Contemporary Circus Careers: Labour Relations and Normative Selfhood in the Neoliberal Scenario

Ilaria Bessone


This paper reports on and analyzes insights into diverse circus careers against the backdrop of the current neoliberal moment, taking recent developments within the circus world as reflective of contemporary social, economic, and political transformations and disciplinary discourses. It draws on an ethnographic inquiry into the contemporary circus scene in Turin. This case study is conceptually grounded in the increasing importance of creativity in neoliberal labour relations, and in the neoliberal emphasis on individual responsibility for constructions of identity and subjectivity.

The redefinition of circus as a form of art and formalized educational path in Italy is an ongoing process, characterized by a lack of formal, explicit criteria to access and succeed in the labour market, contingent employment and individual career strategies, and the ambivalent role played by creativity in shaping professions and subjectivities. As such, it becomes a paradigmatic case of a neoliberal framework in which the status of “art” justifies labour and existential precariousness, highlighting the social role and the symbolic value of artistic professions and practices and new articulations of art as opposed to—or in compliance with—current notions of work, labour, and leisure.

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