Topologies of Epistemic Change: Zoological Gardens As Harbingers of Future Lives?

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 18:15
Oral Presentation
Priska GISLER, University of Bern, Switzerland
Many zoos that were founded in the late 19th or the early 20th century have over time quite unexpectedly become part of urbanization processes. Today, zoological gardens find themselves situated in the center or at the close periphery of urban environments. Often this has led to a shortage of space and prohibits expansion plans. Zoological gardens have become participants in the urban rat-race for space and life quality.

If we turn to historical maps and zoo plans we become aware of how in earlier times zoos were depicted as sites of new, systematically oriented buildings, coined by rectangular streets of houses, deserted from any human being or animals. In recent times, green areas have started to prevail, pointing to the imaginary wilderness of the animals’ habitats, and building a stark contrast to the imagined grey urban outside. Hence, zoos have come to resemble the ‘other space’ that Foucault drafted with his concept of the Heterotopia. At least on such plans, zoological gardens do look like garden cities. However: a look onto the genealogy of the maps reveals that we are confronted with a history of colonization. The many drawn animals show that zoological gardens have - in recent times and according these plans – become densely populated areas.

On the background of these charts, the paper will discuss how it comes then, that contemporary zoos advertise their spaces with “more room for less animals”, and point to the increased quality of life of their inhabitants and the pleasure of looking for the visitors, while, in fact, they have started to decrease the number of animals, that are allowed to live in zoos.