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Id 196
Author Spiegel, J., B.; Parent, S., N.
Title Re-approaching community development through the arts: a ‘critical mixed methods’ study of social circus in Quebec.

Spiegel, J.B.; Parent, S.N. (2018). Re-approaching community development through the arts: a ‘critical mixed methods’ study of social circus in Quebec. Community Development Journal, 53(4): 600–617,

Keywords Critical mixed method; social circus; Quebec; Community development; marginalised groups
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Abstract Community arts projects have long been used in community development. Nevertheless, despite many liberatory tales that have emerged, scholars caution that well-meaning organizations and artists may inadvertently become complicit in efforts that distract from fundamental inequities, instrumentalizing creative expression as a means to transform potentially dissident youth into productive and cooperative ‘citizens’. This article examines how social circus – using circus arts with equity-seeking communities – has been affecting personal and community development among youth with marginalized lifestyles in Quebec, Canada. Employing a ‘critical mixed methods’ design, we analysed the impacts of the social circus methodology and partnership model deployed on transformation at the personal and community level. Our analysis suggests that transformation in this context is grounded in principles of using embodied play to re-forge habits and fortify an identity within community and societal acceptance through recognizing individual and collective creative contributions. The disciplinary dimension of the programme, however, equally suggests an imprinting of values of ‘productivity’ by putting marginality ‘to work’. In the social circus programmes studied, tensions between the goal of better coping within the existing socioeconomic system and building skills to transform inequitable dynamics within dominant social and cultural processes, are navigated by carving out a space in society that offers alternative ways of seeing and engaging.

Metodology The paper analyses four of the eight Cirque du Monde-affiliated social circus groups in the province of Quebec, Canada (in Drummondville, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, and Montreal), selected because they target primarily street-involved youth with marginalized lifestyles – the original and dominant target population of social circus programmes in Quebec – wherea others were more focused on children at risk. The authors adopted a mixed methods approach including statistical analyses. The authors' initial emphasis on understanding the goals, methodologies and scope of social circus in Quebec as the basis for designing our survey was intended to mitigate this bias, while their critical qualitative analysis contextualized the quantitative data within an understanding of the social implications. Lead author J.B.S. conducted a critical ethnographic study over a two-year period (2013–2015), working closely with social circus participants, instructors and community workers in the Montreal programme. Based on this preliminary research, claims of social circus advocates and other research on social circus, a retrospective post-then-pre questionnaire was developed. Authors selected questionnaires used by others to measure our constructs of interest (Robitschek, 1998 for personal growth; and Huxley et al., 2012 for social inclusion and social engagement), adapting questions for social circus. They then tested whether the questions showed consistent responses, and ascertained that they did indeed, both for social inclusion and personal growth (Cronbach α 0.846 and 0.793, respectively), allowing analysis of these sets of questions as scales representing the constructs of social inclusion and personal growth respectively. Questions about social engagement did not show this attribute (Cronbach α of 0.616 for post-scale). The questionnaire was administered initially at the gathering of social circus participants from across the province of Quebec (Spiegel et al., 2014). After the in-depth ethnographic study of the Montreal site (Spiegel, 2016), both co-authors observed sessions, conducted semi-structured interviews with participants, instructors, community workers, and coordinators, held focus groups at the three other study sites, and distributed the questionnaire to those who had not completed it previously.

Findings Results showed not only that personal growth promoted by social circus leveraged a sense of social inclusion and community building, but that the reverse was also true. This is consistent with findings of Seebohm and colleagues (2012), who showed how a community development approach could be useful in promoting mental health, and resonates with the dialectical relationship between community development and personal growth through the arts discussed by Meade and Shaw (2011). The goal of ‘reviving the democratic imagination’, to quote Meade and Shaw (2007, 2011), lies very much at the heart of approaches that begin with personal growth, reinforcing confidence, calculated risk-taking, and ability to work in groups. Findings suggest that these do indeed correlate with a sense of ‘inclusion’ – of belonging to and being accepted by a community. The question of what kind of community is being created, oriented to what goals, however, is both invoked and deferred by a physical art-making process, where one comes to take chosen role-models as parental figures who help shape the very bodily movements and interactions through which one learns to interface with community. To the extent that this correlates with the creation of particular forms of counter-hegemonic social or community engagement, results show, perhaps not surprisingly, that it is the creation and expansion of social circus that it perpetuates. In other words, desire is funnelled toward the repetition of the movements learned in the environment in which community was ‘created’, and the embodied skills and principles developed therein. Behaviour deemed anti-social and socially destructive is replaced by behaviour more easily embraced by a broader public who come to see dissidents and marginalized youth as sources of joy and entertainment. As in all programmes, choices are at once amplified and shaped via the subjectivities of those solicited through the creation of alternative (circus) ‘families’.
Open Access YES
DOI DOI: 10.1093/cdj/bsx015
Search Database Snowball
Technique Interview; Questionnaire; Focus group; Observation; Statistical analysis
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