The Center for Writing Studies

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Navigation: Quick Links

Rafters and skylights in the English Building




Colloquium Archive

Maggie Kainulainen

Name: Maggie Kainulainen, English

Presentation Title: "Awful in both senses of the word": Climate Change Pedagogy and the Ambient Rhetoric of Zoos

Date: January 30, 2014

Abstract

Led by Chicago Zoological Society's Brookfield Zoo, the Climate Literacy Zoo Education Network (CliZEN) is a consortium of zoos and aquariums in partnership with climate scientists, educators, conservation psychologists, and other stakeholders whose mission is to "investigate strategies designed to foster changes in public attitudes, understandings, and behaviors surrounding climate change." CLiZEN's project is to animate the affective rhetorical potential of charismatic megafauna, especially polar bears, in order to promote modest social change. Indeed, these animals carry significant symbolic possibility for considering climate change and appropriate, ethical responses to it. As Kathryn Yusoff has argued, "As companions in the experience of abrupt environmental change, polar bears have become a space in which to project, negotiate and comprehend a shared fate. More discreetly, polar bears have become a prosthetic emotional device for testing the water of loss." And yet, zoos, with their conflicting discourses of exploitation, colonialism, and anthropocentrism, not to mention corporate sponsorship, seem poorly suited as spaces for climate change pedagogy and the reconsiderations of the relationship between humans and non-humans that the climate crisis makes necessary. This paper examines CLiZEN's rhetorical project from the perspective of new materialism and rhetorical invention. Specifically, I am interested in the relationship between rhetorical invention, social change, and future imaginaries. This paper takes a recursive approach to climate change rhetoric, considering both the ways that climate change is framed within the institutional discourses of CLiZEN zoos as well as the ways climate change exerts a kind of rhetoricity that may disrupt these discourses.