Deborah Leslie

Deborah Leslie is a Full Professor of Geography at the University of Toronto and a Canada Research Chair in the Cultural Economy. She is Director of the CFI-funded Cultural Economy Laboratory. Her research interests span economic, cultural and feminist geography.

Most of her research explores the relationship between culture and economy. She has done work on cultural industries and urban economic development, the ethical and political dimensions of commodity chains, and on the links between workplace restructuring and the body.  Drawing on diverse theoretical traditions such as political economy, economic sociology and poststructuralism (including the governmentality literature associated with Michel Foucault), she has conducted research on a number of sectors, including fashion, furniture, automobiles, design and the circus.

Currently her work focuses on the Cirque du Soleil, and involves a collaboration with Dr. Norma Rantisi at Concordia University.  This research analyses the role of historical and geographical assets in the evolution of the company.

On the surface, the Cirque du Soleil is a classic global firm. The company recruits talent from around the world, and a majority of its revenues derive from outside Canada. The Cirque has staged productions in over 90 cities worldwide and now has permanent performance sites in Florida, Las Vegas and Macau. The content of its performances is also transnational.  Despite the deterritorialization of the Cirque from their original location of production, the research investigates the extent to which the Cirque relies on local resources to solidify its competitive advantage. Drawing on evolutionary economics, it investigates the place-specific and path dependent trajectory, which has informed the emergence of the Cirque. In particular, the research examines how the Cirque has benefitted from and contributed to the vibrancy of Montreal’s cultural economy, particularly in sectors such as theatre, dance, fashion, music and multimedia.

Another theme in this research is the role of government policy- both in terms of direct government funding and indirect support for institutions such as the circus school and trade association - in enabling the Cirque to exploit local attributes. The study considers how the Cirque has shaped the broader creative economy agenda in Montreal and contributed to the development of an innovative circus arts milieu in the city.

The research also explores the role of the Cirque in urban redevelopment. The Cirque has played a critical role in urban regeneration and environmental reclamation in the St. Michel neighbourhood in Montreal and mounts a number of programs targeted at marginalized populations in the community, including youth. The Cirque also played a key role in the establishment of La TOHU, a circus arts district.

A final area of enquiry concerns the opportunities and challenges are associated with the increasingly globalized structure of the company- both in terms of talent recruitment and performance venues. In particular, we are studying the implications of this transnational structure for localized institutional support.


Circus research research grants

  • SSHRC Standard Research Grant, 2010-2014 “Place-based Dimensions of Creativity: the Case of the Cirque du Soleil”. Deborah Leslie: Principal Investigator, Norma Rantisi: Co-Investigator $87,937 Award Number 410-2010-0917


Circus-related publications

  • Leslie, D. and N.M. Rantisi, 2011 “Creativity and Place in the Evolution of a Cultural Industry: the case of the Cirque du Soleil”. Urban Studies 48(9): 1771-1787.


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cirque circus group


Members of the group are regular collaborators engaged in an ongoing conversation. They regularly attend Working Group meetings in Montreal or elsewhere and are expected to give at least one talk a year or to act as respondents to colleagues' papers.


Graduate Students

Regular participants, working with Working Group members or working on circus-related scholarly topics:

  • Joanna Donehower
    doctoral candidate, PhD in Humanities, Concordia; supervisor: Louis Patrick Leroux
  • Lyn Charland
    doctoral candidate, PhD in Humanities, Concordia; supervisor: Louis Patrick Leroux
  • Sue Proctor
    MA in SIP, Concordia; supervisor: Louis Patrick Leroux
  • Johanna Tzountouris
    MA, Laval University
  • Katie Lavers
    PhD Candidate through WAAPA (Edith Cowan University, Australia)


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