Current Institutional Affiliation
Professor, Anthropology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2004
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, New York University (NYU)
Trades of the Trick: Apprenticeship and Innovation in the Artworld of French Magic

This is a study on the political economy of entertainment magic performance, focusing on the changing cultural and interactional contexts in which French conjurors produce, transmit, and display their artistic expertise. While the globally recognized performance idiom of modern stage magic was codified in 19th Century France, French magic has changed dramatically in the past hundred years, in terms of both its production as an art form and its reproduction as a social activity. The advent of mass mediated entertainment has dramatically altered the landscape of French popular culture, but unique state subsidies have allowed professional careers in magic to remain viable. Meanwhile, rising numbers of amateurs are flocking to magic as a leisure activity, with new mediating technologies, specifically home video and the Internet, making once secret expertise easier to commoditize, buy, and sell. Through nine months of participant observation primarily in Parisian magic clubs and classes, this study will explore the ways in which contemporary French magicians acquire and transmit expert knowledge, make this knowledge meaningful to audiences in the context of performance, and invest it with meaning themselves.