From Bal Masques to Masked Balls

Festivity in the Era of Social Distancing


  • Emmanuelle Lallement
  • Aurélie Godet



pandemic, social distancing, proxemics, festivity


The lifting of COVID-19-related-lockdown was greeted cautiously in Paris on May 11, 2020. There was some tentative singing, drinks with friends at a nearby café, a few cameras to immortalize the moment… Yet, barely an hour after the beginning of this first phase of France’s “deconfinement” plan, a small crowd of people gathered on the Champs Elysées to celebrate the ability to get out without a self-authorized written certification of their purpose. Nothing too exuberant, but still, seeing these residents gather in a public place that has welcomed so many Parisian festive gatherings said a lot about the general mood of the city. Like the “apéro Skype” trend[1] to which French people had reluctantly given in, the event was flaunted as a powerful emblem of the confinement period. Indeed, this text argues that social distancing has paradoxically revealed the role that festive sociability plays in our lives. In the era of protective and control measures (“gestes-barrières” in French), festivity has become all the more precious as it has been made almost impossible.


[1] [Translator’s note] “Apéro” is short for aperitif (pre-dinner drinks). As this French tradition moved online during lockdown, a new ritual was born, that of the “apéro Skype” or “Skypéro” (a portmanteau word with the same meaning).

Author Biographies

Emmanuelle Lallement

Emmanuelle Lallement is Professor of anthropology at the University of Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis’s Institute of European Studies.

Aurélie Godet

Aurélie Godet is associate professor of US history at the Université de Paris (formerly Paris Diderot University). Since releasing a book on the Tea Party movement in 2012 (Le Tea Party: Portrait d’une Amérique désorientée), she has been working on the history of Louisiana and of festive practices in the United States. Her next volume will be a political history of New Orleans Mardi Gras from the eighteenth to the twenty-first century. She was a Fulbright visiting researcher at Tulane University in 2018.




How to Cite

Lallement, Emmanuelle, and Aurélie Godet. 2020. “From Bal Masques to Masked Balls: Festivity in the Era of Social Distancing”. Journal of Festive Studies 2 (1):32-40.