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Elizabeth Vandermeer

I completed my first postgraduate degrees in environmental policy and ethics with focus on biodiversity conservation. My PhD thesis critiqued the mainstream conception of biodiversity and argued for a focus on biodiversification (continued evolution) and a feeling for the organism rather than the property of biodiversity and a systems view tied to a sustainability ethic, with consideration of these approaches in the context of two case studies in Latin American biosphere reserves.  I later developed a keen interest in primates after volunteering at a rescue centre and I conducted independent research, building on feminist philosophy of science studies of primates I touched on in my thesis. At the same time, I have worked in technical and environmental policy, research support and executive roles at the University of Edinburgh since obtaining my first PhD. The MA Anthrozoology leads me in a new career direction, as understanding human–animal relationships has always been a passion and concern for me. My interests include ethnoprimatology, human–wildlife coexistence, captivity for circus and zoo animals and exotic animal/wildlife rehabilitation. My current PhD research will make contributions to Qualitative Anthrozoology, Performance Studies and debates in Animal Welfare and Protection. I have most recently applied ideas in biopower/biopolitics and phenomenology to captive animals in zoos and circuses.  I am a vegan, live with two lovely rescue cats, Reilly and Zoey, and volunteer twice a month at a small zoo.

The title of my PhD project is Troubling Boundaries?  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 animals caught within entertaining narratives. I will undertake fieldwork within three circuses that perform in and around Paris. I build on existing research that explores boundaries between humans and other animals in circuses to explore how traditions of wild animal performance in French circuses may trouble or blur boundaries between humans and other animals, and how it is possible to make “visible” the lived experiences of individual animals to understand more fully the bodily impact of these traditions. Ideas in biopower and 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.

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