Mexican Puppetry and Balance in Technology

Open Minds
~ Mechanical details for a puppet head ~
Photo courtesy of Puppetitieres.

by Diane Daly, Puppetiteres, on July 12, 2013
Puppetry is a fascinating art form from an Information perspective because it is defined by balance in the technology it uses. The term technology today has come to mean digital tools - the more, the better. But when I speak of the balance in technology inherent within puppetry, I am using the older meaning of technology: Using devices to more effectively accomplish our goals. A puppet itself is technology used toward the goal of creative expression, but a puppet's movements must convey to the audience an intimate connection with the movement of the puppeteer(s). Overdo the technology of Mr. Punch, or El Negrito, or Hanuman, and you end up not with a puppet but with an automaton.

In the US, birthplace of so many digital innovations, we rarely imagine a ceiling for our technological inundation. In my studies of of Information and Library Science, I have begun to explore how people who know how to balance technology approach social networking. Although puppetry exists everywhere, I chose the puppetry community in Mexico as the focus of this research because in my experience digital technology is approached very practically here in Mexico. Tech skills are not perceived as hallmarks of superiority; one simply learns them to advance human objectives.

The Mexican Puppetry Community

Knowledge about puppetry techniques, source and construction materials, performance venues, and marketing are just a few of the types of information that are shared online in this community. But on a deeper level, the puppetry community in Mexico is interesting from an Information perspective is because it is alive.

Puppetry in Mexico was once tremendously popular, but as in so many other nations, today's puppeteers here do not typically earn much money from their art. Still, puppeteers persevere, in large part because periodic UNIMA events and puppetry festivals bring puppeteers together, and online networking reinforces that togetherness. Just as hybrid education has emerged as the most successful educational model, so is hybrid networking now emerging as the most successful social information model, because periodic face to face engagement inspires perseverance. Puppetry is a a labor of love, and love cannot live long online. Mutual support that Mexican puppeteers provide one another keeps them performing, and reinforces their belief in their art regardless of is obscurity.

I have already learned about some crucial factors in this community's support system. No single organization actively connects puppeteers across this nation. The puppetry support organization UNIMA does connect them in name, but UNIMA exists here in local delegations, with relatively little activity at the national level. When I was writing proposals for this research, my problem statement centered on the fact that this community is not centralized, and should be. What I've seen already, however, is that this is not a problem. Indeed, this network's decentralized layout is essential to its success.

This decentralized network is not a system, but an ecology. Systems are structurally complete when they begin, and any addition of new hubs disrupts the whole system. Ecologies, on the other hand, welcome new life and use it it to balance the life that was already within. (For more about Information Ecologies, read Davenport & Prusak (Oxford UP 1997) and Nardi and O'day (MIT Press 1999). Ecologies accommodate expiration as well: Whereas the breakdown of a cog within a system causes havoc, in an ecology it can be absorbed the jungle-like whole, or make room for new life in its place.

None of the people or organizations supporting Mexican puppetry is paid much to do what he or she does. But peer development nurtures newer puppeteers until some are ready to become hubs themselves, and nurtures hubs so that rather than burning out, they can take a back seat and ride for a while on the energy of others.

Diane Daly, doctoral student, University of Arizona School of Information Resources and Library Science, is working on research that aims to help teach the academic world about puppetry in the Americas today. Read more about her project at Puppetiteres.
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  1. Paul S.10:25 PM

    Interesting how you broke down systems versus ecologies, and thinking about a community working together as an ecology is pretty cool. It would be great to see this line developed further.

  2. "love can nit live long online." great quote, and thought provoking too. I'm not sure i agree fully, but it made me pause and consider.

  3. Anonymous12:07 PM

    Interesting research you're doing here, and I'm looking forward to reading more about these puppeteers. What kinds of themes do they cover in their performances? How far back do their traditions go, and where do they originate? I've seen some puppetry in the US, and it often has a political or activist slant - is that common in Mexico too?


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