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Title: Rare birds : a global ethnography of Ethiopian circus performers
Author: Kendall, Jessica
ISNI:       0000 0004 6422 1910
Awarding Body: SOAS University of London
Current Institution: SOAS, University of London
Date of Award: 2017
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This thesis presents a multi-sited ethnography of Ethiopian circus performers who trained in China on an acrobatics cultural exchange and subsequently performed in an 'African' themed circus production in Europe. In an international field I follow a troupe of six, the Habesha Jugglers, and explore how they negotiated their presence within the embodied reality of dealing with chronic racism in China and Europe, where ideas about African bodies and being 'African' often mattered more than individual and ethnic identities. Their willingness to play to racial and cultural stereotypes in the show was a determining factor in their presence on tour, and was measured against a deep-seated desire to make a better life for oneself and one's family within the bigger scheme of things. Along with the production's cast, the troupe sought to reconcile outside racist perceptions and representations by emphasizing the importance of working hard with one's body, thus increasing their own market value and mobility in the corporeal economy of circus. It is my aim to make a significant contribution to the field by moving away from popular scholarly analytics that deal from, and with, a spectator-oriented vantage point regarding onstage representation in circus. With this thesis I reorient the anthropological focus to the lived day-to-day immediate experiences of circus performers by telling the Habesha Jugglers' story. It is ultimately a simple and powerful ethnographic narrative about Ethiopian circus performers trying to make better lives for themselves while dealing with viscerally rooted racism and living in highly trained 'valuable' black bodies within a global circus market.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral