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A leading figure in the emerging field of extinction studies, Thom van Dooren puts philosophy into conversation with the natural sciences and his own ethnographic encounters to vivify the cultural and ethical significance of modern-day extinctions. Unlike other meditations on the subject, Flight Ways incorporates the particularities of real animals and their worlds, drawing philosophers, natural scientists, and general readers into the experience of living among and losing biodiversity. Each chapter of Flight Ways focuses on a different species or group of birds: North Pacific albatrosses, Indian vultures, an endangered colony of penguins in Australia, Hawaiian crows, and the iconic whooping cranes of North America. Written in eloquent and moving prose, Flight Ways takes stock of what is lost when a life form disappears from the world – the wide-ranging ramifications that ripple out to implicate a number of human and more-than-human others.
Van Dooren intimately explores what life is like for those who must live on the edge of extinction, balanced between life and oblivion, taking care of their young and grieving their dead. He bolsters his studies with real-life accounts from scientists and local communities at the forefront of these developments. No longer abstract entities with Latin names, these species become fully realized characters enmeshed in complex and precarious ways of life, sparking our sense of curiosity, concern, and accountability toward others in a rapidly changing world.
Introduction: Telling Lively Stories at the Edge of Extinction
1. Fledging Albatrosses: Flight Ways and Wasted Generations
2. Circling Vultures: Life and Death at the Dull Edge of Extinction
3. Urban Penguins: Stories for Lost Places
4. Breeding Cranes: The Violent-Care of Captive Life
5. Mourning Crows: Grief in a Shared World
Epilogue: A Call for Stories
Thom van Dooren is an environmental philosopher and anthropologist at the University of New South Wales, Australia. His research is situated in the interdisciplinary field of the environmental humanities.
"This is an excellent book that deserves wide readership."
– Marc Bekoff, editor of Ignoring Nature No More: The Case For Compassionate Conservation
"I love this book. van Dooren's thorough, detailed, and calmly passionate scholarship adds immensely to my understanding of caring, science and justice, and conditions for recuperation that take multispecies flourishing seriously. He is a leader in learning to learn without the tools of human exceptionalism, attuned to the nuances and specificities of situated worlds, including human worlds-in-relation with other critters."
– Donna Haraway, author of When Species Meet
"In this wise and fascinating book, van Dooren takes us into the fleshy, biosocial, and ethical consequences of extinction. His lively stories of five bird species open worlds – both avian and human – of care, dedication, and the most ardent commitment. Van Dooren draws on philosophy, ethnography, and ethology to conjure the beauty and perils of other creatures' worlds. By developing a deeper understanding of species as intergenerational and inter-species achievements, van Dooren helps us rethink both loss and conservation. Flight Ways is a profoundly realised exploration of why extinction matters, and how we may respond."
– Deborah Bird Rose, author of Wild Dog Dreaming: Love and Extinction
"Haunting, beautiful, and important: Flight Ways is extraordinary. This is ethnographic storytelling at its very best, and it carries the environmental humanities to new heights. You will never look at a bird in the same way again."
– Anna Tsing, University of California, Santa Cruz
"From the brink of existence, Flight Ways recovers a way of responding ethically to extinction. van Dooren's scientifically-informed case studies of particular bird species facing extinction give the lie to the trope of "the last one" by framing stories of the "distinct unraveling of ways of life" that had evolved over millions of years and whose passings are unevenly experienced as tragedies. Informative, heartbreaking, and deeply inspiring, the book serves as a compelling model for how animal studies scholarship can move beyond false competitions of individuals and populations in order to engage with the real problems of sustaining life in multispecies communities."
– Susan McHugh, author of Animal Stories: Narrating across Species Lines and Dog
"A magnificent, sensitive, and marvelously intelligent book that tells stories of extinction while reinspiring us with life and curiosity. Every page teaches us something about other forms and ways of life, makes us think differently or more deeply than we have been in the habit of thinking, and helps us to do so in company with the beings of other species. Van Dooren teaches us that to care passionately can be a weapon of resistance against the forces of destruction."
– Vinciane Despret, University of Liège
"Thom van Dooren's book [...] blends philosophy with the natural sciences in his discussion of the cultural and ethical significance of modern-day extinctions. Birds are the focus of this lovely book and readers are treated to beautiful prose about what it means to the birds themselves and to us to lose these amazing beings."
– Psychology Today
"Masterful [...] [a] thought-provoking book and essential reading for those who seek to avert the sixth mass extinction. It makes the case, eloquently and convincingly, for greater attention to scientifically-informed narratives [...] "
– Biological Conservation
"Engaging [...] "
"A novel, thought-provoking, and deeply moving analysis of species extinction from the perspective of five different bird species"
– The Year's Work in Critical and Cultural Theory