Jonas Eklund

Jonas Eklund


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Works at Department of Culture and Aesthetics
Postal address Institutionen för kultur och estetik 106 91 Stockholm

About me

In May 2019 I defended my doctoral thesis The Sensational Body: A Spectatorial Exploration of the Experience of Bodies on Stage in Circus, Burlesque and Freak Show. The thesis explores the audience’s reactions to the body on stage in burlesque, circus and freak show, using aspects of phenomenology as a theoretical approach discusing aspects such as the popular, entertainment, laughter, risk, desire, politics, disgust, liveness and the subversive.


I am currently teaching two courses at the department. One in Contemporary Theatre, and one on Theatre in Sweden. Since 2014 I teach on the theory and methodology of phenomenology at Stockholm University or Arts, where I am also supervising degree projects.


My main research interests are popular culture, bodies and embodiment, critical theory, gender, masculinity, queer theory, phenomenological theory, spectatorship, entertainment, contemporary circus, burlesque and performance studies.

I have presented papers on popular culture, circus, and masculinty, in a number of international conferences and I am a member of several international networks of theatre, circus, popular enteratinment, and masculinity. 

In 2017 I was appearing in a youtube series on Swedens hundred coolest researchers. In 2015 and 2016 I was a jury member at the Swedish Research Grand Prix that is a competition in presenting research in an accessible way. In 2019 i was talking about circus, burlesque and freakshow in the popular Swedish podcast Allt du velat veta.


A selection from Stockholm University publication database
  • Thesis (Doc) The Sensational Body
    2019. Jonas Eklund (et al.).

    At the end of the 20th century, the three genres circus, burlesque, and freak show were revived after a long period of decline. Seemingly something in the genres still has a strong appeal to the spectators. The revival brought with it a new framing and a realignment to contemporary values and beliefs, but the core of the genres is still the sensational bodies on stage.

    The aim of this dissertation is to explore the attraction of these genres by focusing on the spectatorial experience of the bodies on stage. The questions that guide the exploration are what experiential meanings do the bodies create, how does the meaning appear to the subjective consciousness, and how is the experience informed by the situation and the context.

    Starting from an embodied understanding of phenomenology, as the body is the place from where we experience, the focus is on the meaning created through the experience, both as thoughts and emotions. Using a method of performance analysis and autoethnography shifts the focus from the performance to the experience of the performance. The experience is then discussed from three approaches: the cognitive approach, focusing on the meaning created intellectually; the embodied approach, focusing on how the meaning appears in and through the body; and the relational approach, focusing on the experience of intersubjective relations.

    The first chapter focuses on experiences from contemporary circus. By approaching the cognitive experience, the first theme is about entertainment and how attention is kept by balancing novelty and familiarity in the acts. This is followed by an exploration of the political, and the potential of utopian moments. Approaching the embodied experience, the first part is about feeling motion through kinesthetic empathy. Elements of risk are then discussed through the sense of suspense and surprise. From a relational approach, the contact with the performer is considered using the concept of phenomenological empathy.

    The second chapter explores the experience of contemporary burlesque. From a cognitive approach, the popular is reconsidered. The focus then turns to aspects of subversion as beauty ideals and norms are challenged by bodies on stage. From an embodied approach, laughter is discussed, followed by the experience of desire by challenging assumptions of a male gaze. The relational approach focuses on the experience of being in the audience and the sense of community.

    The third chapter focuses on experiences from the freak show. From a cognitive approach, the first focus is on the staging of the acts and how they create curiosity. The following theme is liveness as an essential quality of the spectacular. From the embodied approach, the visceral feeling of disgust when the unwanted comes too close, and the uncanny with the uncertainty of the familiar and the strange, are discussed. Finally, the relational approach focuses on the experience of the ‘Other’ and the self.

    By focusing on the embodied experience of meaning, both as thoughts and emotions, and relating them to the situation and a broader cultural context, the study shows how the spectatorial experience is intricately intertwined with previous experiences, societal norms, and cultural images that are circulated throughout our culture. The study shows the significance of the spectator’s experiences and reveals the potential of using the experience as an analytical tool to broaden the understanding of theater and performances.

Show all publications by Jonas Eklund at Stockholm University

Last updated: September 30, 2020

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