Accepted Paper:

Provoking Animal Publics: the case of wildlife documentary  

Authors:

Ben Dibley (Western Sydney University)
Gay Hawkins (University of Western Sydney )

Paper short abstract:

Using examples from the history of wildlife documentaries on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, this paper develops the concept of ‘provocative containment’ to investigate the internal workings of these representations and the kinds of animal performances and publics they generate.

Paper long abstract:

Many TV wildlife documentaries claim to be studying animals in the wild and capturing their genuine reality but most audiences are aware that these representations are highly constructed. This doesn't mean that the animal is fictional. Rather, that it is performing a particular social reality that cannot be separated from the institutional context in which it emerges and is contained: television. How then to investigate the internal workings of these representations and the kinds of animal performances and publics they generate without recourse to the assumption that there is a more real or valid animal beyond the screen that the representation needs to be assessed against? This paper approaches this challenge by developing the concept of 'provocative containment' (Lezuan, Muniesa, Vikkelso, 2012). Provocative containment describes the experimental processes whereby particular kinds of reality are provoked into being that are both artificial and also demonstrate very real social phenomena. 'Provocative containment is thus a technique for the production and display of social reality'. (p279).

Using examples from the history of wildlife documentaries on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the paper investigates changing forms of animal performance and their provocations. How are these animals captured and contained by the mediations of television? What devices and methods are used for the realization of these animal realities? How do animal performances incite audience interest and curiosity? And how do the practices of provocative containment reveal the performative dimensions of science communication as a technique for making animals often simultaneously objective, aesthetic and affective?

Panel T012
The Event of the Public: Convolutions of Aesthetic and Epistemic Practice