PhD 2022

Dissertation Title: Disappearance in the Ring: The Perpetual Unmaking of India’s Big Top Circus

My research and teaching interests revolve around the life of categories and the cultural forms and practices that they define; the ideologies delineating certain forms of being as distinct (in particular childhood and animality), and dynamics of stigmatization.

In my dissertation, currently entitled: “Disappearance in the ring: the Aesthetic, Professional and Mnemonic Lives of the Indian Circus”, I analyze the social practices that make the Indian circus a marginal, yet enduring, cultural form in India. Building on over three years of ethnographic and archival engagement with the Malayali professional community that sustains the lives of contemporary circus companies and maintains the medium’s largely unwritten history, I argue that the identity of the circus as an ambiguous cultural form arises from the conjunction of overlapping socio-temporal formations, tied to the circus’ colonial history, its economic development as an Indian industry, and the ways active and retired professionals remember their careers in Indian circus companies.

Prior to my current work on circuses in India, I have also conducted fieldwork in France focused on clinical categories and the regulation of sexual abuse. Methodologically, I am attentive to the history and transmission of ethnographic methods, visual culture and non-textual archives; and practice-based approaches to the topics of memory and identity. I am a visual artist, and drawing and painting are important aspects of how I engage with note-taking and analysis, my interlocutors, and my field site.

My research has been made possible by various fellowships I received, notably the NSF Graduate Research Program Fellowship (2015-2020), the American Institute of Indian Studies Language Program Fellowship and Junior Research Fellowship, and support from Committee on Southern Asian Studies at the University of Chicago. In 2020-2021, I am teaching a course entitled: “Remembering: An Anthropological Approach.”