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“There Is No Wild”

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Conservation and Circus Discourse

image of Society & Animals

This paper documents the discourse used by contemporary circuses to justify their exploitation of nonhuman animals. The circus is undergoing redefinition due to cultural changes, animal welfare concerns, and political legislation. Critical Discourse Analysis is applied to a sample of articles ( N= 128) on animals in circuses published in USnewspapers and magazines from 2007 to 2012. Analyses revealed that circus discourse attempts to (a) promote the circus as an ecologically important endeavor, (b) minimize the differences between human and nonhuman animals, (c) naturalize culturally induced behavior, (d) assert that captivity is preferable to the wild, and (e) collapse domesticity and wildness. These discursive strategies serve to legitimize, naturalize, and produce consent for the use of nonhuman animals in circuses. Furthermore, circus discourse conceptualizes nature and culture in ways that are ideologically significant and detrimental to the promotion of a conservation mindset.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology, Animal Studies Program, and Environmental Science and Policy Program, Michigan State University


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