Conference organised by Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology and Institute of Art, Polish Academy of Sciences

October 25–27, 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 the“other” 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.



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 Oyungerel Tangad