An Examination of Environmental Collective Identity Development Across Three Life-stages: The Contribution of Social Public Experiences at Zoos

John Robert Frazier (2009)

This research breaks ground toward a revised theory of how collective environmental identity is associated with pro-environmental behaviors. My research comprises three activities that examined the experiences of three groups of people who claim zoo visiting as an important part of their life-story. The three studied groups were; conservation biologists who describe zoo experiences as having significant formative role in their childhood development of environmental values; parents who prioritize zoo visits as an important cultural experiences for their children; and a active zoo volunteers. This research also investigated whether the group experiences these participants had at zoos contributed to the value these people place on their current collective and environmental identities. Field conservationists' interest in learning from animals was validated by parents who also valued education and helped these children develop identities that included other animals in their scope of justice. Parents used zoos instrumentally to promote caring for others as a skill that will serve their children's socio-political future as part of human society. In both cases, these experiences appeared to be shaped around developing attitudes that would include animals in these children's scope of justice in later life. Zoo volunteers included animals in their scope of justice, believing that other species were also important sources of for their knowledge development. Shared positive attitudes toward animals were central to volunteers feeling part of a community and contributing to their collective self-esteem. The group may serve a restorative function in their lives, allowing them to take on a more activist role in society, seeking to promote social norms that are more inclusive of animal rights, and helping them to change their behaviors toward more environmentally responsible ends. This research contributes to the understanding of the theory of planned behavior and the values/beliefs/norms theory by demonstrating that pro-environmental behavior may originate with parenting activities in out-of-home cultural institutions like zoos, and is associated with involvement in social groups at later points in the life-course. It demonstrates that sharing a collective identity like that of a zoo volunteer is associated with engaging in pro-environmental behaviors even before those beliefs and values are fully understood. Although the contribution of parenting and group activity to pro-environmental behaviors demonstrated in this research was small, these results do suggest that focusing on out-of-home support for parents teaching social skills through animal based experiences, and support of activities that promote group attachment for environmentally concerned citizens, may be a possible strategies to advance more environmentally responsible behavior in society for both the short and long term.

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