From spectacle to relational: an exploration of an emotionally and geographically centred approach to visitor behaviour change at the zoo.
Date: 28 October 2019
University of Exeter
PhD in Human Geography
This thesis is centred on the zoo, its 21st century mission as a centre for conservation, and specifically within this mission, the aim to engage visitors to undertake pro-environmental behaviours in support of wildlife and wider nature conservation. To date zoos have utilised community-based social marketing as the predominant approach ...
This thesis is centred on the zoo, its 21st century mission as a centre for conservation, and specifically within this mission, the aim to engage visitors to undertake pro-environmental behaviours in support of wildlife and wider nature conservation. To date zoos have utilised community-based social marketing as the predominant approach to deliver such behavioural changes. This is reflective of the wider framework for addressing environmental challenges, where a psychologically-based approach to behaviour change has provided the dominant paradigm within western governance. This thesis engages with critique of this paradigm, which has failed to reduce the negative impact of human activities on the natural world, by exploring a richer engagement with the ‘more than rational’ i.e. emotional aspects of decision making within the context of the zoo. In so doing it mobilises alternative conceptualisations of behaviour change beyond the psychologically-based approach, and scholarship from animal geographies and wider cultural geography. The research methodology engaged an ethnographic approach, to date underutilised in zoo-based visitor studies. This was deployed in three separate phases between November 2016 and September 2017, engaging a total of 41 participants within 14 different participant groups. Go-along interviews at Paignton Zoo, Devon, were used to capture and explore participants’ emotional responses to the animals they encountered. Beyond the boundary of the zoo visit, semi-structured interviews enabled exploration of the influence of these zoo-based human-animal encounters on participants’ expressed feelings towards, and pro-environmental behaviours in support of, endangered wildlife and the wider natural world. From a detailed thematic analysis of the empirical data, three key themes were identified: embodied experience; persistence: the influence of the zoo visit over time and space; and opportunities and challenges. These provide the framing to address the influence of the emotional dimension of human-animal encounters at the zoo in relation to behaviour change. In addition, the research yielded four critical, cross-cutting dimensions, which have provided new and original evidence towards the value of employing an alternative research practice in relation to behaviour change at the zoo, which moves beyond the dominant psychologically-based approach: (i) the importance of the emotional dimension of human-animal encounters at the zoo as a dynamic element in driving potential behaviour change; (ii) the limitations of social marketing as an approach to engage visitors in wildlife conservation; (iii) the practices of visitor engagement at the zoo as a mechanism to deliver behaviour change; and (iv) the tensions in delivering the zoo’s behaviour change agenda alongside its other aims.
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