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Carnival in Alabama - Marked Bodies and Invented Traditions in Mobile

Carnival in Alabama

Marked Bodies and Invented Traditions in Mobile

By Isabel Machado
Hardcover : 9781496842589, 262 pages, 69 b&w and color illustrations, January 2023
Paperback : 9781496842596, 262 pages, 69 b&w and color illustrations, January 2023

A lively and exciting analysis of one of the United States' oldest Mardi Gras celebrations


Mobile is simultaneously a typical and unique city in the postwar United States. It was a quintessential boomtown during World War II. That prosperity was followed by a period of rapid urban decline and subsequent attempts at revitalizing (or gentrifying) its downtown area. As in many other US cities, urban renewal, integration, and other socioeconomic developments led to white flight, marginalized the African American population, and set the stage for the development of LGBTQ+ community building and subculture. Yet these usually segregated segments of society in Mobile converged once a year to create a common identity, that of a Carnival City.

Carnival in Alabama looks not only at the people who participated in Mardi Gras organizations divided by race, gender, and/or sexual orientation, but also investigates the experience of “marked bodies” outside of these organizations, or people involved in Carnival through their labor or as audiences (or publics) of the spectacle. It also expands the definition of Mobile’s Carnival “tradition” beyond the official pageantry by including street maskers and laborers and neighborhood cookouts.

Using archival sources and oral history interviews to investigate and analyze the roles assigned, inaccessible to, or claimed and appropriated by straight-identified African American men and women and people who defied gender and sexuality normativity in the festivities (regardless of their racial identity), this book illuminates power dynamics through culture and ritual. By looking at Carnival as an “invented tradition” and as a semiotic system associated with discourses of power, it joins a transnational conversation about the phenomenon.


"Machado's focus on LGBTQ+ and African American engagement in the Mobile Mardi Gras celebration is fascinating and underexplored in other studies."

- Carolyn E. Ware, author of Cajun Women and Mardi Gras: Reading the Rules Backward

"Carnival in Alabama makes a transformative contribution to the historiography of Mobile's Mardi Gras, and an indispensable addition to the growing body of scholarship on Carnival traditions throughout the United States."

- Christian DuComb, author of Haunted City: Three Centuries of Racial Impersonation in Philadelphia

"I loved this book as both a social/cultural history and as a work of festival studies. Machado rejects any easy dismissal of this Gulf Coast city or its people and expertly illuminates the historical processes and operations of race, class, and gender in Mobile’s Mardi Gras history."

- Jay Watkins, senior lecturer in history at William & Mary and author of Queering the Redneck Riviera: Sexuality and the Rise of Florida Tourism

"This erudite work is recommended for anyone interested in local Southern lore, the mythology of Carnival, or reckoning with the racial and homophobic prejudice and violence of the past."

- Amy Shaw, Georgia Library Quarterly

"Machado’s research is solid and deep. . . . Unlike some other writers, she has neither glorified nor distorted the past."

- John S. Sledge, The Alabama Review

"“Carnival in Mobile” is undeniably academic, but in no way dry. Its concepts, analyses and approach bear a coolly rational tone that balances with the festive and sometimes debaucherous core of its subject matter. And it is the most deeply immersive book on Mobile Mardi Gras that I have ever seen."

- Lagniappe Mobile, Kevin Lee