Shilarna Stokes // Nov. 19, 2019

On Being Numerous: Mass Pageantry and the Paradox of Democratic Sovereignty

Shilarna Stokes, Nov. 19, 2020 2-3pm. 220 York Street, room 100.


This paper discusses the development of a form of large-scale political theater I call “mass pageantry.” The mass pageants that emerged in cities and towns across Europe, Russia, and North America during the first half of the twentieth century recruited hundreds and thousands of first-time performers to perform for audiences numbering in the tens of thousands. Like early modern forms of pageantry, which sought to make the sovereign bodies of monarchs visible and legible to their subjects through a combination of performative and theatrical strategies, the directors and producers of early twentieth-century mass pageants used a distinctive range of performance strategies to call “democratic” sovereign bodies into existence. Mass pageants, then and now, aim to reveal “the people” to itself as a collective political sovereign and subject.