,” Unpublished manuscript (2005), 2.

[15] Barros goes on to specify the type of books that dominate editorial production under a neoliberal order: “It is here that we find self-help books, books of prophecy, family sagas, biographic novels of a remote past where what matters are the love affairs of the celebrity of the day, novels of displacement, light feminisms, cookbooks. Nothing that profoundly questions the efficiency of the system.”  Ibid., 2.

[16] Ibid., 3.

[17] Subercaseaux, Historia del libro en Chile, 166-67 (emphasis mine).

[18] Javier Stanziola, “Neo-Liberalism and Cultural Policies in Latin America: The Case of Chile,” International Journal of Cultural Policy 8, no. 1 (2002): 23.

[19] Néstor García Canclini, Las culturas populares en el capitalismo (La Habana: Casa de las Américas, 1982), 86.

[20] Animita Cartonera, “Home,”, (accessed June 30, 2009).

[21] Felipe Almazán Tepliski, “Libros de Cartón (y las editoriales cartoneras),”,

[22] Marietta Santi, “Animita Cartonera: Mosquetteras de la literature,” La Tercera, 21 January, 2007.

[23] Animita Cartonera, “Social,”,

[24] Animita Cartonera, “Nosotros,”,

[25] Editores de Chile y Fundación Chile Veintiuno, Una política, 39.

[26] Ibid., 41.

[27] Rodrigo Alvarado, “Historias de cartón.” La Nación, 4 November 2006,

[28] Fernanda Arrau, Personal Interview, 27 April 2007.

[29] See Agustín Squella, El jinete en la lluvia: La cultura en el gobierno de Lagos (Santiago: Aguilar, 2005); José Weinstein, “Discurso inaugural,” Derecho de autor: Un desafío para la creación y el desarrollo (Santiago de Chile: LOM Ediciones; Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes, 2004), 14.

[30] Javier Stanziola, “Neo-Liberalism and Cultural Policies in Latin America: The Case of Chile,” International Journal of Cultural Policy 8, no. 1 (2002): 21-35; Lester M. Salamon, “Globalization and the Civil Society Sector” in Globalization, Philanthropy, and Civil Society: Toward a New Political Culture in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Soma Hewa and H. Stapleton (New York: Springer, 2005).

[31] Williams, Culture, 47 and 62.

[32] Weinstein, “Discurso inaugural,” 15; Editores de Chile y Fundación Chile Veintiuno, Una política del Estado, 52.

[33] Squella, El jinete en la lluvia, 128.

[34] Editores de Chile y Fundación Chile Veintiuno, Una política del Estado, 37; Santiago Schuster, “Sociedad del conocimiento, industrias culturales y propiedad intelectual,” in Industrias Culturales: Un aporte al desarrollo, edited by Eduardo Carrasco, Bárbara Negrón, and José Weinstein (Santiago de Chile: LOM Ediciones; Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes, 2005).

[35] Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes y el Consejo del Libro,, “Proyecto de Ley,”

[36] Chilean Bureau of Books, “Agencia Chilena”

[37] Paul Steidlmeier, “The Moral Legitimacy of Intellectual Property Claims: American Business and Developing Country Perspectives,” Journal of Business Ethics 12 (1993): 157-164.

[38] Of course Carole Pateman is well known for her critique that Enlightenment political philosophy as an inherently sexists institution. See Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988). Laikwan Pang also cites Joan B. Landes (1988) and Miriam Hansen (1991) as feminist critics of the public sphere, Eric Clarke (2000) as claiming that the public sphere excludes gay and lesbians, and Oska Negt  and Alexander Kluge (1993) as arguing that the public sphere is homogenized based on class. Laikwan Pang, Cultural Control and Globalization in Asia: Copyright, Piracy, and Cinema (New York: Routledge, 2006), 38.

[39] Jessica Litman, “Copyright and Information Policy,” Law and Contemporary Problems 55, no. 2 (Spring, 1992): 187.

[40] Ronald V. Bettig, Copyrighting Culture: The Political Economy of Intellectual Property (Boulder: Westview Press, 1996), 20.

[41] Paul Steidlmeier, “The Moral Legitimacy of Intellectual Property Claims: American Business and Developing Country Perspectives,” Journal of Business Ethics 12 (1993): 157-164; Bryan W. Husted, “The Impact of National Culture on Software Piracy,” Journal of Business Ethics 26 (2000): 197-211; and Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity (New York: Penguin Press, 2004).

[42] Pang, Cultural Control and Globalization in Asia, 10.

[43] James D. Gaisford and R. Stephen Richardson, “North-South Disputes over the Protection of Intellectual Property,” The Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue Canadienne d’Economique, 29 (April 1996): 376-381.

[44] Bettig, Copyrighting Culture, 226.

[45] Bettig, Copyrighting Culture; Lessig, Free Culture.

[46] Pang, Cultural Control and Globalization in Asia, 67-68.

[47] Other Cartonera publishing houses across Latin America include Sarita Cartonera (Peru), Yerba Mala Cartonera and Mandrágora Cartonera (Bolivia), La Cartonera (México), Dulcinéia Catadora (Brazil), and Yiyi Jambo (Paraguay) all of whom share the foundational communitarian spirit of the original press.

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