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Comparative Enfreakment: Rhetorical History of the Lives and Exhibitions of Chang and Eng Bunker, “The Original Siamese Twins”

Allen, Samuel Todd (2022) Comparative Enfreakment: Rhetorical History of the Lives and Exhibitions of Chang and Eng Bunker, “The Original Siamese Twins”. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation argues that Chang’s and Eng’s lives and exhibitions offer a case study to reconsider scholarly accounts of the politics of curiosity, representation of differences, and public techniques of social exclusion and inclusion. The conjoined twin brothers’ exhibitions worked to sustain and contest liberal formations of nation, race, gender, sexuality and class grounded in 19th century conceptions of possessive individualism. The invention of the Siamese Twins began in the convergence of colonial curiosity, liberal discourses of free trade, and notions of individual self-possession that gave way to racialized and ableist commodification of Chang’s and Eng’s bodies by American and British merchants. The early exhibitions of Chang and Eng as the Siamese Twins under the Coffins’ ownership and management mixed exoticized and aggrandized modes of racialized enfreakment with popular curiosity and medical curiosity. Chang’s and Eng’s expressions of possessive individualism in 1830s were animated by a series of performances of masculinity, disassociation from slavery, and the construction of a self-made man narrative that included a re-presentation of themselves to the public as “their own men” staging themselves “under their own direction.” Chang and Eng faced a series of oscillating inclusions and exclusions as they became American settler citizens, husbands and fathers, and emerged as part of the slave owning Southern elite in the 1840s and 1850s, and yet became entangled with a rising anti-Asian discourse in their public exhibitions shortly before and after the United States Civil War. Despite appearances of their closely approaching full integration, Chang and Eng were never fully accepted within U.S. society. I suggest scholars reconsider Chang’s and Eng’s exhibitions as the Siamese Twins within a framework of “success,” arguing a critical and comparative rhetorical history of their lives and exhibitions makes clear that such successes were qualified, conditional, and problematically sustained by their own performative dominion over others. I conclude by highlighting a few ongoing connections of the 19th century discourse to contemporary curiosity in science, medicine, and popular entertainment and close by suggesting that performances of curiosity otherwise are an urgent political praxis for living together in a world of differences.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Allen, Samuel Toddsta24@pitt.edusta24
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairOlson,
Committee MemberReeser,
Committee MemberJohnson,
Committee MemberZboray,
Committee MemberHartelius,
Date: 15 June 2022
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 2 December 2021
Approval Date: 15 June 2022
Submission Date: 1 October 2021
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 378
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Critical, cultural, comparative rhetoric; intersectional feminisms, disability, race, gender, and sexuality; possessive individualism; rhetoric of science, health and medicine; curiosity; 19th century America; Freak Shows; conjoined twins
Date Deposited: 15 Jun 2022 21:33
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2022 21:33


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