Tortoise panopticon: Linkages between taboos and conservation management in Madagascar

Naomi Ploos van Amstel, Riana M. Rakotondrainy, Christina M. Castellano, Koen Arts*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Species-specific taboos are relevant to nature conservation, yet the relation of conservation with such social mechanisms and connected traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is underexposed in both conservation science and nature conservation practices. This paper researches taboos of the Mahafaly and Antandroy tribes in South and Southwest Madagascar in relation to the critically endangered radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata). We develop the idea that the collection of taboos denotes a ‘panoptic’ self-surveilling system, which we call a ‘tortoise panopticon’. Theoretically, using performativity as a lens, we analyse the dynamic relation between practice and meaning in species-specific taboo systems, in the context of conservation management. Empirically, we define tortoise conservation potential and threats in the current state of the site-specific tortoise panopticon and the internal and external factors that shape it. This is particularly important in light of identifying favourable site locations for potential tortoise release. Based on (semi-)structured interviews with 282 Mahafaly and Antandroy respondents from 12 communes across 9 sites, we identify influential factors and components of the tortoise panopticon to measure its strength in each region and determine the extent to which favourable social situations for radiated tortoise conservation exists. Developing a connection between panopticon theory and practice theory, this paper presents a novel model that aides the assessment of the dynamics of species-specific taboo systems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-97
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • Community engagement
  • Nature conservation
  • Panopticon theory
  • Performativity
  • Practice theory
  • Radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata)


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