Materialising Reform: How Conservation Encounters Collection Practises in Zoos

Krause, Monika and Robinson, Katherine. 2022. Materialising Reform: How Conservation Encounters Collection Practises in Zoos. Journal of Cultural Economy, 15(2), pp. 137-150. ISSN 1753-0350 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This paper examines how zoos decide which animals to keep, drawing on guidance produced by zoo membership organisations and in-depth interviews with zoo curators. Zoos make curatorial decisions within constraints posed by each zoo’s legacy of buildings and animals. Different versions of ‘conservation value’ inform decision-making alongside other criteria such as education value, visitor value and whether or not animals are available. We find that an international agenda to rationalise zoo collection planning in the name of environmental conservation has only partially reshaped existing practices. As a ‘bald object’ in the Latourian sense, ‘conservation’ presents a clean surface, which also means that it invites projections that attach to concrete practices only in loose ways. Given the ambiguity of conservation as a value, conservation presents zoos with a range of options and can be made to fit a broad range of choices, which make sense to actors for other reasons. Reform efforts gain traction where they are inserted as ‘hairy objects’ and resonate with practical problems zoos are already facing. Reforms in the name of conservation have led to networks of exchange and co-operation, which help zoos to secure new animals in the context of new regulations.

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This research was supported by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) [grant number R116810].


Collection planning; conservation; curation; reform; valuation; zoos

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16 June 2021Accepted
12 August 2021Published Online

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Date Deposited:

25 Aug 2021 11:56

Last Modified:

27 Apr 2022 13:35

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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