Taylor & Francis Group

“Somethin` tells me it`s all happening at the zoo”: Discourse, power, and conservationism

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This study examines how certain Western institutional discourses reproduce particular human relationships with nature. The analysis focuses upon the institutional setting of the zoo, examining long-standing multi-voiced debates about zoos and exploring the contemporary zoo's conservation discourses and cultural, lexical, and spatial elements of gaze and power. The author contextualizes zoo discourses within Western ideological environmental dialectics, including those of Mastery-Harmony, Othering-Connection, and Exploitation-Idealism. The author relates these discussions to her empirical observations of how certain discursive themes are reproduced and complicated within a leading American zoo. In the tradition of critical research that advocates for social change, the essay concludes with analysis-driven discussion about possibilities for zoos to transform their core configurations to more progressively work as agents for systemic cultural and environmental change.

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