Center for Global Studies

Back to Listing

Staged Nature: Public Aquariums as Institutions of Knowledge and the Problem of Plastic Waste

Event Type
academic, aquariums, cultural heritage, cultural knowledge, environmental science, science communication
Co-sponsored by the European Union Center and the Collaborative for Cultural Heritage Management and Policy (CHAMP)
Davenport Hall, room 230, 607 S Mathews Ave, Urbana, IL 61801
Nov 28, 2018   12:00 pm  
Dr. Lars Kaijser, Department of Ethnology, Stockholm University
Free and Open to the Public
Helaine Silverman
Originating Calendar
European Union Center Events

Today, public aquariums market themselves as a nexus for environmental engagement. Against the backdrop of climate change, a vulnerable biodiversity and matters of sustainability the aquariums work with the goal of engaging visitors in topics of science and conservation. One important issue in this field of activities is ocean debris. The aquarium staffs participate in beach clean-ups, advocate for lesser use of plastic disposables, and organize exhibits on the topic.


This presentation will discuss the different ways that the public aquariums engage the visitors in this effort. Dr. Lars Kaijser of Stockholm University will argue for an understanding of their engagement through the concepts of banal sustainability and domestication. He will discuss how this encompasses an aesthetization of the problems of plastic waste.


Dr. Kaijser's project investigates how public aquariums produce and stage knowledge of nature and environment. The talk is based on ethnographic fieldwork at public aquariums in Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.




Lars Kaijser ( is Associate Professor in Ethnology at Department of Ethnology, History of Religion and Gender Studies. For some years he has been doing research on public aquariums around the world, focusing on how nature is staged and presented (both as narrative and as actual dioramas), and how these establishments use and perform science as entertainment. The heritage aspect in this case has to do with environmental changes: how is the historical “natural” state of nature represented in the displays? How can we (humans) preserve phenomena and environments of the past for the future? This also incorporates presentation of older beliefs and insights when understanding nature and environmental issues. This project is connected to a long scholarly traditions focusing how nature is staged in natural history museums, and how notions of nature have been intertwined with ideas about the nation. Other interests:
- Popular music studies as cultural heritage and as used in the field of tourism and leisure. In this area - among other things – studies of Beatles tourism in Liverpool, the international interest in Swedish 70th progg-music, and pop-rock exhibitions.
- Practices of managing invasive species, especially in relation to notions of cultural heritage and bio/cultural-diversity.

link for robots only