TAPSA: “The childhood memories of Malayali Circus Children”

Eléonore Rimbault, PhD Candidate in Anthropology, The University of Chicago

What kind of information are childhood memories, and to what extent can they shed light on undocumented facets of India’s regional and professional histories? This talk reflects on the significance of a recurrent source in my doctoral research: the childhood memories of retired circus artists settled on the Malabar Coast of the Southern state of Kerala.

Circus companies once recruited a large number of children from Northern Kerala to train them as performers: raised collectively, according to strict and demanding disciplines focused on the transmission of gymnastic and acrobatic skills, these young trainees were known as “company children.” After their activity was problematized as child labor by local and international NGOs and made illegal, these children progressively disappeared from Indian circus companies.

This essay focuses on the memories of former company children who have now become adults. I argue that taking my interlocutors’ memories as a point of departure for the study of childhood in India helps circumvent some moral, methodological and epistemological issues with this category. Childhood memories illuminate an individual’s assessment of their own experience, regardless of whether it conforms to widespread normative expectations about childhood. I argue that in this case, they also suggest certain biographical periodizations more relevant to a person’s life than prevalent age categories. I end this talk with a caveat about the need for a reflexive approach to the context in which childhood memories are shared. 

Register here: https://uchicago.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJcvce2rqDkqGdzckT65eHf9hK-Vr1ukP1n8

Thursday, January 14, 2021 - 10:00am
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