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At the center of Stefan Bargheer's account of bird watching, field ornithology, and nature conservation in Britain and Germany stands the question of how values change over time and how individuals develop moral commitments.
Using life history data derived from written narratives and oral histories, Moral Entanglements follows the development of conservation from the point in time at which the greatest declines in bird life took place to the current efforts in large-scale biodiversity conservation and environmental policy within the European Union. While often depicted as the outcome of an environmental revolution that has taken place since the 1960s, Bargheer demonstrates to the contrary that the relevant practices and institutions that shape contemporary conservation have evolved gradually since the early nineteenth century. Moral Entanglements further shows that the practices and institutions in which bird conservation is entangled differ between the two countries. In Britain, birds derived their meaning in the context of the game of bird watching as a leisure activity. Here birds are now, as then, the most popular and best protected taxonomic group of wildlife due to their particularly suitable status as toys in a collecting game, turning nature into a playground. In Germany, by contrast, birds were initially part of the world of work. They were protected as useful economic tools, rendering services of ecological pest control in a system of agricultural production modeled after the factory shop floor. Based on this extensive analysis, Bargheer formulates a sociology of morality informed by a pragmatist theory of value.
List of Abbreviations
Prologue: A Bird’s Eye View
1 A Pragmatist Theory of Morality
2 Collector’s Items and Viable Means
3 Technology Comes to the Countryside
4 Field Ornithology and Practical Bird Conservation
5 Endangered Birds and Indicator Species
6 Bird Watching as Organizational Strategy
7 Data Power and Geographical Reference Frames
Conclusion: Studying Morality
Appendix 1: Method and Data
Appendix 2: Names and Translations
List of Interviews
Stefan Bargheer is assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
"What are the values that people attach to birds? How do they change over time, and how are the underlying moral commitments then expressed in the legal and practical implementation of conservation? These questions are at the heart of Moral Entanglements by Stefan Bargheer. The book provides a well written historical account of bird watching, ornithology, and nature conservation in Britain and Germany, from the naturalist collectors of the late eighteenth century to current efforts in international biodiversity conservation, as well as fascinating insights into the societal and political settings of each of the two countries and how these have shaped two distinct sets of practices and institutions. Alongside the historical account, Bargheer conducts a sociological analysis of the moral values underlying the actions of relevant players in each country. [...] The deep dives into sociological theory mark this book as an academic monograph, but I found it an interesting read nonetheless. [...] However, this strong focus on the collecting game also illustrates why the book left me wanting. Ecosystem services and natural capital pervade present environmental policy discussions, clearly showing that the economical rationalisation of conservation is not a thing of the past.[...]"
– Philipp Boersch-Supan, BTO book reviews
"A revolutionary book. Bargheer uses a wonderfully interesting and meticulously analyzed pair of cases to recover and elaborate a Deweyan theory of morality and play. The brilliant insight of his theory is matched by the beguiling character of his empirical evidence, both the historical data of the earlier period and the interview data that brings the analysis into the present. At once easy to read and intellectually powerful, the book will transform sociological approaches to morality."
– Andrew Abbott, University of Chicago
"Moral Entanglements is an impressive achievement – a feat of historical work, a dazzling parade of scholarly erudition, and an elegant piece of writing. Even if you know nothing about or have no interest in birds you will find this original and meticulous book to be strangely engrossing. Bargheer has left no stone unturned, pondered every side of every debate, and chiseled his writing to perfection. It is rare, indeed, to come across such a remarkably well-researched piece of scholarship."
– Marion Fourcade, University of California, Berkeley