Zoos and Eyes: Contesting Captivity and Seeking Successor Practices

Society and Animals 13 (1):69-88 (2005)


This paper compares the phenomenological structure of zoological exhibition to the pattern prevalent in pornography. It examines several disanalogies between the two, finds them lacking or irrelevant, and concludes that the proposed analogy is strong enough to serve as a critical lens through which to view the institution of zoos. The central idea uncovered in this process of interpretation is paradoxical: Zoos are pornographic in that they make the nature of their subjects disappear precisely by overexposing them. The paper asserts that the keep are thus degraded or marginalized through the marketing and consumption of their very visibility and criticizes the pretense of preservation. Furthermore, the paper subjects the related framework of captivity to Foucauldian analysis and critique—we see that the "zoöpticon" deserves designation as an island of power in the carceral archipelago of hegemonic social institutions mapped by Foucault. Hence, this paper suggests that the zoo as we know it be phased out in favor of richer and less oppressive modes of encountering other forms of life; toward this end, the paper explores and assesses alternative approaches to, and practices of, nonhuman animal spectatorship and cross-species conviviality

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Ralph Acampora
Hofstra University

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