My conservation interests eschewed celebrity for a long time. However in the mid 2000s ago I realized that I was just always coming across celebrities or charismatic figures in certain wildlife circles with too much regularity to ignore. Moreover there were some odd patterns in the people I was encountering. Most of the public figures well known in African circles were white, and many were expats, whereas in India and South East Asia white expats were a minority. Why should this pattern exist? The more I read about celebrity the more I realized that it was indeed one of the means by which conservation and capitalism are becoming more intertwined. It was not just a curious distraction in glossy magazines, but quite a substantial force changing people, nature and conservation in the process.
Studying celebrity and conservation was hard. I had been part of that silent majority who managed to live quite happily in complete ignorance of most celebrity’s names. When I realised that I was going to have to take an interest in it and find out how it works, my main problem was that I simply did not know the names of the people involved. And when I found out what they were, I still did not know who they were.
I have improved since then. I have sat for hours (well three, but it felt like more) in the stacks of the Bodleian library reading back issues of Hello! Magazine. I have learnt much from the sub-discipline of Celebrity Studies. I have explored all sorts of ways different varieties of the celebrity industry are working with environmental and conservation causes and I was able to publish what I learnt in a book called Celebrity and the Environment.
I was part of the ‘Spectacular Environmentalisms’ network, an AHRC funded project lead by Mike Goodman from Kings with myself and Jo Littler (Middlesex) helping out, and embarked on a full time research fellowship (2010-12) examining celebrity advocacy and international development, about which you can learn more at this site
I have written the following works on matters to do with celebrity:
Books and Chapters:
Brockington D. 2009. Celebrity and the Environment. Fame, Wealth and Power in Conservation. ZedBooks, London. PDF
Celebrity and the Environment was the subject of this interview in 2009.
‘Celebrity Conservation.’ (with Katherine Scholfield). In Celebrity Colonialism: Fame, Representation, and Power in Colonial and Post-Colonial Cultures, edited by Robert Clarke. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009.
Büscher, B., Dressler, W. and Fletcher R. 2014. Nature Inc: New Frontiers of Environmental Conservation in the Neoliberal Age. University of Arizona Press, Tuscon. Link PDF (I have a chapter on celebrity environmentalism in that book)
My main statement in this field which kicked off later research was this paper:
Brockington D. 2008. ‘Powerful Environmentalisms. Conservation, Celebrity and Capitalism.’ Media, Culture and Society 30 (4): 551-568. PDF
Other contributions are:
Brockington D. 2008. Celebrity Conservation. Interpreting the Irwins. Media International Australia. 127: 96-108. PDF (3.3 MB)
A short article for an anniversary issue of Save the Rhino about the dilemmas of working with celebrity. PDF (2.7 MB)
Goodman, M.K., Littler, J., Brockington, D., and Boykoff, M. 2016. Spectacular environmentalisms: media, knowledge and the framing of ecological politics. Environmental Communication 10 (6): 677-688 PDF