Drafts of all of the below papers have been completed and are awaiting publication. Please get in touch if you’d like to see any of them.
Evolution: Lessons from Some Cooperative Ravens
With Viciane Despret
Corvids cooperate. Whatever else they might do in the world – squabbling at carcasses or ‘stealing’ other birds’ eggs – they also posses rich social lives that include a broad range of cooperative interactions, from working together to mob predators and rear their young, to sharing food. This chapter focuses on some cooperative ravens (Corvus corax) and the scientists that study them to explore and challenge the simplistic notion that evolution teaches us that life, at some fundamental level, is inherently selfish and competitive. These ravens remind us that this simply isn’t the case. Or, more accurately, that it is only the case if we accept some very peculiar understandings of ‘selfishness’ that paper over the complexity of our living world. And yet stories about selfishness persist, in different ways, in both the scientific and the popular literatures. In this context, this chapter explores how these framings emerge and the rhetorical power that they possess. Ultimately, what emerges from taking these ravens seriously is a more hopeful account of evolution that opens up space for new kinds of animal studies scholarship that practice an appreciation for the many diverse ways that organism get on with each other to shape our living world.
(For Lynn Turner, Ron Broglio and Undine Sellbach (eds.) The Edinburgh Companion to Animal Studies, University of Edinburgh: Edinburgh, 2018)
(For Lori Gruen (ed.) Critical Terms in Animal Studies. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2018)
Feeding the Flock: Wild Cockatoos and Their Facebook Friends
Eben Kirksey, Paul Munro, Thom van Dooren, John Martin and others…
Wildlife is persisting in urban areas of Australia even though white settler colonialism has resulted in the large-scale destruction of forested landscapes. While many bird species are in decline, one particularly charismatic species—the sulfur-crested cockatoo—has found emergent opportunities for flourishing within the built environment. Cockatoos are actively generating relationally constituted spaces, making urban ecosystems into “more-than-human” places with lively multispecies communities and abundance. Yellow tags attached to the wings of cockatoos, along with a smart-phone app and a Facebook page, have enabled citizens and scientists to collect data about bird movements. These tracking technologies were quickly coopted by an emergent public that began speculating about the personalities, relationships, intentions, and desires of individual birds. Interspecies friendships formed between humans and birds—involving shared understandings, emotional resonances, ongoing social exchanges, and utilitarian arrangements. People who fed cockatoos expressed the dominant view in Australia that providing food might be bad for birds, or would promote dependence on people. We found no evidence in the literature that commonly offered foods lead to obesity or ill health. Rather than corrupting wild birds, and making them tame, we found multispecies flocks were fleeting associations where wild and unruly behaviors redoubled as people offered up food. We found that wildness can emerge in intimate encounters with other species where risks intensify in close bodily encounters. Asymmetrical vulnerabilities and risks frame such corporeal interactions. Some cockatoos have been killed, after being identified as nuisance animals. Against the backdrop of these risks, we studied flocks of birds as models of and models for fleeting forms of association and collaboration. We found affects jumping from body-to-body, across species lines. Feelings of interspecies attraction, quickly alternated with agitated and uncomfortable experiences. Amidst these animated encounters, people are exploring the ethics of inclusivity and conviviality.
For a journal.