Thinking With Thrushes Exploring Knowledge Making Practices In Migratory

Author(s): Seema Shenoy
Published: 2017
Type: M.E.S. Papers/Theses

The wood thrush (Hylocichla mustelina) is a songbird that has come to symbolize the fate of Neotropical migratory birds, many species of which are reported to be rapidly declining. This paper draws from work at the intersection of political ecology and science and technology studies to explore knowledge making practices in the conservation of wood thrushes. Thinking with thrushes, its aim is to bring the theoretical concepts and accompanying vocabulary from social theory into the discourse on conservation. Drawing upon participant observation and interview material, it follows the efforts of field ecologists and conservation practitioners in southern Canada and central Costa Rica—two end points of the migratory journey of these birds. It begins by tracing the affective and embodied practices in ecological fieldwork, and goes on to examine how individual birds as objects of scientific knowledge come to be framed as, and speak for, the species as an object of conservation. By exploring these aspects, this paper shows how ecological science that informs the conservation of wood thrushes is constructed from a mix of scientific observations, technological capabilities, embodied work, material agencies, and normative values. It then locates these birds in new conservation networks in their non-breeding grounds, where narratives around biodiversity and conservation become linked to location-specific activities, such as ecotourism. The paper concludes with outlining some implications for considering these themes more carefully for knowledge making in, and the practice of, conservation.

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