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Zooveillance: Foucault Goes To The Zoo

Surveillance & Society 10(2): 119-133

SUNY Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-047

16 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2013 Last revised: 12 Sep 2013

Irus Braverman

University at Buffalo Law School

Date Written: 2012


The last three decades have witnessed a dramatic shift in the governance of North American zoo animals. During this period, captive animal administration has transformed from a materially, geographically, and technologically limited enterprise - focused on the control of individual zoo animals within specific institutions - into an ambitious collective project that encompasses all accredited North American zoos and that governs more than a million zoo animals. Tapping into a sophisticated voluntary and collaborative self-monitored administration, zoos have been able to rely upon genetics and demography to achieve the ultimate goal of captive animal conservation. This essay frames this story of animal governance as surveillance. It identifies three layers that work interdependently to produce captive animal surveillance in North American zoos: elementary surveillance, which includes the naming, identifying, and recording of captive animals on the institutional level; dataveillance, or the global computerized management of animal populations; and collective reproductive control. What underlies these three modes of surveillance - framed here as "zooveillance" - are notions of care, stewardship, and conservation. Based on a series of sixty semistructured, in-depth interviews conducted with prominent zoo professionals in North America between May 2009 and April 2011 as well as observations of zoo operations and of professional meetings, this essay explores the relevancy and importance of applying the framework of surveillance in the nonhuman context of zoo animals.

Keywords: governance, animals, zoos, surveillance, zooveillance, Foucault, captivity

Suggested Citation

Braverman, Irus, Zooveillance: Foucault Goes To The Zoo (2012). Surveillance & Society 10(2): 119-133; SUNY Buffalo Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-047. Available at SSRN:

Irus Braverman (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo Law School ( email )

School of Law
528 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
716-645-3030 (Phone)
716-645-2064 (Fax)


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