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Circus between centre and periphery: the recognition of the form in 21st century Britain and Colombia

Sorzano, O. (2018). Circus between centre and periphery: the recognition of the form in 21st century Britain and Colombia. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)

Abstract

The turn of the 21st century arguably marked the point when circus gained recognition by cultural establishments in Britain and Colombia. Issues of identity and recognition were becoming central questions in the analysis of a practice regarded as marginal or lowbrow. This thesis addresses such questions by comparing circus movements in Britain and Colombia. The aim is to investigate global power structures that operate behind the current process of recognition.

The analysis is conducted within the disciplines of cultural studies and circus studies. It follows mixed methods of research that include multi-sited ethnography, semi-structured interviews, textual analysis, archival research and political economy. Interviews were conducted with over 60 circus artists, arts administrators, and policy-makers; they enquire into the factors behind recognition and the distinctive character of the form. The research finds the internal peripheries of circus and a divided practice which is split into differentiated movements such as ‘traditional’, ‘contemporary’ or ‘social’ circus. While contemporary circus gains recognition as art, traditional circus is regarded as entertainment and social circus as therapy or social work.

The historical review on the other hand, reveals that the 21st century is not the only period in which circus is gaining recognition. The 18th century saw the consolidation of ‘modern circus’ in Britain, the point when circus is said to emerge as a distinct genre and a performing art. The thesis brings those moments together as evidence of a cycle in which an itinerant and ambivalent practice encounters formalisation. Both periods coincide with a moment when cultural elites and official establishments embrace circus as a valid endeavour. In the process of recognition, crucial agents are often ignored and become invisible.

The research contributes to understandings of circus beyond the West and the centre - more precisely, capitalism, the bourgeoisie, urban centres, expert knowledge and stakeholders. It highlights the influence that narratives found in 19th century Europe are having on contemporary developments of circus in both Britain and Colombia. It proposes that the understanding of global power forces operating behind circus transformations could help to alleviate internal disputes connected with intrinsic differences within circus. It also contributes towards a definition of cultural policies that embrace diversity and incentivise circus developments beyond central figures and models borrowed from the past.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Departments: Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences
School of Arts & Social Sciences > Sociology
URI: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/21141
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