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  Staged Otherness. Human Oddities in Central and Eastern Europe, c. 18501939
, 02 2016

October 2527, 2017
Warsaw, Poland

The phenomenon of presenting human oddities on stage is the starting point for a discussion on the subject of direct contact with otherness.

Understanding of the mechanisms which govern the process of defining otherness in the 19th and the first decades of the 20th century bears significant consequences for understanding of the iconosphere of contemporary culture, socio-cultural practices related to global tourism, and patterns of getting to know the world through changing media of communication.

This three-day interdisciplinary conference aims to discuss the issue of presenting human oddities primarily ethnographic shows, including villages set up within world fairs, human zoos, cirques and freak shows, where living people were presented in front of the audience. Our main point is to analyze the nature of this phenomenon in Central and Eastern Europe, where the social, political and economic situation was decidedly different from the much-analyzed situation in Western European communities. Our notion of otherness and freakery is embedded in a strain of studies which conceptualizes theother and freak as performative and constructed identities dependent on context-specific perception. Drawing on a variety of iconographic and literary sources, an extensive body of research, and diverse scholarly positions, we would like to address such key questions as what made  people participate in ethnic and freak shows and what kind of functions these types of events fulfilled.

We are particularly interested in reconstructing what took place in direct contact with the Other. We assume that the practice of regulating direct contact (i.e. establishing the distance between an actor and the audience) and the instruments employed to do it reflect the degree of otherness attributed to the peoples and cultures on display. We therefore intend to examine the perception of otherness not only in reference to eyesight and the visual experience, gaze patterns and the idea of the mediated gaze, but also with reference to various coding variables within proxemic measures, such as e.g. touch and olfaction.

Talks & Topics

We welcome proposals for presentations from all disciplines and career stages and invite any scholars who conduct research on theories, sources and concepts related to (re)presentations of human oddities to participate. Each speaker will be given 30 minutes, for a 20-minute presentation followed by a 10-minute Q&A session.

We would like to call your attention to the following topics:

-    employing visual methodologies and methodologies of non-verbal communication, including the proxemic analysis of visual media;
-    problems with terminology and iconographic, literary, and historical sources related to ethnic and freak shows;
-    the construction of a show and production of freak identity: entrepreneurs, agents on stage, and the public;
-    the specificity of staging human oddities in Central and Eastern Europe, and concepts encompassing presentation of ethnic and freak shows in local cultures;
-    comparative analysis of museum and live representations of otherness;
-    tradition and re-interpretations of human zoos, ethnic and freak shows in contemporary culture.


Please submit an initial paper proposal including your full name, institutional and disciplinary affiliation and the working title of your paper no later than November 30, 2016

Abstracts and full paper proposals outlining your basic research methods and sources should not exceed 250 words. We expect to receive them no later than February 28, 2017

Successful applicants will be notified by March 31, 2017.

Please e-mail your proposals to:

Dagnosław Demski d.demski2@gmail.com
Dominika Czarnecka d.czarnecka@hotmail.com
Conference Language:

The conference language is English.

Conference Fee:

Conference fee: 50 EUR. Details concerning payment will be announced later.

We are trying to secure sufficient financial resources to meet the costs of accommodation and board for all participants presenting papers. We will inform you about the final results of our efforts in this regard as soon as possible.

Conference Venue:

Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences
26 Długa St.
PL 02 797 Warsaw


Prof. Dagnosław Demski, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw
Dr. Izabela Kopania, Institute of Art,  Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw
Dr. Kamila Baraniecka-Olszewska, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw
Dr. Dominika Czarnecka, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw
Dr. Ildikó Sz. Kristóf, Centre for Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest

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