Art for Social Change: Social Circus in Ecuador
- What are the health impacts of social circus at the individual and community level?
- What are the barriers to operationalising social circus programs in a manner that promotes health equity?
- What are the factors that influence outcome?
Social circus proponents claim an array of personal, social and collective benefits. Social circus helps young people express their creativity while demanding perseverance. This can have a considerable impact on the social determinations of mental and physical health, personal and collective trajectories, with implications for the wellbeing of communities.
However, despite growing research in arts-for-health, and in arts for social change more broadly, there is very little empirical research that has investigated the ethical and pragmatic complexities of social circus in a global context, let alone critically evaluating or even documenting, the personal, social or collective impacts on equity and wellbeing.
History of the project
Social circus refers to the use of circus arts to promote social justice and health equity, and has been increasingly used in working with youth who are marginalised or at-risk.
Social Circus programs have been credited with reduced teen smoking, drug addiction, and anti-social behaviour as well as improving motor skills in children. There are also claims that practicing circus arts can result in structural changes in the brain related to motor skills and coordination.
Research is needed not only to rigorously assess the claims of social circus proponents with respect to mental and physical health but also to address broad critical concerns of importance to the underlying causes of health inequity, taking into account theorising concerning the politics of aesthetics and how arts orient the distribution of who performs, who watches and what this means.
We explore the influence of social class, sex, gender, age, disability, ethnicity and setting. We also focus specifically on how individuals with mental or physical disabilities are integrated, and we consider the power differentials in these social circus programs, learning from dance and sports literature.
The project uses mixed methods (including a systematic literature review, secondary data analysis, health surveys, in-depth interviews, as well as focus groups using arts-based methods, and performance ethnography) to analyse the world’s largest publically run social circus program, and apply insights to other settings.
Canadian Institutes of Health Research 2014-2018 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (2013-2018)