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Reading Zoos in the Age of the Anthropocene

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Call for Participants: Workshop III: “Extinction – Conservation – Resurrection”

Reading Zoos in the Age of the Anthropocene
Workshop 3: Extinction – Conservation – Resurrection
1–3 April, 2020
Utrecht University, Netherlands

In the context of my ongoing research project, “Reading Zoos in the Age of the Anthropocene”, funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), I invite scholars, including advanced PhD students and early-career academics, as well as artists, writers, and zoo professionals, to participate in the third and final workshop in a series devoted to the place and significance of the zoo in the contemporary context of anthropogenic climate change and mass extinction.

Each of the three workshops focuses on a different issue or theme relating to the past, present, and future of the zoo as a more-than-human space of the imagination. In the first workshop, “World – War – Zoo” (April 2019) we explored the role of the zoo as a site of memory and how the recent preponderance of images of zoos in wartime serves as an analogue for (or distraction from) the ongoing devastation of the natural world. In the second workshop, “Captivity – Captivation – Observation” (Nov. 2019) we turned our attention to the lived experience of zoo animals and the real or imagined transgression of boundaries separating them from the human spectators.

The third workshop, to be held on 1–3 April 2020, is devoted to the theme of “Extinction – Conservation – Resurrection”. The rise of the modern zoo coincides with the Industrial Revolution and Western Imperialist expansion, which in turn is tied to the human transformation of the planet now culminating in the catastrophic loss of biodiversity known as the sixth global extinction event. Thus, the history of the Anthropocene is in many respects coextensive with the history of the zoo. And much like the discourse on the Anthropocene, the discourse on the zoo tends to be infused with a sense of mourning and melancholia, expressed in the form of narratives of loss, as well as quasi-apocalyptic visions of the future. Thus, John Berger frames his entire analysis of the zoo in terms of the disappearance of animals in modernity. “Everywhere animals disappear,” he writes, and those animals held captive in zoos “constitute the living monument to their own disappearance.” Zoos, by the same token, would be monuments to (and of) the Anthropocene. As Theodor W. Adorno notes in Minima Moralia, zoological gardens “are laid out on the pattern of Noah’s Ark, for since their inception the bourgeois class has been waiting for the flood.” Such imaginaries of apocalypse and redemption more often than not harbour “disanthropic” (Garrard) and/or “zooicidal inclinations” (Pick), or else indulge in hubristic and ultrahumanist fantasies of biotechnological mastery over nature—especially in the ongoing efforts to bring extinct species back from the dead. How might we move beyond these familiar narratives, and what role can literature, film, and other forms of art play in imagining alternative multispecies futures?

The workshop will feature keynote presentations by Susan McHugh and Juno Salazar Parreñas, and there will be a field trip to a nearby zoo (further details TBA). You do not need to have attended the first two workshops to participate in the third. The workshop will not take the form of panels and presentations, but rather of brief position papers by select participants followed by plenary discussion. A workshop reader will be distributed to all participants in advance.

There are three ways you can take part: 1) you can present your own ongoing work on zoos and (de-)extinction/conservation, in which case you should provide a short essay or draft (no more than 15-20 double-spaced pages) to be included in the reader; 2) you can offer to lead a discussion on a particular text, image, video, piece of music, archival document, material object, etc., of which you are not the author but which you consider to be important and relevant to the topic, and which can likewise be circulated in advance; or 3) you can simply attend the workshop and participate in the discussion without presenting. (When putting together the programme, I aim to have a good balance between Option 1 and Option 2, with a slight preference for Option 2.)

If you would like to take part please send a short bio and description of your current or recent research and/or practice relating to the figure of the zoo, as well as suggested readings/materials (in the case of Options 1 or 2) to: Kári Driscoll (k.driscoll@uu.nl) by the 24th of January, 2020. Please note that while coffee, lunch, and dinner will be provided, the budget cannot extend to covering travel and accommodation.