Elizabeth Vander Meer

Department: Anthropology
Discipline: Sociology and Philosophy
Research Centre/Unit: Anthrozoology

Project Summary

Current PhD Research:

Tradition, biopower and individual wild animals in French circuses

Circus tradition that includes a central role for animal performance persists in France and is afforded governmental support and promotion through the Ministry of Culture.  However, traditional circuses in Europe that perform with wild animals are being challenged publicly and altered through the enactment of legal bans on use of these animals, reflecting increasing unease with wild animal performance in particular. 

My PhD project involves multi-sited multispecies ethnographic research of current 21st century traditions of wild animal performance in circuses in France, to investigate circus discourse and the lives of tigers caught within entertaining narratives. I will undertake fieldwork within two circuses that perform in and around Paris, as well as following the lives of individual tigers rescued from a French circus and rehomed in a zoo in Spain. I build on existing research that describes the blurring and maintaining of boundaries between humans and other animals in circuses, exploring how French traditions of wild animal performance obscure individuality, while at the same time considering how individual animals become and can be made visible.  Ideas in biopower and performance studies infused with phenomenology provide the theoretical frame for this research which is located at the crossroads of Anthrozoology, Ethnographic Anthropology and Applied Philosophy. The study produced will capture a rare analytical account of an oral and physical tradition, while also giving full consideration to animal experience, of benefit to scholars of performance but also to those considering the welfare of animals in circuses, with great potential to feed into policy discussions and decisions.

Latest publication: Vander Meer, E. (2019). Returning to Wild? Four lions' journey from circus to sanctuary. Humanimalia, 10:2: 180-202.

Supervisory Team

Dr. Julien Dugnoille, First Supervisor

Professor Henry Buller, Second Supervisor

Wider Research Interests

My interests include ethnoprimatology, human-wildlife coexistence, captivity for animals in circuses and zoos and exotic animal/wildlife rehabilitation.

Authored Publications/Reports

Elizabeth Vander Meer (3rd November 2017) Alligator Song: a challenge to spectacle, product and menace, Society & Animals, Advance Article, 1-20