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Vulgar Acts: Circus Performances and the Production of IndiaEléonore Rimbault

Vulgar Acts: Circus Performances and the Production of India's Circus Golden Age

Eléonore Rimbault

Bunche Hall 10383 and online



This talk interrogates the rift between nostalgic and flattering accounts of what the circus used to be and comments provided by circus professionals and audience members about the alleged vulgarity of the present-day show. Reflecting on the transmission, reproduction and transformation of circus performances between the 1920s and today, the talk discusses the affordances of an imagination in which the past of the circus is constituted as a golden age and the present as a moment of fading and loss. It also studies the implications of this disappearance for the current form of circus performance, whose liveliness and performative dimensions are interpreted as a “vulgar” or undignified afterimage. I contend that this tension contributes to the retrospective foregrounding of the egalitarianism, physical culture, and the cosmopolitanism associated with the circus in the past as grounds for nation-building in a bygone mid-20th century golden age. This talk thus offers reflections on the perennial disappearing of the circus and on historical accounts about the disappearance of aesthetic objects in South Asia more generally.



Eléonore Rimbault is a sociocultural anthropologist working on labor, publicity, human-nonhuman relations, and memory in South India. Her research attends to the ethical questions raised by the categorization and marginalization of individuals and social groups, both human and nonhuman, and the aesthetic regimes through which social differentiation materializes in South Asia. Her current book project, The Thrill of Disappearance: Labor, Publicity, and Recollection in India’s Circus Industry, is a visual ethnography of the circus profession in India, which examines the enduring idea that the circus is disappearing in postcolonial India. Through ethnographic work with circus stakeholders, complemented by visual methodologies, she follows these transformations with an emphasis on the development of media technologies, animal rights, the social status of children, and labor conditions. In 2023, she received the Daniel F. Nugent Prize for best dissertation in historical anthropology at the University of Chicago for her dissertation, titled “Disappearance in the Ring: The Perpetual Unmaking of India’s Big Top Circus”. Her ethnographic research has been funded by the American National Science Foundation, the American Institute for Indian Studies and the US Department of Education.
Aside from her research, Eléonore contributes to the circulation of research and theory in the social sciences through her translation work between English and French. She is currently working on a translation of B.R. Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste into French which will be published in the coming year by the Indian publisher Other Books. Eléonore’s work has been featured in Public Culture, Asian Ethnology, and Anthropology Now, and HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory.





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Download file: Rimbault-en-sq5.pdf

Sponsor(s): Center for India and South Asia, The Mohindar Brar Sambhi Endowed Chair in Indian Music at The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music

23 Apr 24
12:00 PM - 2:00 PM

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