Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Lisa Cliggett


This research explores the influences of diverse environmental politics in shaping zoo-adjacent conservation activities in the United States. Based upon 13 months of multi-sited ethnographic research, conducted with conservation actors across six states, the researcher investigates and documents how conservation professionals—operating in contexts adjacent to zoological institutions—experience and respond to the socio-environmental implications associated with the cascading effects of global environmental change. In the face of current challenges and uncertain environmental futures—shaped by habitat alterations, ecological transitions, and species declines/extinctions—conservationists are undergoing their own processes of reassessment and reconfiguration of their underpinning philosophies and body of practices that inform their relationships to the environment. The research lays out an argument about how in the face of socio-environmental change, conservation—and the ongoing reconfigurations of its identities, priorities, and practices—are being shaped by conservation organizations and individual conservation actors across scales of influence; from powerful organizations and their executives, to on-the-ground professionals doing the day-to-day work of conservation programs. This represents a contribution to understandings of how ‘Conservation’ comes into being, which, in the literature, is often treated as a monolithic entity and is absent of the contextualized realities of conservation organizations and the individuals who comprise them. Centering examinations of those contextualized realities that shape how conservation comes into being across scales, this research examines: how zoological institutions are increasingly foregrounding narratives about their identities as “conservation organizations”; how professionals are grappling with their shifting understandings of ‘nature’ and the role of conservation interventions therein; increasing interventionist approaches and related connections between on-the-ground professionals and species of concern; the impact of scientific knowledge politics on conservation activities; and the webs of social relations involved in enacting contemporary conservation actions. Ultimately, this research understands Conservation—a diverse body of philosophies and praxis—as an arena of human-environmental relation(s) that must be examined across scales of influence and through the contextualized realities of individual actors and organizations who comprise it. Moving beyond traditions of monolithic treatment, this project contributes to scholarly work involved in developing a more “multifaceted understanding” of conservation activities through attention to the experiences and “complex realities” of conservation professionals.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)