Irus Braverman

Zoo Project: Institutions of Captivity

Elephant at Ramat Gan's Safari eating the fruits of Israel. Photo by Irus Braverman Noah's Ark at the Biblical Zoo, Jerusalem. Photo by Irus Braverman Sign directing zoogoer's camera angles. Gorilla Exhibit, Buffalo Zoo, New York. Photo by Irus Braverman Penguins with flipper bands, behind glass indicating Sign differentiating domestic and tame, Tennessee Zoo, North Carolina Lion at the Gaza Zoo after the war. Courtesy of Dr. Shawa Zoogoers watching primate exhibit, seperated by moat, The Biblical Zoo, Jerusalem. Photo by Irus Braverman Food preparation for primates at the Buffalo Zoo, courtesy of Joseph Holler Stuffed giraffes at the Qalqilya Zoo. Photo by Irus Braverman Pygmy Hippopotamus sign at the Qalqilya Zoo. Photo by Irus Braverman Polar bear sign instructing zoogoers to mitigate climate change, Buffalo Zoo. Photo by Irus Braverman Sign requesting donations for the Buffalo Zoo. Courtesy of the Buffalo Zoo Scientific classification and naming of trees at the zoo. Photo by Irus Braverman Sign forbidding pets at the Buffalo Zoo. Courtesy of the Buffalo Zoo Historic building at Buffalo Zoo protected as part of Olmstead Park and Parkways. Courtesy of Joseph Holler Animal figurines for sale at the Buffalo Zoo. Photo by Irus Braverman Corporate sponsorship of exhibit at Buffalo Zoo. Photo by Irus Braverman Pulley system controlling doors in a Buffalo Zoo holding area. Photo by Irus Braverman Stuffed bears for sale at Buffalo Zoo. Photo by Irus Braverman Mural painted on wall at the Qalqilya Zoo, West Bank. Photo by Irus Braverman ISIS's ZIMS Database showing locations of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep Vistor Map for the Buffalo Zoo. Photo by Irus Braverman Handwashing sign at Buffalo Zoo's Children's Zoo. Photo by Irus Braverman Educational sign at Buffalo Zoo's Children's Zoo. Photo by Irus Braverman Pressure guages for teflon roof of Rainforest Falls exhibit in Buffalo Zoo. Courtesy of Joseph Holler Zoo employee cleaning Rainforest Falls Exhibit with view of holding area. Courtesy of Joseph Holler

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In May 2009, I began researching the legal geography and ethnography of zoos and their professional administrators. This work has evolved into my third and most recent book Zooland: The Institution of Captivity. A book manuscript workshop organized by the Baldy Center in May 2011 brought together three commentators from different disciplinary backgrounds together with a diverse audience and provided me with an excellent stimulus for finishing the book, which is forthcoming from Stanford University Press in October 2012.

Zooland takes a unique stance on a controversial topic: zoos. Zoos have their ardent supporters and their vocal detractors. And while we all have opinions on what zoos do, few people consider how they do it. I have drawn on more than seventy interviews conducted with zoo managers and administrators, as well as animal activists, to offer a glimpse into the otherwise unknown complexities of zooland. Zooland begins and ends with the story of Timmy, the oldest male gorilla in North America, to illustrate the dramatic transformations of zoos since the 1970s. Over this time, modern zoos have transformed themselves from places created largely for entertainment to globally connected institutions that emphasize care through conservation and education.

Zooland provides a close exploration of how zoos naturalize their spaces, classify their animals, and produce spectacular experiences for their human visitors. It also studies how zoos name, register, track, and allocate their animals in global databases. I demonstrate in this book that zoos both abide by and create laws and industry standards that govern their captive animals. Finally, I show how zoos intensely govern the reproduction of captive animals, carefully calculating the life and death of these animals and deciding which of them will be sustained and which will expire. Zooland takes readers behind the exhibits into the world of zoo animals and their caretakers. And in so doing, it turns its gaze back on us to make surprising interconnections between our understandings of the human and the nonhuman. Endorsements by Donna Haraway, David Delaney, Ken Shapiro, Jody Emel, and David Murakami Wood are found on my publications page.

The fieldwork conducted for this book has involved many challenges. In "Who's Afraid of Engaged Ethnography?" I reflect on some of these challenges and the changes that they have invoked in my methodological stance. Specifically, I contemplate in this essay how my work on zoos has evolved into a multi-sited and engaged ethnography that "studies up." Finally, this essay advocates a methodological turn in Critical Legal Geography. The essay will be a chapter in a Legal Geography collection that I am currently co-editing.

Still on the topic of zoos, in summer 2011 I visited Israel/Palestine to research zoos in this region. What started out as an exploration of the Jerusalem Zoo and its project of reintroducing biblical animals into the holy landscape ended up expanding into two additional sites: Qalqilya Zoo in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Zoo in Gaza. Situated within fifty miles of each other at the heart of Israel-Palestine, these three zoos tell three very different stories about animals, humans, and their imbricated survival across borders. Through in-depth interviews with personnel from the three zoos, the story about the control over animals becomes a story of national control over humans. The article argues that this form of control over humans through animals is a form of post-colonial ecology: an indirect penetration of the state through nongovernmental means and in the name of conservation. Whereas zoo animals are often perceived in this context as innocent bystanders caught in the human crossfire, they are also political entities. The political state of the animals thus presents an interesting variation on Michel Foucault's definition of human politics. "For millennia," Foucault writes, "man remained what he was for Aristotle: a living animal with the additional capacity for political existence; modern man is an animal whose politics calls his existence as a living being into question." In this context, it is the animal that has the additional capacity for political existence.


(2014). "Good Night, Zoo: Human-Animal-City Relations in Children Books." In Ulrich Gehmann and Martin Reiche (eds.), Virtual and Ideal Worlds Part II (forthcoming).

(2013). "Animal Frontiers: A Tale of Three Zoos in Israel/Palestine." Cultural Critique 85: 122-162.

(2012). Zooland: The Institution of Captivity (Stanford University Press). [reviews]. [SSRN- Intro].

(2012). "A Tale of Two Zoos." Environment and Planning A 44:2535-2541. [SSRN].

(2012). "Zooveillance: Foucault Goes to the Zoo." Surveillance & Society 10(2):119-133. [Article]

(2012). "Zootopia" In Earth Perfect? Utopia, Nature, and the Garden, Annette Giesecke and Naomi Jacobs (eds.) (London: Black Dog Publishing). [SSRN].

(2011). "Looking at Zoos." Cultural Studies 25(6): 809-42. [SSRN].

(2011). "States of exemption: the legal and animal geographies of American zoos." Environment and Planning A 43(7): 1693-1706. [SSRN].

(2010). "Zoo Registrars: A Bewildering Bureaucracy." Duke Environmental Law & Policy Forum 21(1): 165-206. [SSRN].

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