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Call for Proposals: Vari(A)bilities: Exhibiting Humanity, Inhabiting the Body

Published November 5, 2019

11-13 June 2020, Sarasota, Florida, USA
Hosted by: John and Mable Ringling Museum and New College of Florida, in collaboration with University of Winchester

The materiality of the body confounds us; it forces a reconsideration of the “linguistic turn,” perhaps even the “social constructionist” turn, by which we understand the world and identity as linguistically or socially constituted. But how do we look at bodies –our own, the first bodies exhibited to us as children, the bodies of clowns and circus performers, or even the bodies of everyday folks with impairments—people who are like us but also somehow different? And what knowledge do such encounters create or reify?

Our conference location on the campus of New College of Florida and the John and Mable Ringling Museum, with their historical connection to the Ringling family and the circus, invites us to think about how the full range of humanity has been ands still exhibited and performed. We turn explicitly to the experience of specific and variAble bodies and their humanity.

Sometimes seen as inherently in conflict, the circus and its progenitors (collections of wonders and monsters, exhibits of exotics, carnivalesque fairs, freak shows) and the experiences of variously abled persons may be productively considered as intersectional. Not only have extraordinary-bodied persons been exhibited; they have also seized control over their own presentations under a variety of circumstances and historical moments. Both academic work on impairments and circus seek to reach multiple audiences—a general public, advocates and activists, historians and cultural critics. Institutions like circuses also provided a platform for

performing the self and framing the action of looking—one that is complexly intertwined with the agency of the extraordinary body. Linking embodiment, performance, self-presentation, and exhibition—circus studies provide another insight into the ‘impaired’ body, its applications and acceptances within the wider society. We are particularly interested in the knowledge and affordances of the variable body and the negotiated agency of variAble persons.

We invite proposals for papers exploring how variable bodies and their capacities have been exhibited or performed–but particularly how varied persons exhibit or present themselves and their humanity.

Proposals might consider:

  • the history of circus performers— under the Big Top, in side-shows or other public performers;
  • the history of various forms of display and exhibition, from Wunderkammer to scientific collections to street performers;
  • how and where one exhibits an ‘invisible’ impairment, disability, or variation; under what circumstances are such displays necessary or chosen and how are they navigated?
  • specific extraordinary bodied persons—historical, contemporary, in life writing, in public performance, in visual or textual or oral accounts;
  •  intersections of impairment with race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or class, or the differential ways in which variable bodies matter under regimes of race, social status, sex/gender, or other systems;
  • the problem of staring and looking, of being the object of the gaze versus managing the look;
  • where neurodivergence fits into the concept of variAbility—as sometimes invisible, sometimes made visible, sometimes reframed as the “marvelous” or “magical”;
  • the relation or difference between institutions of exhibition from the plebian (fairs, sideshows, freak shows, tours, theater or opera) to the elite (museums, performance art, scientific or anthropological showcases, medical theaters and hospitals, theater or opera);
  • archives and collections, from the predictable (museums of natural history or art, medical institutions, libraries) to the popular or plebian (“Bodies; the Exhibition;” wax works, hospital and asylum tours);
  • “accessibility” over time, across settings from the material to the digital;
  • if “theory” comes from the Greek theōria meaning “contemplation, speculation; a looking at, viewing; a sight, show, spectacle, things looked at,” how do we hear the demand, “no theory about us without us”?

Proposals of 300-500 words & 2-page CV to: variabilities5@gmail.com by November 1, 2019.

 

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