"Getting Down the Road": Understanding Stable Mobility in an American Circus

Terranova-Webb, Ariel (2010). "Getting Down the Road": Understanding Stable Mobility in an American Circus. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000ed8d


A circus, perceived as a fleeting performative event by its audience, presents a life of continuingly restored movement and work to the people that produce the performance. This is the starting point for the stable mobility concept presented in this research. The circus represents a situation of continuing and stable physical movement in which the production of movement continually creates a recognizable, yet flexible, situation. This thesis demonstrates the value of stable mobility for understanding experiences and productions of cultural geographical phenomena that are flexible, continually restored, and reworked to be stable, yet also specific, at each restoration.

The thesis argues that stable mobility becomes apparent through mobile research perspectives. A mobile perspective is viewing the lived relationships and processes of mobility from the place of mobility and finding ways to recover the practices and experiences of being mobile. This is done, not by adding physical movement, but by considering the context of movement.

The research presents ideas of performance and memory as the ways in which a circus manages to reproduce and transform its culture of mobility by calling on past formulations of circus mobility in ways specific to each performance. Significantly, the thesis presents a figuring of mobility, understood as constantly renewed relationships between people, materials, and memory made flexible through improvisational performances, as necessary to the maintenance and preservation of circus life.

Through a five month ethnography conducted on the roads, and in the tent, of Kelly Miller Circus' 2008 season, this research discovered how, through continually restored and flexible performances of memory, this performative culture of movement maintains and preserves its mobility by continually becoming temporarily immobile. In order to reflect the varied aspects of stable mobility at work in Kelly Miller Circus, each ethnographic description and analytical engagement is written in a different performative style.

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