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In the first days of spring, birds undergo a spectacular metamorphosis. After a long winter of migration and peaceful co-existence, they suddenly begin to sing with all their might, varying each series of notes as if it were an audiophonic novel. They can't bear the presence of other birds and begin to threaten and attack them if they cross a border, which might be invisible to human eyes but seems perfectly tangible to birds. Naturalists and ornithologists have put forward competing theories to try to explain this remarkable transformation. Is this display of bird aggression just a pretence, a game that all birds play? Or do birds suddenly become territorial - and if so, why? When ornithologists realized that the borders of bird territories were contiguous, they were stunned: it seemed that territory building is a way that birds continue to live together by organizing themselves differently. By observing the use of territory among a wide range of species, scientists began to think that birds were creating their own neighborhoods, within which they sing together and even, on occasion, form alliances to attract females. By attending carefully to the ways that birds construct their worlds and ornithologists have tried to understand them, Despret sheds fresh light on the activities of both, and at the same time enables us to become more aware of the multiple worlds and modes of existence that characterize the planet we share in common with birds and other species.
A groundbreaking reflection on the process by which one arrives at an ethological theory How do humans study the complex worlds of animals without imposing their own societal and scientific gaze upon them? The biologist Amotz Zahavi stakes the controversial claim that Arabian babblers are said to raise themselves up each day to dance and tend to one another in the early morning sun. Such a claim will provoke the interest and intellectual curiosity of a young philosopher and psychologist recognizing that the best way for her to observe the practices of scientists at work is to join them on their terrain. Embedding herself in the field alongside ethologists in the Negev desert, Vinciane Despret deftly depicts and reflects on the process by which scientists construct their theories within the milieu of the animals they study. Along the way, and not without humor, Despret analyzes a variety of theories posited by many well-known thinkers, including Zahavi, who devoted his life to the interpretation, companionship, and conservation of the Arabian babbler bird, and naturalists such as Charles Darwin and Pierre Kropotkin.
You are about to enter a new genre, that of scientific fables, by which I don't mean science fiction, or false stories about science, but, on the contrary, true ways of understanding how difficult it is to figure out what animals are up to. -Bruno Latour, form the Foreword Is it all right to urinate in front of animals? What does it mean when a monkey throws its feces at you? Do apes really know how to ape? Do animals form same-sex relations? Are they the new celebrities of the twenty-first century? This book poses twenty-six such questions that stretch our preconceived ideas about what animals do, what they think about, and what they want. In a delightful abecedarium of twenty-six chapters, Vinciane Despret argues that behaviors we identify as separating humans from animals do not actually properly belong to humans. She does so by exploring incredible and often funny adventures about animals and their involvements with researchers, farmers, zookeepers, handlers, and other human beings. Do animals have a sense of humor? In reading these stories it is evident that they do seem to take perverse pleasure in creating scenarios that unsettle even the greatest of experts, who in turn devise newer and riskier hypotheses that invariably lead them to conclude that animals are not nearly as dumb as previously thought. These deftly translated accounts oblige us, along the way, to engage in both ethology and philosophy. Combining serious scholarship with humor that will resonate with anyone, this book-with a foreword by noted French philosopher, anthropologist, and sociologist of science Bruno Latour-is a must not only for specialists but also for general readers, including dog owners, who will never look at their canine companions the same way again.