Accepted Paper:

Contradictions at zoo: Gaps between materiality and representations in the Paris zoological garden.  


Melanie Roustan (Museum national d'histoire naturelle)

Paper short abstract:

I will explore materiality at zoo 1) as material culture organizing space and norms, 2) as incorporation processes for people and animals. I will question art as a model paradigm for this cultural representation of nature - despite its explicit scientific rhetoric - and unfold its untold values.

Paper long abstract:

During the past years, I have been leading an ethnographic fieldwork in Paris zoological garden (France), among visitors as well as professionals. This zoo is a legacy of 1931 Colonial exhibition and has been renewed in 2014. It is a part of the French national museum of natural history, which is my own institution.

On the basis of this in-depth inquiry, I propose to explore materiality from a double point of view: on the one hand, material culture organizing space and norms in the zoological garden, and, on the other hand, materiality as physicality, embodiment and incorporation processes not only of people watching at or caring for animals, but also maybe for animals themselves. I will question art as a model paradigm for zoological garden as a cultural representation of nature (landscape) as well as web of practices of conservation (biodiversity as heritage) - despite the explicit inscription of its discourses in scientific rhetoric.

The analysis of the gaps between materiality and representations will then reveal the untold part of the narrative of the Parisian zoo, which appears as a combination of old colonial and Christian views of wild nature to be discovered, domesticated, and even civilized, and of contemporary neoliberal considerations on biodiversity management and conservation based on endangerment, safety and security.

Panel P003
Representing and Depicting Animals