Vinciane Despret

Nov 10, 2021

Living as a Bird

Polity Press 2021

Birds sing to set up a territory, but the relationships between the bird, the song, the territory, and the bird’s community are highly complex and individually variable. In Living as a Bird (English translation by Helen Morrison, Polity Press, 2021), Vinciane Despret explores the concept of territory from a perspective that situates philosophical work on human conceptions of other animals within historical and contemporary empirical research into bird song and territorial behavior. Following recent theorizing by ornithologists and ethologists, Despret – an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Liege in Belgium – critiques the popular view of territories as private property and birds as petit bourgeois who gain property rights, a conception grounded in European social upheavals starting in the 17th century. Instead, territories are zones of social interaction with one’s “dear enemies” at the peripheries, where male and female birds alike are active participants in the shaping, reshaping and sharing of neighborhoods bounded in song as well as space. This new translation makes Despret’s thoughtful analysis of songbird life accessible to an English-speaking audience.

Carrie Figdor is professor of philosophy at the University of Iowa.

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